Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ray Gigant (PS Vita) Review

By Aly Hand

Let me start off by saying that I love dungeon crawlers, but I never manage to invest the time in them that they truly need to get the most out of them.  I don't think I've ever managed to get to the end of one, if only because they require so much grinding I get bored or lost or distracted with other games.  At first, this one seemed surprisingly different.  For a first-person dungeon crawler similar to the old Wizardry-style games, it has a startling amount of detail.  Ray Gigant mixes elements of the old-school game styles with more modern RPG aspects, to create a game that, at least for the battle system, offers something unique to the genre. 

The story begins with a basic explanation of the premise and an introduction to the two different types of weapon wielders.  Rather than allow you to create your own characters, the game has a more traditional RPG format, where you have a main character and follow his progress throughout the story.  In terms of character development, unfortunately, there isn't much new, interesting or unique.  The characters tend to fall into the same stereotypical formula you see in much of Japanese anime and video games: a young, inexperienced protagonist with too much confidence in himself; an over-protective big brother figure who is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done; and a bossy female figure who may or may not be the main character's love interest depending on how you continue the story and the options you pick during event dialogue.

As you progress through the game, characters come and go and each one fulfills specific roles within the party.  Players are also forced to change parties completely at certain points of the game based on the progression of the plot, something that serves as a method for introducing other characters with natural weapons rather than artificial ones.  The plot itself seems mired in post-apocalyptic tropes, and has very little to distinguish it from other similar-themed stories. 

What truly makes this game stand out is the battle system.  Most games in this genre are static.  You have a first person perspective, the enemy graphics are stationary, and everything is done in turns based on speed.  Ray Gigant takes that concept and gives it a unique twist.  Enemy graphics have animations (basic ones, but still present), and while the player is selecting the character's actions for that turn, there will be an animated graphic of the character on the screen as well.

The other thing that is unique about the battle system is that if you wish you may also completely ignore a character.  If there is nothing for that person to do, and you want to conserve action points, you can simply ignore that character by selecting a different one.  With differing actions either increasing or decreasing a character's weight, this can be a handy tool when trying to maintain specific bonuses for a character.  You can also choose for a character to "wait", recharging spent action points to a degree, or you can have them prepare food to heal or cure status ailments. 

As with all games in the genre, however, you will still be spending hours grinding to improve your character's skills and stats.  Perhaps the biggest difference so far, however, is that leveling up is extremely limited.  No matter how much you grind, gaining levels is determined exclusively on item drops, as it takes a specific type of item to level up.  Also, you don't obtain equipment, accessories, or food items via battle, but instead via the skill tree, which can be confusing at first.  It is worth noting, however, that it's best to put more into the main character's skill tree before the secondary characters.  Not only does it make grinding easier, but the secondary characters have more limited skill trees, and so take less items before they hit their cap.

Grinding is both easy and difficult, as there are no random battles in dungeons.  This means it is easy to avoid unnecessary fights.  Also, there will be a point in the dungeon where you can save, and also respawn enemies, which makes it simple to grind the easier battles.  Like other games of the genre, there are traps and trick floors to avoid, and hidden paths to find.  In terms of dungeon exploration, there really isn't anything that unique. 

Overall, Ray Gigant isn't anything spectacular.  The only thing that makes it stand out from the competitors is the battle system and animated graphics.  Gameplay isn't unique enough to make it superior, and the plot isn't interesting or remarkable enough to make a player want to come back to it.  It was kind of fun, but not enough to make it something that "has to be played."

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Magic Circle: Gold Edition (PS4) Review

The Magic Circle: Gold Edition starts with a very interesting premise: you are playing inside a video game that has been stuck in developmental hell for many years, and still isn't finished.  Inside you meet an AI program that will assist you through it and try to find out what's going on.  Maybe you can even finish what was started.

The tale it tells is almost too real for any fans that have followed the outside development of many games, weaving together rabid fanaticism, well meaning but flawed individuals, and outside influences that can bring games to ruin.  I don't want to spoil too much, but the story behind the story is well done, and while it is placed in an extreme light, does feel realistic enough to be a scary social commentary on gaming.  The voice acting for the characters is really well done, too.  There is a fair amount of swearing midway through the game, and I did have to shoo the little ones away while I was playing.

The game world is very unique in style and substance.  Since the game was built upon an earlier, scrapped game, there are two worlds twisted together.  One is a fantasy world that is muted of most colors (save around the creatures and yourself), looking like a black and white manga instead of a fleshed-out game world.  The other is an old-school space adventure, looking very much like the first Doom.  The merging of three dimensional and sprite environments somehow works really well.

The game is played from the first-person perspective.  You can jump (with triangle, which is kind of weird to me) and...well, you can't attack.  At least not directly.  One of the "choices" the developers of the game within the game made.  However, you can use your health to 'trap' a hostile being and then re-write its behavioral code.  Once you get used to how everything works, it's actually really cool.  You can set the creature's allies, enemies, movement and attack type.  In fact, you will need to.  Once you get a few recruits, you can then use them to attack any other hostile entities.  Once an enemy is 'ghosted' (out of HP), you can re-write it as well.  If you want, you can have a whole army follow you around, but I wouldn't recommend it.  It gets really clustered.

The freedom the game allows is pretty good.  That corpse doesn't do much.  If you take the 'ground' movement from another, you can then have a zombie follow you around.  Give him 'melee' so he can defend you, and the game gives him a beam sword.  Give him 'flame attack' and he will have a flame thrower on his chest to use on your foes.  Once you get flying, you can give him a way to take to the skies.  Taking these parameters from objects and defeated foes is key to getting through the game, while giving you lots of room to experiment.

You will need many modifiers to get through the various puzzles in the game.  Some are just for fun, or alternate ways to solve situations and make your way to the end.  There are many spots to refill your life (or warp to), since you will need it to trap enemies and resurrect any of your allies that fall in combat or to the environment.  Anything that you have at least went into the brain editor of can be summoned to your side from the map.  Again, it takes some getting used to, but it is different from any other game I have played, and it's fun, too.

Even though there is combat, the game isn't really hard.  It's more like a long puzzle or adventure game than an action game.  It can actually be pretty relaxing at times.  Many solutions are open, with several ways to solve it.  That's key to making it better than many puzzle games (to me, at least).  While it in theory would give some replayability, that and collecting trophies is about it.  The game is pretty short, and can be completed in about 5 hours or so.

I liked The Magic Circle and enjoyed playing the game.  It is a bit short and doesn't offer much replayability, but it was very much worth playing.  The world and story it crafts are well done.  The gameplay itself is imaginative and unique.  I'd recommend playing the game to any fans of puzzle or adventure games, or those that enjoy thinly veiled critique of the gaming industry and culture.  It is very much an experience that will not be soon forgotten.

The Good:
Being able to re-write enemies and objects to solve puzzles in a myriad of ways make this game a fun and unique experience.

The Bad:
The game is short (about 5 hours or so) and doesn't offer much replayability except for trophies.

The SaHD:
Without spoiling it, the parts at the end were pretty cool, and this game likes to play around with perceived notions about how a game can work.

(Review code for The Magic Circle: Gold Edition supplied by the publisher)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Bravely Second: Hours 30-40

When starting this block of time, I decided to go back to the previous two side quest dungeons to mop up the treasure chests I missed.  This brought me back to the blue chests.  At first I thought the thief would be able to open them, but later realized that would be an unbalanced choice for the first side quest.  So, it must be sometime later in the story.

Then I finally got the long-awaited chef asterisk.  It's called patissier or something that you have to say nasally (I just call it chef because I don't care about it).  The fight to get it is interesting to say the least.  They introduce a new status ailment, ghost, where you can only cast magic.  While you also cannot be hurt or healed, a ghost counts as a dead party member for game over purposes.  I had to reset because I didn't know this crap and picked a character who was a fighter to be a ghost.  Oops.  The chef himself isn't too much of a threat (although he can charm, which is super annoying), but the people with him can be tough to deal with when he's feeding them.  Eliminating them made the fight much easier.  I still can't take pride in his defeat...I just beat up a pastry chef.

I finally got the boat too, so I could replace the canoe and actually travel around the world.  While Setzer's gambling ship and the whale ship were cool, the hot springs ship is...well, unique.  Silly, too.  Are they again trying to out-do the the previous game where your ship was a city?  Feels like it.  Maybe they wouldn't have to try and out-do the first game if they didn't recycle so much from it.

At this point I also had the game take all of my workers off their jobs at Fort Lune.  I have no idea why.  It did this at some point before, and it is annoying.  I may have only lost a few hours of work each time, but I'd rather know why it did this at all.  I don't remember this problem in the first game.

Two side quests fell during this time frame.  The first was the hardest choice I've had to make in this game.  It was either the monk or the valkyrie.  I've become fairly desensitized to the moral quandaries of each side quest, sine they don't really matter outside of which class you want.  However, I really like both of those classes (even though I constantly refer to the valkyrie class as dragoon).  I always like the monk class in just about every RPG, and the dragoon has jump (which is very useful and strong) and crescent (strong and super useful in the previous game).  I ended up going with the dragoon, simply because I didn't have many classes that use heavy armor, but I already had a good one that used light armor.  One problem down, one to go (although I am very much looking forward to getting the monk later!)

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the previous side quest we have the pirate job versus the performer.  Wow, what a choice.  I don't like nor use either of those classes, so it was a case of "which is less bad?" to figure out a...winner.  I decided to get the pirate job, so I sided with the ever annoying Praline.  At least I can punch her in the face later.

I managed to master (level 10) my first job class too-- the thief.  It's so useful in this game and I really like the changes they made to it!  Steal Life is wonderful.

What better way to close out this session than with the worst boss from the demo-- Geist!  As much as I hated him, fighting him in the demo did help prepare me for what it was like to actually fight him effectively.  He wasn't nearly as hard, so I have to assume they toned him down.  I saved my specials for when he summoned helpers, which would eliminate them.  Without backup, he has to either undo damage to himself or a heal that I did, neither of which will actually help him win.  I was very glad to finish him off!

< Hours 20-30   |   Hours 40-60 >

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bravely Second: Hours 20-30

So after reviewing Langrisser, I went back to Bravely Second.  I'm going to try and limit spoilers, but in some cases it will be hard to, and they will be noted.  This whole journey is kind of meant to be read when you are either past me or don't care, but be prepared just in case.

My Fort Lune is coming along nicely, as I got the scene for 80% completion near the end of the 30 hours.  I've also started using my ships to weaken the Ba'als, as I wanted to try fighting one to see how it goes.  I first chose a Turtle Dove, since it was a lower level than me (23 to my 25 or so).  Yeah, that didn't pan out.  It had a stupid high HP amount (120k or so).  I probably could have done it once I learned what its gimmick was, but I'll just weaken its level and fight it later.

I finally met the sniper (she was in the demo) named Aimee.  She has the hawkeye asterisk, but I can't remember that and usually call it sniper or marksman or something similar.  I rolled my eyes at her name, and sighed at how overpowered she was.  Not only did she shoot very accurately across an ocean, she is holding an army at bay by herself at the bridge.  Seriously?  The other army has shields!  Even if she can magically redirect bullets, I'm sure she couldn't do both 100 times in a minute.  The army v army stalemate in the last game made sense...this one tries to up the ante but fails.  Or she is a dynasty warrior.  The dungeon leading to her wasn't too bad, but I could have sworn I was able to use resurrect on the undead enemies inside, but then it wouldn't work later.  I guess I'll have to stick to healing them instead.

I also saw the chef job...sigh.  I was hoping I was wrong about that.

There was a princess I met that had a unique graphic, so I assume she is some future job.  She has a brother, who looks like Yojimbo.  Looks like a future job too, but I'm not sure what they would do for a third swordsman...maybe iaijutsu like the samurai in Final Fantasy Tactics?

We traveled with them to a hot springs town.  Of course we did, Japanese game gotta be Japanese.  There was also a hot springs themed dungeon to go with it, which had a really interesting idea.  Each area had different steam that gave a battle effect.  The first area favored magic, and wasn't really a big deal.  The second area gave everyone berserk, which was stupid.  I really dislike that ailment (but it's not my most hated), so I turned off battles and just ran through it, except for the one forced fight (it's on the map).  The third area gave every physical hit a critical effect.  This area was awesome for my two attackers, and I made short work of enemies.  However enemies were also really dangerous if I let them live!  The fourth area might even be better, as both sides start with full BP.  Great for doing chain battles, so I took advantage of that for a bit.

At the end of that dungeon, they had some story scenes.  At first, I thought it really strange/stupid that the princess' story matched up perfectly with Yew's.  Then, she revealed it was all an illusion and it made sense that it was a copy/paste.  Also, she also used the illusion on Aimee who then thought the bullets were being deflected?  I'm not so sure about that...

Anyway, she then tells Yew to feel bad because he got someone hurt because he wouldn't reveal his backstory.  The hell?  He told the princess not to go for the sword because it was cursed, so he did try to stop her.  He shouldn't have to tell her the entire sob story for her to not make a terrible decision, as she has done that herself.  Plus, she set the whole thing up, so she would have done it anyway, making her whole point moot.  I get what they were going for, but it was stupid and done wrong.  There's many points like that in games and shows where they attempt to make a point, but fail to very hard if you stop and think about it.  Sigh.
-End Spoilers-

Side quest-wise, it started with the white mage versus the merchant.  From the game perspective, I chose to side with the merchant so I could get the white mage job.  However, I also agreed with his proposal more than Holly's (the white mage).  Building up the economy of the entire continent is totally worth one family living in a childhood home.  The bit about the old only looking at the past and the young looking at the future was really insightful, too.  The end scene was kind of funny, even if it nullifies your choice.  The white mage, though...it's somehow not as good as the bishop.  I was shocked, but it won't be the last time we see something like that...

The black mage/hunter side quest had an interesting premise, with us being trapped with little food.  I understood the mage's thoughts about the food, but I really don't agree with him.  Plus, I wanted to cut the job from his belly and he's still an ass, so it was easy to side against him.  While normally I would want the ranger job, I have the thief for bow usage, so I don't need it yet.  Somehow, the ranger wasn't a psychopath, either.  I guess they toned down most of the previous asterisk holders so you could be somewhat sympathetic to their cause (most were horrible people).  At the end, I would have liked an explanation of how we got out, you just get some dialogue, it flashes white, Edea wakes up and it was all over.  Uh...what?  Did Moe save them?  What a cop out.

Just before the thirty hour mark, I finished the side quest for the ninja.  Thankfully it was between the ninja and knight (and not the dragoon or something I really like), so the choice was easy for me.  The quest itself was enjoyable too.  It reminded me of the section of the previous game where you fought the ninja.  I'm still not sold on choosing one job or the other, but most of the choices haven't been too bad so far.

While the game as a whole is going well so far, I have had the game freeze/hard lock/lock up on me 2 or 3 times so far.  It's always in battle when I'm selecting my moves and sometimes canceling them.  Whenever I want to investigate a bug, I have to stop and remind myself that I'm not a game tester anymore.  Still, it's sad to see this happen in the game, because usually Squeenix and Nintendo stuff is pretty solid.

< Hours 10-20   |   Hours 30-40 >

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Valkyria Chronicles Remastered (PS4) Review

Valkyria Chronicles was an early PS3 game that is held in high regard.  It was so early it doesn't even have trophies!  While I do own the original game, I have not had not played it for more than a few hours, so I was looking forward to reviewing the Remastered edition of the game.

I remember the game looking good years ago, and that hasn't changed.  Honestly, I can't really tell if it looks better.  There's a sketch/artsy/watercolor look to the game, so I can't really tell how much the graphics have been upgraded.  I'm betting if I saw them side by side, or if I had played the PS3 release in the last few years, I would notice something.  It also supports dual audio and a few other nice things.

Since the game is a story about a ragtag group of people becoming heroes, it is fittingly shown in a book format.  The story scenes are arrayed on each page, along with each story battle.  It's a great and unique way to show it all, and it allows you to re-watch any cutscenes easily.  There are different chapters for the story, and different tabs for various extras and other functions, like the extra battles and to go to the camp menu.  While it looks pretty, it is admittedly a little cumbersome to get to certain things.

Battles have two different modes.  First you start in Command mode, which will show the position of all known units and give you a basic lay of the land.  Enemies are shown if one of your characters has a line of sight on them, or had one during your turn.  If you had seen one and it is the enemy's turn, their icon becomes a question mark.  While in a way it is funny, since maybe your character forgot that unit was a tank, it more is that they are aware the enemy is somewhere there, but don't have an exact location.

When you actually choose a unit to move, the view zooms down to that person.  There is no grid or move range displayed.  Instead, you have an AP meter that dictates how much you can move.  Unfortunately, it goes down as you move, not as you move away from your initial position.  Basically, if you run in circles you will waste it all.  You also can't cancel any movement or even selecting the character from Command view, so make sure you plan accordingly.

While a unit is moving, it can be shot at by any opposing forces that it is within range of.  This is great when it is the enemy (although they are great at skirting this system to sometimes minimize damage), and less fun when it is your guys.  You can duck behind some sandbag walls that help you dodge enemy fire.  If you press the R1 button, you will then aim your attack.  Thankfully, this stop the auto-fire from enemies, so you have time to line up your shots.  Attacks will hit somewhere within the aiming reticle, so you don't have a whole lot of control over the accuracy, other than to try and fill of much of the reticle with the enemy as possible.

Snipers can zoom in, which helps a lot, but they only get one shot per attack.  Rifles get about 5 and machine guns get about 20.  After an attack, some units can counter attack if they are within range.  When you are done with your turn, you have to manually cancel it.  Why?  So the enemy can get a few more cheap shots at you if you aren't quick enough.  Personally, I like to survey a bit to plan my next move, but that is a luxury I am not given in Valkyria Chronicles.

Damage can vary a lot depending on multiple factors.  Criticals, enemy troop types, cover, range and even the personality quirks of the units affect it.  Each solider is an individual, which is not only represented by their unique graphics, but their own quirks, called potential.  Potential skills will activate when the conditions are met, be they positive or negative.  Some are helpful, but some are not.  I mean, why be a soldier if you are allergic to metal?  Honestly, they seem more of a pain to deal with then the small bonuses they can provide, so I don't like them.

Troop types matter too.  Scouts can move really far, but have average attack power and armor.  They get shredded by the Shocktrooper's machine guns if they wander to close.  Shocktroopers are solid all around, with no real weakness...other than having a tank shoot them in the face.  Lancers can do chunks of damage to a tank, and survive explosions with the greatest of ease, but can be put down by other units without much of a struggle (they can't counter attack).  Engineers are not powerful, but can heal a tank and disarm mines, making them valuable.  Having one hide behind your tank is a great way to tip the scales back in your favor.  Snipers have no real armor or counter attack, but have good accuracy over long range.  I like snipers, but they aren't as good as I think they should be, unless in the enemy's hands.

Each turn you get some Command Points (CP) to pick and move a unit.  Special units (mostly named characters for your side) will give a CP if they are on the field, and their defeat will make you lose that CP for the rest of the battle.  Tanks require 2 CP instead of 1 because they are so good, and it wouldn't be balanced otherwise.  A unit can move more than once in a turn, but with reduced AP each time.  This makes sense, as they would tire out the more they are used.  It is actually still useful in some instances, so I'm glad its there.

Battlefields also have bases for you and your enemy.  If you eliminate every enemy in a base, you can take it over for yourself.  If you turn starts in the vicinity of a base, you will recover more HP and ammo.  Units can also retreat from a base, which can free up the slot for another unit to take.  Thankfully you can also call in reinforcement for any fallen units, but it takes a turn for them to show up.  As the game even tells you, it is a valid strategy to use the less mobile units near a base, then retreat and re-summon them at a further base.  Once I realized how easy it was to use (and that you could replace fallen units), I started using and enjoying this system in the game.

The Base page of the book will give access to equipping and upgrading various parts of your team.  Experience from a battle is gained at the end, and it is just for a shared pool that is used for training for a class type.  This works really well, so you aren't tied down by who gets the killing blow so long as it happens.  Leveling up a class is also advantageous so you can swap in different people (or replace those that died) with no repercussions.  Experience can also be used to buy command skills from the veteran if you want some different things you can do with CP in battle.  There are upgrades to weapons and armor you can buy, which again affect all appropriate units.  You can also upgrade the tank, and develop pieces of equipment that you can put on it.

Valkyria Chronicles' length is what you might expect from RPGs nowadays.  It takes around 30 hours to complete the game, more so if you like to grind the skirmishes, like I do.  Besides the main campaign, the DLC for the original PS3 version is included, although the harder ones have to be unlocked.  I was always interested in the DLC where you play as Selvaria, and now I can (it's pretty hard though).

The game does have its share of difficulty, even though I liked to do the skirmishes for extra experience and money.  Enemies seem to have great accuracy when it is least convenient, and they love to tear through your Scouts.  That made me ditch the whole character class early on in the game in favor of the much better Shocktroopers.  Being a strategy game, most maps are skewed against you, but maybe that is to reinforce the feeling of your group being the "little man" in the conflict.  If one of your units falls in battle, you can run over to them and a medic will be called to pick them up.  This prevents them from dying permanently.  The game says you have three turns to do this, but if the enemy comes into contact with a fallen ally, they are just gone.  That's some cold stuff, coyote.

Overall, Valkyria Chronicles is a good strategy game/SRPG.  It has a great presentation with the water-color looking graphics and the book motif for menu and story selections.  The battles are a bit harder and more lop-sided than I would have liked, but at least there is the ability to grind.  Having all the previous DLC included should be standard, but always appreciated.  However, while playing the game, I realized why I don't play many games like this and Fire Emblem.  No matter how strict or loose the perma-death is, its inclusion in the game makes me nervous.  I'm a worrywort by nature, so it just makes me feel uneasy playing a game that has it, to the point where I might avoid playing it altogether.  Even so, people less anxious than myself should try it out if they like strategy games or strategy RPGs, and it is worth picking up the remastered edition for fans of the game.

The Good:
A lengthy and pretty strategy game/SRPG that is finally available digitally in North America.  Plus it includes all the previous DLC.

The Bad:
Many battles feel skewed in favor of the enemies, and the perma-death, while not super strict, makes me edgy while playing

The SaHD:
I was happy to see Vyse and Aika still present as soldier in the army.  I'm still hoping for a Skies of Arcadia remaster in the near future.

(Review code for Valkyria Chronicles Remastered supplied by the publisher)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart (PC) Review

Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is the PC version of the previous PS Vita release of the game (review for that here).  While the other Neptunia games are RPGs, Hyperdevotion Noire is a strategy RPG, like Disgaea or Fire Emblem.  Instead of the usual 3D representations of the characters, the game uses a chibi (big head, small body) style.

If you have played other SRPGs, then the battle system should be largely familiar to you.  Your movement is on a grid with ranges defined by # of panels.  You can move and use an action during your character's turn, and repeat for all of your characters.  The enemy will then be able to do the same with all of their units.  Normal attacks can be met with a counter attack, and the damage and chance of each is listed when selecting a target.  In that respect, the game hits all the right points.

Since this is a Neptunia game, the main CPU girls can transform into their goddess forms.  While it only lasts a few turns, each one can move and attack twice while it is in effect.  It adds some more tactics to battles, since you can use it early to try and rush, or save it to turn things around.  The other characters don't get access to these, but they have many other uses that can be just as important, such as healing or ranged attacks.

Noire will require some grinding, but not for every map.  There are side quest maps that can be done multiple times, and you will likely need to.  At this point, that is par for the course in Neptunia games, but bears mentioning each time for the benefit of any newcomers.  Other than that, my biggest gripe is with some of the levels themselves.

To set itself apart from other SRPGs, there are gimmick tiles that have various effects.  Some are moving platforms to get to other parts of the stage, but most are hazard tiles.  Any CPU forms are flying and are not bound by these, but in any other instance you are stuck dealing with them.  If you hit a damage one, it will automatically end your turn.  Gee, thanks!  As an even bigger PITA, enemies don't seem to be affected by them at all.

I played the game for a few hours, and it ran fine on my i7-4790/16GB ram PC.  Since the game isn't action-oriented, it played just fine with the keyboard and mouse.  The standard button config was a bit strange to me, but again, you don't need to find anything really fast so it wasn't an issue (they are listed at the bottom of the screen most times).  I tried it out with a normal Xbox 360 controller, and it worked just as well.  Make sure you set that you are using a controller in the menu though.  I had not, and while it worked fine, it liked to make my mouse cursor jump to anything I would normally have to click.  A minor annoyance, but worth mentioning.

While not the best SRPG I've played, Hyperdevotion Noire is fun.  It's not without its faults, but I'd recommend it to fans of the Neptunia series or SRPG fans.

The Good:
Competent SRPG, and I really like the new characters based off of various game series.

The Bad:
Like other Neptunia games, there will be some grinding necessary in HD Noire.  My biggest complaint is with the gimmick tiles in battles, since they don't seem to affect enemies.  That's bunk, dude.

The SaHD:
So after a Noire game, we get a Blanc one.  After Blanc, we get...Iffy.  What?!  I think you forgot one there...
Also I think the names are getting longer the more the series goes on.  I'm scared what will be the titles of these games in a few years.

(Review code for Hyperdevotion Noire was provided by the publisher.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies (PS Vita) Review

Continuing off of the hack and slash gameplay of Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed, the girls are back again in a new adventure.  MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies is the spiritual successor to the earlier spin-off, this time (mostly) starring Blanc.  That name is also a mouthful.  It adds one new character (Tamsoft), three characters from other Neptunia games, and new enemies.  IF is really on a role adding new enemies to the Neptunia games, and I like it.

Thankfully the mission structure has been revamped to be much easier to follow.  While it is more linear, it bothers having a story, so I'll take the change.  The story is also very fitting for the series.  Blanc and the other CPUs are all going to school.  Neptune has founded a film club and wants to make a movie to help save the school from closing at the end of the year.  She is starting to make a zombie movie, and enlists Blanc to write and direct it.  Trouble is, an actual zombie outbreak occurs while they are filming.

So, what's the best solution?  Just film your scenes around that, using the actual zombies as cheap stand-ins for the low budget film.  Yes, the idea is silly, but a funny one that likes to lampoon the zombie movie genre and still have its trademark Neptunia style.  In a great addition, some of the girls are really bad actors.  So you have voice actors doing a good job of playing a character who is then badly playing another character.  Cue the Tropic Thunder-level Inception stuff.  Plus, there are alternate scenes for some of the game if you pick specific girls, which is really cool.

The story scenes don't always match up to each other, or really flow as a movie, but I feel like that's part of the charm.  Many low budget and similar projects easily suffer from that, so it feels legit.  I would like the "movie" scenes in the game to have a better indication that they are for the film and not the game's story.  While you can usually tell from the dialogue, some visual cue (like a different text box or some kind of border) would be something I'd want to see.

Since the game is a hack and slash action game, there is a lot of fighting groups of monsters and bosses.  The square button is your main attack string, and the triangle button is a stronger attack.  Block is on the R Button while the L Button is for centering the camera and locking on.  The lock-on seems finicky most of the time, but it is very useful for bosses when it does want to work.  Your characters also have a jump that doesn't seem very useful and a dash that...also doesn't seem very useful.  They can help you break the recovery time at the end of a combo, but I've only needed that on one character (poor Tamsoft), so I rarely used them.  Of the two, the dash was more helpful in combat.

Holding the R Button and pressing a face button will give you one of the character's special attacks.  They are all available from the start, unlike the previous game where they were granted at certain levels.  The special moves are now on a cooldown system.  There is a meter next to your character's portrait.  When it is filled, you can use one of your special moves.  While it's nice that you will always have access to them given enough time, I far prefer the older system of attacking to fill several meters.  Some of the special attacks were best used every few seconds, not once every 20 seconds or so.  Hopefully the next game can strike a good balance between the two systems.

The meter above a character's health allows them to transform, use a super move, or the double team attack by holding both shoulder buttons and pressing a face button.  Super moves are no longer only usable when transformed, although you will get a slightly extended version if you use it then.  It still uses what is left of the meter, though.  The double team attack is really useful for damage and getting a lot of hits.  Unfortunately, boss enemies tend to easily fall out of them and the super moves.  The times you need it most are the times it fails the most.  I hope that changes soon.

Offline fights can have up to two characters per level.  Switching isn't that hard and happens quickly.  I rarely needed to use it, but did use it a few times for fun.  Thankfully the experience earned at the end of the stage is the same for both characters, a good improvement over the previous game.  At first the game felt a little loose, and combat didn't feel as refined.  I discovered that this was because I was playing on the PS TV and not the Vita.  Once I tried it on the Vita, the problem disappeared.  It was still fully playable on the PS TV (don't click the sticks down though), but it didn't feel as good.

When you level up, you gets some skill points that can increase one of four stats (HP, Pow, Def and Technic).  You earn a set amount per level, and have to spend them in the required amount per increase.  Since you can't spend less than 100, I don't know why they don't just give you 1 point instead.  Plus, you can't see how many points you need for the next increase until you have enough.  Not a huge deal, but a strange choice that really feels like an oversight.  The Technic category only gives an effect every few levels.  I'd think it would be easier to not have the extraneous levels, and just make each level cost more points.

Each character gets multiple weapons that are recolors to tell them apart.  They will increase your attack, which is already much higher than your defense.  Each weapon can have some weapon mods on them, which provide some bonuses.  Neither the game nor manual explain how this system works.  If it were intuitive, or something I could understand just by looking at it, that might not be a problem.

As far as I've experienced, you can place the mods on the weapon, and each costs a certain amount of memory.  Each weapon has a memory limit (with stronger weapons curiously having much less) that dictates the number of different mods you can place on it.  That part mostly makes sense, but then each mod has a use limit.  I'm not sure why.  While I've checked and they do go down, sometimes they are refilled.  Either that or I've used it up, which shouldn't be the case when it says I have 30 uses left and have maybe done 8 or so levels and it's (back?) up to max.  No previous Neptunia game had something like this, so it's a bit confusing.  Some of the bonuses aren't even that great, so it feels like you can just ignore the whole system completely.

Unlike Action Unleashed, you don't get any other pieces of equipment to wear.  Accessories are now just cosmetic things to put on your characters.  Honestly, the previous system in the last game was superior in those respects.  You do get more costumes though, by collecting various items as you play the game.  You just get them during battles (maybe based on the rating), so it isn't some collectible you have to seek out.  It's cool that they are gaming systems that unlock costumes for the characters, but some of the choices are odd.  They have all the Playstations (1, 2, multiple 3's, and 4), but no Wii U or Xbox One?  At least they have several Nintendo systems to partially compensate...

There are 12 story chapters, and each has 1-7 missions in it.  Each mission is really short, but you will probably have to grind experience at some point and there is replayability in unlocking the extra cut scenes.  Most levels aren't very hard, but bosses seem to be harder than the suggested level.  The online provides some nice extra content with its own set of missions.  Their suggested levels start low enough that you can use new characters for them, and I found them good levels to grind on.  I really like that online has every character unlocked from the get-go.  You can rank up to unlock more missions, but I'm not sure how, other than just doing some missions.

Overall, I'd say MegaTagmension is an improvement over its predecessor, provided you play it on the Vita.  The mission structure is improved and the new characters are a nice addition (Iris Heart in particular is fun to play).  I'm not too keen on the lowered defense and changing accessories from helpful equipment into fashion pieces.  The weapon mod system needs either some reworking or explaning.  There's also a few instances of text overrun that I'm sure will get patched out.  MegaTagmension is a fun hack and slash game for fans of the Neptunia series that I enjoyed playing.

The Good:
I liked HD Neptunia U: Action Unleashed, so a sequel with more characters is always welcome.  Story is a great idea, and the structure of it is much improved from the previous game.

The Bad:
Some of the reworked mechanics (weapons, accessories, special moves) just didn't pan out.  Time to revert!

The SaHD:
Speaking of Vert, I'm miffed she isn't getting a spinoff game next.  We just had the third CPU, but now it goes to Iffy?  I realize who the developer is, but come on...

(Review code for MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies was provided by the publisher)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Witch and Hero (3DS): the Good, the Bad and the SaHD

The Good:
Playing as the knight, you have to prevent enemies from destroying the witch by...bumping in to them.  As you progress further and further, there are more, harder enemies and you have to purchase upgrades to keep the knight strong enough to keep the enemies at bay.  The game is pretty fun and has good pick up and play value with bite-sized missions.  

The Bad:
The game gets more difficult pretty quickly, which necessitates grinding.  At least it pads the playtime?

The SaHD:
I bought it for a dollar on the e-shop, and I've put at least 3 hours into the game.  While I'm not keen on the grind-heavy nature of the game, it was worth the price.  It's a game I can come back to for a bit every so often.

(Witch and Hero was purchased from the 3DS E-shop)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Langrisser Re: Incarnation -TENSEI- (3DS) Review

Sadly, I had not heard of the Langrisser series until a few years ago.  I understand why, since only one title was localized in the US, it was renamed Warsong, and was on the Sega Genesis.  Back then, I was a Nintendo fanboy (wow how the times change!), and didn't play a whole lot of Genesis games.  Many years later I sought to buy one and get a few of the gems that I liked or wanted to play, and Warsong was toward the top of that list.  Now, the latest entry, Langrisser Re: Incarnation -TENSEI- has come to the West on the 3DS, courtesy of Aksys Games.

After watching the nice intro movie, I started the game and was then faced with a questionnaire.  Hmmm.  Well, it helps to determine your starting class and your stats...I think.  I'm not fully sure.  While these are fun to do, I still prefer to just set the stuff directly, or at least would like to know what each answer affects.

I also quickly learned that the buttons are switched from "normal" Nintendo controls, and were more in-line with western Playstation or Xbox buttons.  Meaning the bottom button, (B in this case) was accept and the A Button was cancel.  It's not a big deal to switch over, but since I was previously playing a game that uses the more traditional Nintendo button layout, it took me a bit to keep it straight.

Langrisser is a strategy RPG with grid-based battles.  While most SRPGs have individual v individual combat, it is more focused on army v army.  This is accomplished by having commander units and mercenary units.  Your actual characters are the commanders, and for each battle you can spend points to give them some mercenaries (referred to here as "mercs").  Mercs have lower stats, but gain a significant bonus if they are within range of their assigned commander (this can make them stronger than the commander unit).  Therefore, while they are separate units, you will want to move them almost as one.  It definitely makes for some interesting battles, since enemies also follow this system.

If a commander is killed, any mercs assigned to them die too.  Well, since they are hired, it might be seen as running away, but there is a large explosion that claims them all, so I'm sure they just magically die.  You won't get any experience for mercs killed this way.  Therefore you have to make the decision to kill them one by one for the boost in rewards, or go for the quick kill.  Since there is no way to grind in the game, you are often better off if you go for the mercs before the commander, and try to have your mercs get the killing blows (they pass all exp to the commander).  However, there are times you might want to just cut the head off the snake, as it were.

Every unit starts the battle with the max HP of 10.  If you lose a unit, you will be out any points that it cost to hire them at the end of the battle.  Beyond that, there isn't really any penalty for getting a unit killed, which is nice.  Well, other than a character falling behind in levels, which can be very difficult to make up.  Since you don't reclaim points for any destroyed units, I would think it is possible to run low enough on points to make it much harder to proceed.  I didn't have this problem, so I don't know if it could actually happen, but it seems possible.  Before you confirm your attack, it shows about how effective your attack will be.  They range from Overwhelm - Advantage - Normal - Disadvantage - Danger (best to worst).  These aren't the best indicators of how much damage you will do, but at least it will let you know if you shouldn't attack at all.

In an interesting twist, character order is set by character class.  Healers go first, which is very nice.  Units that have large move ranges, such as cavalry, move later in the turn.  At first I wasn't keen on it, but it didn't hinder me as much as I thought it would.  It was a nice change of pace once I got used to it.  Once you start getting more and more mercs for your commanders, battlefields can become cluttered.  There are many choke points on the various maps, so you have to be careful of crowding.  It's also not very easy to tell your units apart if you have multiple of the same merc types, since they will have the same graphic.

However, while healers and mages tend to move earlier in a turn, they are also handicapped by another system in the game.  Skills and magic can only be used if you don't move first.  Therefore, you cannot move up to a unit to heal it.  You also have to already be in range to use an offensive spell.  Offensive spells are also pretty weak.  While the second spell can hit a bigger area, it doesn't eclipse the damage you can do just by attacking.  Added together, mages are just really bad in the game.  Mercs will heal some HP if they are next to their commander at the start of the turn, and if a commander doesn't move they can use the "heal" command to restore 3 HP and some MP.  Meaning, clerics and other healers aren't very useful either.  At least they can do some good damage by attacking.

When you do an attack, the game switches to a battle view that shows your unit/troops attacking the enemy unit/troops.  They use the chibi art style of having a big head.  Here, the head is gigantic compared to the body, being several times larger.  Maybe it's so they can display more models on the screen?  Regardless, I don't like that style at all here, and turned it off.  Besides looking better, it was easier for me to track the damage done.

When any character hits level 10, they will get a class change.  Until the last change, you can choose from 2 different paths.  One will be the upgrade of whatever they already are, and the other is a different type.  Before you finalize your choice, it will show the stat changes and any skills gained, so you can make an informed decision.  Each class has a strength and weakness.  In practice, I didn't really notice this in-game.  I've had plenty of cavalry units beat lancers (which they are weak against) and other similar match-ups.  I'm glad that it isn't an absolute system, so units can defeat their weakness, but it feels like it isn't in use at all, which isn't good either.

Like many other SRPGs, the terrain you move on affects your movement.  For some reason, everywhere has at least a move -1.  Even so, it doesn't actually seem to lower my movement.  Some areas, like water, are move -2, but seem to hinder it even more.  I don't get it, as the whole system is inconsistent.  It's also different per unit type (flyers have very few restrictions).  Even if a tile is impassable, you can attack over it with an archer or mage.  Sadly, that doesn't really make mages any better.

Each story has 25 missions, and they take anywhere from 30-75 minutes each, especially the later battles that are multi-part.  It took me about 23 hours to get through the first run.  Battles were not hard at all, even when I lost the occasional character, until the last few of the game.  The final 3 or 4 battles  seemed to bump the difficulty up by a notch, mostly by making the enemy generals have high stats.  Also these battles would have a second or third wave of enemies appear after clearing out the initial batch.

At a few points in the game, you will have to make a choice on what path to take, leading to multiple endings and party configurations.  These branching paths give the game good replay value.  My biggest gripe is any choice is made in or after a battle, so you can't save before doing one.  Yuck.  You can also sort of romance the characters, which will unlock a special skill and give you a CG image.  Problem is, you can ostensibly get one per run.  In theory you would need to go through the game a lot to get this for all 28 characters!  There's also hidden items on some stages to give you reasons to poke around.  While it is still an insane amount of playthroughs needed for full completion (especially for an RPG), there is a new game+ once you beat the story.  Your characters will keep their levels and class choices, but you will lose your equipment.  Subsequent runs will be much easier, but not a whole lot faster.

Langrisser Re: Incarnation -TENSEI- was actually fun to play.  I had a pile of small and medium-sized problems with the game, though.  Type match-ups and terrain effects were inconsistent, and not allowing the player to save before a crucial choice is really annoying.  The game offers a lot of replay value though, with several branching paths and a new game+.

The Good:
Despite its faults, I thought the game was fun to play.  There are multiple paths through the game, giving good reasons to play through it multiple times.

The Bad:
The chibi art style used in the game, the inconsistency in battle rules, and having big story choices after lengthy battles.  Have I mentioned enough how much I didn't like those?

The SaHD:
So after one of the later battles, you can confess your love to one of the characters.  I picked the one I liked best, and she had the highest level of affection.  However, she then shot me down cold.  I'm not sure why.  So, I put her in the next battle and let her...uh, let's say...retreat.  I stopped using her for a few battles (I don't need her) and she became useless when I tried putting her back in.  See what she caused?  Also, wow some of the character endings during the credits are just cruel to the character.  I guess it's more realistic but seems a bit too over the top.

(Review code for Langrisser Re: Incarnation -TENSEI- was provided by the publisher)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Demon King Box (3DS): The Good, the Bad and the SaHD

The Good:
A unique experience where you summon minions to place them on one of three lanes toward your enemy.  It kind of reminds me of a MOBA, but with no player heroes.  It can be really fun when you are on a roll and throwing lots of minions at your enemies.

The Bad:
There are points where it just has levels that feel way harder than they should be.  Enemy archers can be a huge pain to get past since they can slaughter you from afar.  The game's translation is also...spotty, at best.

The SaHD:
At the end of one of the levels, the game soft locked on me.  When I booted it back up, I had credit for completing the level, but I don't think I got the rewards.  Overall the unique gameplay is worth the dollar I paid, but I don't know if it's a game I will bother completing.

(Demon King Box was purchased from the 3DS E-shop)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Grand Kingdom [Beta] (PS4) Preview

I tried the Grand Kingdom beta a few days ago.  First off, I really like the art style of the game, and the animation is nice.  It's like a good version of Battle Princess Arcadias.

The gameplay is pretty unique, like a mix of rpg and board game.  You move around a map as a chess-like piece. There are treasures and shortcuts around the map, and a turn limit.  If you come into contact with an enemy piece, a fight starts.

Your four person party fights on three planes against another enemy group.  Each character has a movement meter that shows how much they can move, and an attack meter than depletes with each attack.  Attacks are pretty neat, since melee people have a combo you can execute, and can even launch opponents.  Archers and mages have a target mark that moves through the area, and you have to time your press to correspond to where the enemy is.  They also get multiple attacks you can chain together.  It takes some getting used to, since the mage's targeting isn't as nice as the archer's.

It worked...well enough for the most part.  It was way too easy to hit your own people (heals can also work on enemies, yuck), since the target areas and arcs aren't accurate.  Plus a rebounding enemy can hit other characters causing some damage, which is more annoying than I would have thought.  Battle controls aren't very intuitive, and took me some getting used to.  Even after an hour or so I would mess up the buttons occasionally.  The in-game tutorials teach the map and battles well enough.

What they don't teach is some of the other nuances.  While they over-explain some things like menu selections, something as important as the stats of your characters are left up to your imagination.  When you level up, you can give some bonus points, but I wasn't sure if some things affected others.  Str gives physical attack damage, but does it affect bow attacks?  Usually that is dexterity or agility, but no stat in Grand Kingdom mentions bow damage.  I wouldn't be so bothered by this, but I always get the sense that I was messing up my characters, or not getting what I should be doing with their growth (more on that below).

Even so, the single player experience was really fun.  After doing the one map, you are then forced to do some of the multiplayer versus.  It is thankfully not actual pvp, but more kingdom v kingdom.  I don't fully understand it all, but I had to do it, which isn't fun.  I tried it once, won a battle, and then the entire war was lost.  I have no idea why, it just said it was over.  The enemy group was the same level as my party, but a really hard fight.  That's where I started thinking I messed up my bonus stats, since player enemies had much longer combos than I did.  At least you can just leave the AI to do it for you, and I'm hoping the full game has enough single player that I can ignore the pvp nonsense.  I'm game to try it!

The Good:
Nice art style, unique gameplay and the fights were fun.

The Bad:
I don't like pvp, and it didn't make much sense here.  Hopefully it isn't forced in the full game like it was in the beta.

The SaHD:
It seems the beta is the "lite" version, so maybe the pvp focus is in some kind of free-to-play version which will bump up the people playing the game.  Or people will just do it on alternate accounts to beef up the armies they want to win...