Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Drive Girls (PS Vita) Review

Tamsoft brings us another action game, this time featuring girls who can transform into cars.  Named Drive Girls, this sounds like it has the potential to be one of the best games based off the premise.  In execution, it is anything but.

So you run around and attack various "bug" enemies.  The square button is your normal attack, which builds up your EP meter.  Triangle does a stronger attack, which takes EP.  Well, if you have it.  If your EP is empty, Triangle...does the same attack.  I don't know if there's a difference, but since you don't need EP to do it, why even take it in the first place?  You can also hold either of these buttons to do different attacks.  For some strange reason, this isn't mentioned in the game or the manual.  Yup, you have to look up game info online to even find out such a basic thing.  It's a pretty dumb oversight, but not the last.

The X Button will jump, and pressing the Circle Button will dash/dodge.  Unfortunately, dashing is your only defensive move.  There is no blocking in Drive Girls, and it is sorely needed (more on that in a bit).  You can only dash so many times (depending on girl and weapon) before needing a second to recover, which is a great time for the enemies to hit you.  Holding the Circle Button will sacrifice your EP to fill your Overdrive Gauge.  When filled, you will have double damage for a minute, which is really crucial, and the goal of any fight.  Trouble is, the gauge will decrease on its own, and the effect only last so long.  Plus, you have to build up EP, shunt it into the Overdrive Gauge, and hope you don't get hit while doing so.  In practice, this is way too difficult, especially for something the game relies on and expects you to do regularly.

Another use for EP is to shoot your gun.  Ostensibly, you would select it like a normal item to equip it.  This is not intuitive and cumbersome.  You can also tap the touchscreen to switch.  The manual does show this in small print at the bottom of the controls section, but again, the game doesn't mention it at all.  However, I found tapping the screen to switch wasn't really that responsive.  It does skip animations, which is what the high level play of Drive Girls is based on.  Still, tapping the screen in the middle of combos or whatever else is also awkward and cumbersome.  Also the actual aiming of the guns doesn't seem that great, either.

So now that we know the controls aren't very good, and the game doesn't tell you basic functions, how is the actual combat?  Sadly, it is no better than anything mentioned before.  Enemies are very quick, aggressive, and do real damage quickly.  Did I mention there are lots of them?  They also only use the same three colors so it can be hard to pick out the leaders quickly.  You can lock onto enemies, which sometimes can help, assuming it locks onto the one you want, or there aren't more than one strong enemy.

Oh, they also rarely react to getting hit, also known as 'staggering'.  So, enemies are fast, chase after you, hit you, juggle you, do good damage, and punish you for attacking them?  Yup, they have pretty much every advantage they need to destroy you.  I'm not even sure Dark Souls is that unbalanced.  Searching online does have information to make battles palatable.  Basically, you have to animation skip by switching to your gun and back, then get in Overdrive all the time.  It's sad that the "high level" play is what makes the game, well, playable.  That should not be the case.  I'd let it go if you could grind for experience or something, but there are no levels in Drive Girls, and no selectable difficulty for missions.

Since you don't gain levels, what can you do to get stronger?  For one, there are stickers.  Seeing as how the girls can transform into cars, having sponsorship-like stickers makes sense.  You can see what bonuses they give, and change them freely with the ones you have acquired.  If you collect a full set, you can equip that for a set bonus.  According to the stat bars, the set bonus replaces the individual bonus, but the in-game tutorials claim they don't.  Since there are only vague bars and not  actual numbers, I'm not sure which is lying to me.  Also, the bonuses are all percent based, meaning if a character is bad at something, increasing it by a percent instead of a flat number isn't going to make them much better.

You can also equip L Gears for...some kind of boosts.  As far as I can tell, you have to buy them for each character, which will get expensive.  Maybe that's what you grind for instead of experience...money and stickers, so you can buy stuff for marginal increases.  Anyway, the gears can be re-set, and put into one of three categories- physical, strong, and accel.  What does each affect?  I don't know, and the game, of course, won't tell you.  I can take guesses, but I shouldn't have to.

Oh, right, you can also turn into a car.  This helps you drive from one group of enemies to the next, or even compete in the few races the story mode offers.  Control-wise, driving is fairly competent.  Enemy groups seem to be spread out far enough that it's a pain to walk to them, but not so far that driving is that much better.  You'll be in the car mode for a second or three.  Well, that's when they let you.  After the first few levels, they start placing landmines on the road so you won't drive.  I'm not sure who puts the landmines down, as the bugs don't trip them, and they don't seem smart enough to make that many personal explosive traps when they could kill you far easier with their cheap attacks.  I do know that placing the mines negates using the car, which kind of negates half of the game's title.

The story structure is similar to other Tamsoft Vita games, where you select a chapter, then the level you want.  It's laid out very well.  There are also multiplayer missions that can be completed by yourself (except maybe the very high level ones), locally with ad hoc, or online.  I'll give the game props for having a good selection of missions to complete, even if the ability to do so is beyond me.

If you couldn't tell already, I was very disappointed in Drive Girls.  The concept is silly and should have been great, but almost every aspect of the game was bungled.  I like some of Tamsoft's action and action rpg games, but it feels like the quality declines with each new title.  Unless you want to master high level play to actually make it through the game, and don't mind mashing buttons and the touch screen to make it happen, I recommend letting Drive Girls pass on by.

The Good:
Nice concept.

The Bad:
The combat, controls, equipment...you know, the important stuff.

The SaHD:
No, seriously, why are there landmines and who put them all over the place?

(Review code for Drive Girls was provided by the publisher)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Yakuza Kiwami (PS4) Review

The first Yakuza game that I played (and reviewed) was the latest chronological entry, Yakuza 5.  I am glad to get to play Yakuza Kiwami, which is a PS4 remaster of the PS2 original game.  I'll eventually get Yakuza 0, too.  New things were added to Kiwami, making it more than a simple remaster.

The story is actually a big focus of the Yakuza series, and the story of this game is good.  Some points are predictable, but I was interested and entertained the whole way through.  Although, Kiryu needs to stop leaving unconscious enemies laying around...you think he'd learn eventually.  Anyway, the remastered character models and graphics look great, and run super smooth as you battle thugs, rescue friends, and run around Kamuracho.  It does feel like Kiryu gets stuck on the environment a lot, which is noticeable, since you run around town a lot.

I loved the brutal combat in Yakuza 5, and fully expected to love it here.  I was mostly right.  You still beat up thugs with various kicks, punches, and grabs.  As long as you hit and avoid damage, you build up a heat meter which allows you to do special (and damaging) moves that usually look extremely painful.  Some are clearly deadly.  I would like it if the heat moves were on a different button, since there were times I used it when I just wanted to use the Triangle Button attack.  Kiryu can block and dodge, but so can the enemies.  And oh boy, do they love to do that.  It's really (not) fun to watch an enemy dodge/dash around 10 times while you do nothing.  Calm down, son!

I initially started the game on normal, but the enemies were sometimes annoying.  They would dodge out of the way of every attack while their friends took cheap shots.  They like to also have cheesy get up moves that would hit me, or attack right as I got to my feet.  So I bumped it down to easy.  Trouble is, that didn't really fix it.  There are still too many enemies that just constantly dodge attack after attack unless you are in certain styles (more on that in a bit).  You also fall down...a lot.  It's really annoying.  You can mash the X Button to theoretically get up faster, but it rarely helps.  There's plenty of fights where a gun guy hangs back and just picks you off, so you fall down and his buddies can land some more cheap attacks on you.  I'll fully admit I wasn't going to learn every in-and-out of the combat system.  If I'm playing on easy, I shouldn't have to.

Kazuma Kiryu now has different stances in battle.  I don't know if this was in the original.  Each is set to a different direction on the d-pad.  They also have their own strengths, weaknesses, combos, and heat moves.  While it's fun to switch stances, there are times when it's pretty much necessary.  Some enemies are only really hit by some styles.  Switching isn't as easy or fluid as I would like, since there are only certain times you can switch.  You can stand still to do so, but that makes you an easy target.  Bosses sometimes kneel down and you can use a specific style's heat move on them for big damage.  This would be cool, but they aren't specific to the enemy.  Oh, and they heal while down, too.  Not a good combination.  Overall the styles are passable, but not as fun or fluid as I think they should be.

While your attacks and stats are lacking in the beginning, there are multiple skill grids that you can spend experience on.  The main three - body, tech, and soul - use experience levels to purchase passive and active skills.  Each "ring" has a set cost, from 1 to 85.  Yes, 85 is a lot when you are starting out, but completing the later chapters will net you a few hundred.  The fourth grid is "dragon", and you can't spend experience to level it up.  Instead, you will fill out most of it by battling the Mad Dog of Shimano, Majima.  An added feature is "Majima Everywhere", where he can jump out and attack you, or interrupt one of your fights.  Strangely, it you don't advance it much, he doesn't really appear.  This is nice because your fights won't get a lot harder randomly, but bad because the dragon style will suffer for it.

The story mode will set you back 20-25 hours.  Mine was toward the end of that, and I didn't do much extraneous stuff, just some of the side stories.  The side stories aren't marked on the map as they are in the...later(?) Yakuza 5, so I may have missed some.  After the story there is the premium mode, where you can clean up various things, and also new game plus.  Nice.  Besides that, there are several mini-games.  Bowling, karaoke, slot car racing, a glorified rock-paper-scissors card game...you get the idea.  They aren't all my cup of tea, but the slot car racing was pretty fun.

Is Yakuza Kiwami good?  Yes.  Is it fun?  Yes, mostly.  I enjoyed the story, even if the combat didn't feel as good as Yakuza 5.  There are still plenty of scenes that sell Kiryu as a legit badass.  It's easy to focus on the story, and there are a lot of extra activities to do when you are done.  It's an easy recommendation for people like me that got into the series more recently, as the story is a central focus.

The Good:
Brutal heat moves, good story, and lots to do.

The Bad:
Fighting some of the bosses is really frustrating.

The SaHD:
I am totally excited for this studio taking a swing at a Fist of the North Star game, even if Kenshiro will have to do silly side jobs.

(Review code for Yakuza Kiwami was provided by the publisher)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma (PS4) Review

Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma is the third in the Nonary Games trilogy, following 9 Persons, 9 Doors, 9 Hours and Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward.  I tried Virtue's Last Reward when it became a Playstation Plus title.  I only played it for an hour.  It's a puzzle game, and playing that game was what cemented my feelings on puzzle games...mainly that I don't like them.

So why review this?  Well, if I'm given a code/copy, I will do my best to play and review it.  So, I booted it up, watched the opening cut scene, and then had a choice...which side of the coin landed up?  I guessed, and it was correct!  Game over, credits rolled, review over!

Just kidding.

I do like that such a thing can happen, but later found out that it's supposed to.  No matter what you choose the first time, this is the outcome.  Ugh.  Well, at least it's better than the 0.05~% "choice".

That aside, Zero Time Dilemma, like the first two Nonary Games, has a great premise.  Nine people are trapped in a location by a mysterious madman, and forced to solve puzzles to survive.  Well, only some of them.  To actually escape, several of the others must die.  This time, the story is presented differently than the others.  Well, at least different from the previous game, as I have not played the first.

There are three groups of three people that work together and escape the different rooms, while finding clues as to what is going on and who is behind the deadly game.  I like that you can switch between all three groups at many points in the story.  It's cool to see all of the struggles each group goes through.  Plus, you can also sabotage certain groups, which lets you see all of the branching story paths.  There is a fairly helpful chart that shows the paths and outcomes that you have done, making finding the alternates very easy.

However, there is a huge downside to the story.  Each story block and subsequent choice or puzzle is a fragment of what happens to a group.  After the starting hour or so, many of these finally open for all surviving groups.  Once you complete a section, you see where it fits into the timeline, but not before.  This makes the story told in a disjointed and jumbled manner.  Since half of the game is like a visual novel, the story is important.  Having it told in random order is just a bad idea.  Yes, they explain it in the story, but I don't like it.  Would you like reading random chapters of a book, or in the correct order so it can be followed and understood?

As a puzzle game, the playtime is variable.  Some people will quickly solve some puzzles, which will stump other players.  Those first people will then be stuck on some problem that others figure out immediately.  That's just the way it goes.  If you know the solutions, it will be a much faster game, but it will likely take newer players 30 or more hours to finish.  Thankfully, there are solutions online in case you when you get stuck.  Some solutions seemed way too convoluted to me, or the clues weren't even available.  As such, I got very frustrated at several points.

If you like puzzle games with story, or played and enjoyed the other Nonary Games, then I'm sure you will enjoy Zero Time Dilemma.  If you are not a fan of puzzle games, or like coherent and well-told stories, then I'd recommend skipping it.

The Good:
A competent puzzle game that fans of the first two games should enjoy.

The Bad:
Telling the story of a story-based game in a random order is a bad idea.

The SaHD:
Seriously, the 3 snakes eyes thing is crazy, luckily you only have to try 3 times.

(Review code for Zero Time Dilemma was provided by the publisher)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Moero Chronicle (PC/Steam) Review

In a world where monster girls are going crazy and attacking their formerly allied humans, someone must find the cause and put a stop to it.  Io, forced by the local mayor, is that someone.  He quickly recruits his childhood friend and monster girl Lilia, then sets out to find the cause.

Previously released in Japan on the Vita as Moe Chronicle, Moero Chronicle is now available on Steam.  It's a first person dungeon RPG, but with a unique twist.  When it comes time to save the monster girls, you have to...well, poke, pinch, and rub them.  If you have played Monster Monpiece, it's basically the same mechanic as it is there.

Dungeons are set on a grid, and you can move forward, backward, or turn to the sides with the d-pad.  While using an Xbox 360 controller, movement was locked to the d-pad.  This was unfortunate, since as much as I like most aspects of that controller, the d-pad is easily the worst part.  The d-pad being bad isn't the game's fault, I would have just liked to be able to set movement to the stick instead.  The stick is used for...some kind of menu shortcuts that I didn't use.  I could change the button setting in the options, but not the setting for the sticks.

Battles are turn based, but use the agility stat to determine order.  However, it isn't broken into traditional turns.  Instead, faster characters just act more often than slow ones.  The monster girls in your party can attack, use a skill, defend, or calm Io down.  Attacks don't cost anything, but tend to be weaker than skills.  Skills use MP, so they should be used sparingly.  Besides the monster girls and enemies, Io can do some actions as well.  He can "store" his desire, and later "release" it to power up one of the monster girls.  This...sounds more questionable than it is.  Normal battles might not see this used to much, but it helps during boss battles.  Sometimes it will fail, and Io gets too excited.  When this happens, he can't do anything for a few turns.  If the girls use their "calm" command, this time is shortened.  Io is also the one that can command the team to flee, or use an item on them.  I like that you don't have to spend an attacking turn to use an item, even if you can only use one.

Now we can go back to the rubbing mechanic, Bumping Scratch.  To recruit a monster girl, you must first damage their clothing.  After that, it's just like Monster Monpiece.  you have a time limit, and where the girl is...affected...by your actions changes.  If you don't fill the meter in the time limit, the monster girl will run off.  She will return in a little bit, so you aren't out of a party member because of a small mistake.  Using the mouse for this is fine, but what about the controller?  Well, it's functional, but feels slow and sometimes unresponsive, particularly the rubbing action.  I really didn't like using the mouse for battle, so I stuck with the controller.  I didn't lose many of the Bumping Scratch games, so it didn't really hamper me playing the game.

Each monster girls can also change their stats and skills by equipping different...uh...battle panties.  They are similar to class changes, as changing the skills they use can change their function in battle.  First you have to find the different pairs of panties, then give it to them.  You can only change at the inn in town, and you will have to fight many battles to learn all the associated skills.  It's a useful system, but I do have one gripe.  The girls' costumes change when they wear different panties, but it's really just putting them in different underwear.  I would have liked to see actual different costumes, or even recolors of the default ones as well.

Length and difficulty of Moero Chronicle is fairly standard for the genre.  There are only a few dungeons, but it will take you hours of walking and fighting to get through each one.  Some bosses and enemies are very strong, so you will spend time grinding.  You'll also probably grind for money, job panty skills, and pet monsters.  There is some post-story stuff once you have beaten the game.  You can also set the game on easy if you want a slightly easier time.  I would have liked a lot more save points in dungeons, or even nice shortcuts through floors.  It won't bother some people, but I'm a save-a-holic.

Moero Chronicle ran flawlessly on both my i7 desktop and my i5 laptop.  Loading times were very short.  I did prefer to use the controller for dungeons and battles, and it worked well enough for Bumping Scratch.  Still, I would be better off getting a different controller than the one I had.  The game was pretty fun, although the content will be a barrier to some people.  Still, a very competent dungeon RPG with a good amount of content.  If you are in the mood for a dungeon crawler and don't mind some lewd-ish content, then Moero Chronicle is worth trying out!

The Good:
A very unique and competent dungeon RPG with plenty of party members.

The Bad:
Just like the majority of games in the genre, expect to grind and repeat areas.

The SaHD:
Definitely not one I played near my kids.  However, my wife doesn't care, since she played the Vita version.

(Review code for Moero Chronicle was provided by the publisher)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Hyrule Warriors Legends (3DS) Review

Even though I co-reviewed the Wii U release of Hyrule Warriors, I put so much time into the 3DS release several months later that I feel I should review that too.  In an effort to not write a term paper's worth of text, I'll try to keep some things brief and concise while covering the important points.  I say this because there is a lot to talk about in Hyrule Warriors Legends, and not just the improvements and additions that the 3DS release sees.

First up, the general gameplay.  While the combat is similar to Dynasty Warriors, with weak and strong attacks, special moves (musous) and the like, there are several key differences in the land of Hyrule.  Named characters usually don't take a whole lot of damage from attacks, but instead have weak point gauges.  These are only exposed after certain attacks, and not for very long.  If you can hit them enough to drain the gauge, you will do a powerful attack to take a chunk of their health.

Large monsters will also appear in some stages.  These are barely damaged by normal attacks, and you have to almost exclusively use the weak point gauge to damage them.  True to Legend of Zelda style, each has a particular sub weapon weakness to help expose the gauge.  While it's an interesting system, I got tired of having to do it all the time.  I far prefer the more Dynasty Warrior standard of just hitting something and doing damage.  The weak point gauge relies upon RNG for enemies actually doing the attacks that expose them, making fast paced battles slow down.  I'll also mention that the new characters range from average to really good.  At least they are all better and more fun to use than Agitha.

The story mode still includes the original story that, by itself, easily takes over 20 hours with all the battling and dialogue.  It also includes Cia's story, which was DLC on the Wii U version.  If that weren't enough, it also adds a new story for Linkle, and a Windwaker story.  These three together basically double the story mode, which was already a good time sink.  There are even reasons to replay the levels, since you can earn gold skulltulas, which can eventually unlock a few bonuses.  Yeah, this replay is a bit forced, but you can forgo it entirely and just dive into Adventure Mode.

Adventure Mode is where you will spending the bulk of your time, which, considering the main story is 40+ hours, really means something.  You move around a map of the original (and awesome) Legend of Zelda, laid onto a grind, where every section is a different level.  You not only have to complete the level, but usually get a certain grade to open up the levels next to it, expanding the levels you have access to as you go.  Many levels also have some sort of treasure or unlock, either by using a certain character, or even using one of the iconic Zelda items.  These are also map rewards, but they are unfortunately consumable, so you will need to repeat stages to get more.

This mode has been re-balanced to be complete-able without much grinding.  For better or worse, the weapons have been spread around the maps more, since the base game includes several whole maps (the previous DLC ones are now included, and more DLC maps are available).  It's also great that it is a lot easier to go through the Adventure maps, since they already added 100 or so hours of content without needed to make players do a stage multiple times.  Considering the current gaming landscape, it's almost insane how much content is shoved into the base game... and I'm not complaining!  Especially since I didn't run into many Cuckoo maps, and even then they weren't near as bad as they used to be (they still do absurd damage for no reason).

The last big addition to the game is My Fairy.  Some Adventure levels have a fairy you can rescue.  Each has a default element and, when equipped, can cast a damaging magic spell that takes your magic meter.  You also find food to feed them, which levels them up, makes their spells stronger, and can change the element of the spell.  At levels 25 and 50, the spells gain added effects based on the element the fairy is at that time.  For example, fire element gives the spell an effect of lowering the defense of enemies in the area it was cast.  Plus, there are outfit pieces you can equip on the fairy that either powers up their magic, or gives you a discount in casting it.  Yes, it comes across as very Style Savvy and unnecessary, but after you get a taste of the fairy's power, you will quickly love their inclusion.  It makes getting tons of KOs very easy.

To me, the original Hyrule Warriors, while flawed, was my most played game on the Wii U.  This is no small feat considering there was a Monster Hunter released on that system, too.  The 3DS release, Hyrule Warriors Legends, is better in every way.  Yes, it lacks multiplayer, but it has been re-balanced to not need it really at all, and has a lot of small changes that really improve the experience.  The game is worth playing for Dynasty Warriors fans, but I don't think it's quite as good as those, since the weak point gauge and a few other things get tiresome after many hours.  If you had the Wii U version, I would surprisingly still recommend picking up this version, since it has all the content that game and its season pass had, plus more, for half the price of that version.  Even if you have to re-do everything, it is worth the price and time to dive back in.

The Good:
There's a ton of content in even the base game, and the adventure mode has been much better balanced.

The Bad:
Battling is still a chore if you are underleveled, and cuckoos are still dumb.

The SaHD:
Twili Midna ("Big-na", since she isn't "mid") has a perfect costume for my wife, but this game isn't 2 player, and she doesn't have that costume in the Wii U version. :(

(Hyrule Warriors Legends was purchased by the reviewer)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Fallen Legion (PS4/PS Vita) Review

After the previous emperor passed away, his daughter, Cecille, hesitantly takes the throne.  With it, she acquires the mystical Grimoire, a talking book that gives her the ability to summon souls as soldiers.  Upon learning of this, Laendur, one of her generals, decides that he cannot let such callous disregard for life go, and seeks to usurp her.  Both sides of this tale make up Fallen Legion.  On the PS4, the game is given the subtitle Sins of an Empire, and follows Cecille.  To see Laendur's perspective, you will have to play Flames of Rebellion on the PS Vita.

Despite the different characters and side of the story, the other basic parts remain the same for both versions.  As you make your way through the game, various points on the map open up, which usually offer a battle, but sometimes just some more story.  Combat levels are a series of fights sometimes broken up by a timed choice.  These choices will thankfully restore your health, and also provide buffs, debuffs, and sometimes relics to use in that stage.  The choices also effect some event scenes, alternate battle locations, and can even evolve your exemplars.

While this is a unique idea, it does have some flaws.  First, they are timed.  Not a huge deal, but since it affects your exemplars, spells, and areas, it would be nice to actually have more than 10 seconds to think about it.  Second, it seems like you should either choose responses based off the buff it gives, or what you personally would choose.  There are factions associated with each choice, I think, but there are more than three factions.  Can you imagine the mess if your Dungeons and Dragons choices moved you toward one of the nine alignments, but you only had three random choices?  Many of these involve characters that you never see, or even know anything about, so how can we keep them straight?  Third, you don't always know what effects there will be from your choice.  While I guess this is realistic, it's not the best decision.  I suppose it gives the game replay value, but I'd like to know what choices are moving me toward things I'd actually like.

Why buy grain from elsewhere when you could infiltrate the riots?

Now for the battles.  They start off promising enough.  Each of the characters you control in battle correspond to a face button.  Your main character (Cecille or Laendur) uses spells, which require their mana be filled by landing attacks.  The others use AP to attack.  AP fills as you are not attacking or defending, and up to three can be stored.  There are also link attacks if you can get the timing down (it's trickier than you think).  Pressing the L/L1 Button will have your units guard.  If you do it right before the enemy hits you, you get a perfect block.

Sounds, fine, right?  Well, the perfect block in Fallen Legion doesn't quite behave like similar functions in other games, which is a shame.  There's a slight delay when blocking/unblocking, which means it's not always possible to perfect block every attack.  If enemies attack too closely together, you are left defenseless if you perfect block the first hit.  I'm not a fan of punishing the player for being good.  Some enemies attack immediately as they move, making perfect blocking their attacks ridiculously hard.  Blocking is also done by the whole party, so you can't just have an armored exemplar in front block everything while the back attacks.  Enemies attack at strange intervals, sometimes leaving you no time to actually counter-attack.  I personally feel like the perfect block should at least stagger the attacker, but preferably stop any concurrent attackers, so you have a window of opportunity to hit them.  As it stands, you don't get that, nor usually enough time to actually do a 3-hit combo.

This is very apparent in fights of three or more opponents.  Enemies attacking will interrupt your attacks, but you can't really do the same to them.  That's just not fair, and not fun.  Buttons don't always seem to respond to being pushed.  The blocking on the PS Vita version felt more responsive than its PS4 counterpart, but I'm not sure why that is.  Another thing that bugs me is enemy strength.  There are some units that can dish out a lot more damage than others.  Trouble is, they use the same graphic as others.  These units also seem to hang out around death.  When their health is absurdly low (<10%), they just won't die, requiring way to many hits to actually topple.

It's totally possible that I'm just not "getting" combat.  Maybe it works beautifully, and it's just not syncing with me.  However, others have had these same problems, so I suspect the combat is in dire need of repair.  It's salvageable, as all you would need is to tweak some settings, making it more balanced, and actually rewarding the player for perfect block skill.

Because of all that, the game can get pretty hard.  It usually seems like a coin toss if a battle will go smoothly, save for some particular hard or boss fights.  At least one fight I had on the Vita version had a ton of lag from on screen effects.  This obviously made it pretty much impossible to perfect block, as the action was jumping all over the place.  This didn't stop the AI from being just fine...just me.  Ugh.  If you lose a normal fight, you have to do the whole battle stage all over again.  If you lose to a boss, you can thankfully re-do the boss fight.  It starts over from whatever position you were in when you started the fight, which might not actually help you at all.  There isn't much you can do to make a hard fight easier, since there are no levels and the gems are random.  All you can do is adjust your strategy, and hope the mechanics don't work against you.

The choice mechanic does give the game replayability, and a run lasts about 10 hours.  It's obviously more when you have to retry battles.  The PS4 version's load times were very short.  The opposite can be said about the Vita version, where battle stage load times were very long.

Fallen Legion has a lot of promise.  The graphics are great, the story is good, and it has replay value.  The choice mechanic could use some work...or a massive flow chart...as could the battles.  As it stands, it's just too skewed toward the enemies to make it fully enjoyable.  It's unique enough that it's worth trying out, but I don't know if I'd recommend sticking with it.

The Good:
Great graphics, two different platforms give two sides to the story.

The Bad:
Combat needs tweaking.

The SaHD:
Why can't we get some numbers/effects for exemplar stances?

(Review codes for Fallen Legion were provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Collar X Malice (PS Vita) Review

If you have read some of my other reviews, you will probably know that I really enjoy visual novel games.  That definitely includes otome games.  The back drop of Collar X Malice is pretty interesting.  After a high profile kidnapping and murder, a terrorist group known as 'Adonis' seeks to punish criminals and make people lose faith in a police force that isn't as sterling as they claim.  The series of murders is a countdown to X Day.  And what X Day brings, no one yet knows.

I really enjoyed the story of the game.  You play as rookie cop Ichika Hoshino (you can of course change her first name, but I left it).  After a rude awakening into the events of the X Day countdown, you team up with a group of guys to help solve the murders, and maybe save the city.  As you go through the game, you make choices which will affect story flow and which route you go on.  I was very surprised to get a bad ending very early.  Also, you get onto each route very early.  Since there were very few choices beforehand, I'm not really sure what determined my first route (it wasn't the one I was going to try for first).  When I went through a second time, I had a slightly better idea, but still not sure what got to that point.

At first I didn't like that the route was chosen so early, but it gives the protagonist and the romantic option time to bond and develop them as characters.  Most otome games seem to have a mostly unified story, and then branch off near the end.  I really like that Collar X Malice doesn't.  It really lets the characters and relationships develop more naturally.  There are different incidents to dive into, and the ones that Ichika is involved in change depending on the route taken.  That's a really good incentive to multiple playthroughs.

Another thing that the game does that I didn't expect is shifting perspectives.  To better flesh out the story, or to give the player some other tidbits, there are times the narrative shifts to another character.  On one hand, I like stuff like this in stories, as it is for the benefit of the reader.  On the other, it can feel a bit out of place, since otome games usually just follow the protagonist around the whole time.  There's also a select few times you will poke around a crime scene picture to find info about an X Day incident.  It was nice, but there are very few of them.  Lastly, there are also a few shooting QTEs in the game.  It's a nice little addition, but again are used very rarely.  I don't think they needed more, though.

Admittedly, one route through the game felt longer than average for visual novels, but it was probably still around 8-10 hours.  There were many times I was going to play for a bit, but got caught up in the story and ended up spending 3 hours playing before forcing myself to stop.  As mentioned before, having different crimes for different routes makes me want to play through them all even more.  So I'd say replay value for the game is very good, as each route had a lot of differences.

I very much enjoyed Collar X Malice.  It's an easy recommendation for visual novel and otome fans, and a great addition to the Vita library.

The Good:
I liked the story, and there is really good replay value in the different routes.

The Bad:
I have little idea how I got onto the routes I did get.

The SaHD:
Wow, two of the romantic options are just mean to you.

(Review code for Collar X Malice was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (PS4) Review

At the start of Yonder, you survive a shipwreck and wake up on a mysterious island.  After meeting some friendly locals, you then set about helping clear the island of the murk that is slowly taking over.  To do so, the Cloud Catcher must be repaired.

Despite how the game might sound, there is no fighting whatsoever in Yonder.  It's just nice, peaceful, and fun.  You go around the different biomes, collecting materials, items, and solving quests.  To gather from various places, you need the appropriate tool, which you just switch to with the L/R Buttons.  Gathered materials are sometimes used for quests, but mostly for crafting and trading.

The island is pretty big, but not as big as it looks.  This is actually good because you will be running around it a lot.  There are a few teleport places, but some are only active at certain times of day, and others have to be unlocked.  Until then, you will be hoofing it.  Also, some of the teleport points aren't in the most convenient locations, or even that close to what you need.  Admittedly, having a ridiculously good teleport system would kind of ruin parts of the game, but for the first half of the game, I really would have liked a better fast travel method.

Crafting is not quite what I thought it would be like.  Since you can get a lot of materials, I figured you would use a lot of them to make stuff.  In reality, you will use some, but most crafting materials are things you have to trade for.  You don't buy and sell, but instead trade what you have (all items have a value) for other things.  Different places offer different stuff, and some items will have a discount or markup.  Unfortunately, you will be doing a lot of trading to be able to do crafting, so you will have to learn how best to exploit the system.  I ignored it for several hours, until I figured out my flour/wood strategy to get started, and then I was only held back by places not having enough materials that I needed to trade for.

You also unlock several farms as you play the game.  On these plots of land, you can place material conversion machines (butter churner, etc.), planters to grow stuff, and animal shelters.  To actually adopt an animal, you have to give it food it likes, then lead it back to the pen.  It's a little painful, but thankfully you don't have to do it often.  There are really useful things you can do on your farms, but it's a section of the game I ignored for many hours.  Partially because crafting the items you need is very expensive, and partly because it took way too long before I actually got items from my first animals.  I think that second part was a glitch, though.  Once I was near the end and finally sat down and did a ton of crafting and trading, I realized just how useful the farm is, and that I should have tried to get it all together much earlier.  Now if only it wasn't so expensive to hire a helper...

The expensive crafting and the sometimes awkward jump physics near walls aren't my biggest gripes with the game.  That is saved for the inventory.  It strangely doesn't sort very well, and there is no button to press to sort it for you.  Yes, you can filter, but it's also a pain to cycle through the filters, instead of being able to pick one.  Auto sorting would be a much, much nicer option, and I really wish it were there.  It makes crafting more of a chore, since you will have to really look through all of your stuff.  Plus, it can be hard to know how many stacks you have of something, since they won't be next to each other.

If you so choose, you can focus on just the main story quests.  I'm not that kind of guy, so I spent a lot of time wandering around, trying to find everything.  I don't know how long it took me to go through most of it (I haven't finished every quest), but I'd estimate around 20-25 hours.  You could do it much quicker if you focus, but it would take you longer if you decide to 100% the game and get all of the trophies.

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a fun adventure game.  I really like exploring in games like this, so it really hit the spot for me.  Sadly, some people will be turned off because there isn't any fighting and/or a lot of collecting, but it's a great game to relax and play.  Most times I wanted to just keep running around and find more stuff, or complete one more quest.  It's definitely worth the money, and a definite recommendation for adventure fans.

As I go to post the review, there was apparently a patch drop earlier today.  One thing addressed is the limited number of basic trade goods needed for recipes, plus a way to craft them.  A second is giving a tree and plant growing place when you first get a farm...definitely useful.  I haven't tested it out yet, but these will definitely improve the experience.

The Good:
Super relaxing adventure game where you run around and collect stuff.

The Bad:
Inventory really needs a sort option.  Sometimes it can take awhile to get all the crafting stuff you need.

The SaHD:
Troll Island...ha ha ha.

(Review code for Yonder was provided by the publisher)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Valkyria Revolution (Xbox One) Review

When first shown, Valkyria Revolution irked some people.  They thought it was supposed to be a sequel to Valkyria Chronicles, despite not having a number after it, or even having the same name.  It's a spin-off, and as such, does play pretty different from Chronicles.

That said, there are several similarities in Revolution.  The graphics have that hatched water color look to them, and the story menu is similarly contained in a book.  Starting out in the game is pretty rough, though.  There are several long cut scenes setting up the story, and a multi-part battle to go through, all before you can save.  It took me an hour to get to that point.  While I'm okay with the long scenes, spending so much time before you can first save is not my cup of tea.  The story is good, though.

Combat is action-oriented.  You can run, jump, block, and dodge on the battlefield.  While it does kind of play like a hack and slash, you don't just run around mashing attack.  You can attack or use your menu when your action gauge has filled, and it does so pretty fast.  If you open the menu, time freezes, so you have time to select what you want and aim it properly.  From this menu, you can cast your ragnite magic abilities, use your secondary weapon (gun), or grenade.  Grenades and magic attacks are very useful...and fun.  Blowing up a small group of enemies and making the rest afraid is way too satisfying.

There are sometimes a few bases you can/will take over, sometimes a boss fight, and others you will defend your base from foes.  Small enemy groups have commanders that make their squad tougher.  Killing them first can make the rest afraid.  To keep it fair, your squad members can also receive that status ailment, especially when taking heavy fire from an enemy tank.  Well, they are called tanks, but they are combat walkers, which are pretty cool.  The battles were pretty fun, save for the occasional crazy tough boss fight.

Besides the story battles, there are free maps you can undertake for more experience, items and money.  The game also introduces special defend and attack missions, which you can keep and expand your area of influence/territory.  For the defense missions, if you ignore them for too long, you will lose that area.  I'm not really a fan of that, since it kind of forces you to stall your forward momentum to take care of it.  Overall, the battles aren't usually very hard, but some can become quite tense.

When not in a fight, you can run around the town, talk to people, view events, shop, and upgrade.  Upgrading the sub-weapons and grenades just costs money.  Upgrading the weapon's grid requires you to sacrifice ragnite.  Trouble is, ragnite is also equipped to give your character their magical skills.  You will have to upgrade their weapon's grid to be able to equip stronger ragnite, so figuring out the balance is an evolving process.  Even after playing for many hours, I was still probably too cautious with giving up my ragnite.

When not in battle or running around town, you are probably viewing cut scenes.  As mentioned earlier, they can be numerous and lengthy.  You can skip them if you are so inclined.  There are also other scenes that are unlocked while you play, but they aren't required to view.  On one hand, it's nice there's so much story, as it helps to further flesh out the world and characters, but at some point it feels like overkill.  A lot of the game's length feels like its from the story cut scenes, as the balance between story and combat isn't the best.

The last gripe I have about the game is the menu.  Moving the cursor in the menu requires the d-pad.  As an option, sure, but as the only way, I don't like it.  There are menus that can be better served by using the d-pad, but some (like confirming a save) really don't need it.  I'm already on the stick, why should I have to switch to hit one direction?  Also, the d-pad sensitivity seems wonky at times.  It could be my controller, but I haven't had the issue in other games I've played recently.

Valkyria Revolution is a fun action RPG that is sometimes bogged down by lengthy cut scenes.  As long as you have realistic expectations, it's worth actually trying out.

The Good:
The story is good.

The Bad:
But, it can take awhile to get through the cut scenes.

The SaHD:
It's weird that people can get so up in arms about a spin-off that's not trying to be a sequel, then they are to a main character completely changing while supposedly being the same person.

(Review code for Valkyria Revolution was provided by the publisher)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ever Oasis (3DS) Review

Chaos is taking over the entire land, and only the power of the water spirits can keep it at bay.  You, as a new chieftain of the last oasis, must gather residents to help combat the coming darkness.  That's the basis for one of Nintendo's newest 3DS offerings, Ever Oasis.

First and foremost, you will be gathering different people to live at your oasis.  Sometimes you find characters in the wild, and they will agree to visit your oasis.  Sometimes they visit if you have the right shops available.  You will usually have to do some sort of small quest to have them permanently live in your oasis.  It's pretty fun for me to track them all down and do their quests.  I would have done so even if the oasis level and happiness meter weren't so critical in the game.

When a Seedling (one of the races in Ever Oasis) decides to live in your town, you can put up their specific "Bloom Booth" shop.  Doing so the first time costs Dewadems (the game's currency), but you can move them around afterwards.  There's also special items you can place that increase sales, which you can go around and collect a portion of.  This is good because you will be the one resupplying them.  You give them some specific raw items, and they make the goods and sell them each day.  It's not as time consuming as I at first thought it would be, and it's pretty fun, too.

Battle is a relatively simple affair.  You have two different attacks, but very small and limited combos (you get a few more as you level up).  Your normal attack is pretty quick, while the strong attack takes more time, but packs a bigger punch.  Some combos will knock the enemy over, which gives you a few extra seconds to hit them.  You can lock on to enemies, which is really helpful on bosses.  Many times the lock-on did give me trouble.  It also centers the camera (for players without the New 3DS), which it tended to do when I would press it to lock on to a monster.  Having to struggle with that made it much easier for me to get hit.

Your chieftain also gets a pretty decent dodge roll.  You don't seem to get much (if any) invincibility from it, but it's pretty useful nonetheless.  It was responsive, and went the direction I wanted it to, both of which are critical for in-game dodges.  Characters can also get SP moves, which you have to build up the meter for (it starts empty when you leave the oasis).  These are kind of helpful, but you get them late enough that I usually forgot about them.

Unfortunately, it is really easy to get hit in battle.  Plus, you don't seem to have any invincibility on knock down, so enemies can chain hit you to pile on the damage.  To compound this, character max HP is very, very low.  Thankfully, your oasis happiness helps out with that.  When you leave the oasis, it effectively increases your party's max HP by a lot.  Also, you can resurrect on the spot a few times depending on your oasis' level.  This helps even out the combat.  While the chunks of damage you take did bother me, I will admit I rarely died...and even more rarely used healing items.  It was usually easier to pop back to the oasis if I desperately needed to heal.  When returning, your party gets the experience for any enemies defeated, too, so it was a win/win.

There are many areas and even a few dungeons in the game.  Most have some light puzzle solving, like using a spear for a switch, turning into a ball to fit in a small hole, or using a crossbow to hit a high switch.  I like that there are several uses for different things, like weapons and skills, but it can be a pain to switch to them.  Teleporting back to the oasis isn't hard, and neither is teleporting back, but having to drag someone off the list to help you in one room can get tiresome.  It's a bigger problem as the game goes on, since you get more abilities and weapon types, for more puzzle bits.  Still, it was never enough to make me stop playing.

Ever Oasis is one of those games that takes way longer than it seems.  It's also one that I would end up playing longer than I thought I would, simply because I would get wrapped up in recruiting new people or exploring new areas.  It's not an overly hard game, though there are harder fights.  While there were a few small things that bothered me, the game was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed playing it.  I'd recommend it for action RPG fans looking for something new.

The Good:
Recruiting characters has many benefits that quickly amass.

The Bad:
You can lose your health really fast in combat.

The SaHD:
Serkah mouths are kinda creepy when they talk.

(Review code for Ever Oasis was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy (PS Vita) Review

By Tina Hand

Operation Babel is a direct sequel to Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy.  It picks up directly after the conclusion of the previous game.  Everything is nearly identical to the game's predecessor, from enemies to game mechanics, with only a few tiny but significant changes.  Plot-wise, it's like most dungeon-crawlers, in that the plot is really just kind of an aside to the constant revisiting of dungeons.  You are shown fairly early on what the world will be like if you fail to defeat the ultimate enemy, and while the post-apocalyptic/altered reality vibe is fitting for a game of this nature, I felt they spent too much time focused on what it would mean for the characters and their narrow window of the world, rather than the entirety of the globe.  If the player characters actually had development, this would be more tolerable, but like the previous game it allows you to create your own party, so the player characters really only have whatever development you can come up with on your own.

Unfortunately, you can't simply import your party from the previous game, so no matter the fact that this is a literal sequel you will be starting all over at the beginning.  This does have some benefit, as it levels the playing field between those who have played before and those who never have, but at the same time it would have been nice not to have to start from square one.  Like the previous game, you are given the ability to create a party from scratch or to take a pre-constructed group and use them.  You can create parties of up to six characters (and with all the things you need in a dungeon, I have no idea why you would ever take less than the full compliment of characters), each with varying stats and classes.  The first thing to note with character creation is that after a few levels, your character will be able to add a sub-class.  Sub-classes get to learn the skills of the class chosen, but don't get the strengths or drawbacks of that class.  So giving a fighter a mage sub-class will allow them to learn spells, but their intelligence won't get a boost so those spells will be very weak.  It's a great way to slide a couple of the less-useful classes into your party without having to hamstring yourself by putting in a party member whose only purpose is to identify unknown items.

They have retained the Unity Gauge from the previous game, which is both useful and not.  While it's great to have the extra options (a reliable battle escape, for one), they've toned down the power of the offensive options and reduced the usefulness of the defensive options, so really the only thing its good for now is running away.  Most of the time, this is completely unnecessary, as enemies will either fall quickly or run away on their own.  It makes the Unity Gauge almost useless, though when you get ambushed by a Wanted Variant (a special type of powered-up monster), it can save your party.

Unfortunately one of the tiny but significant changes they've made was to reduce the encounter rate.  Why is this a bad thing, you ask?  In a game that requires hundreds of hours to progress and complete, the fact that I can spend an hour of real time wandering around a dungeon without EVER encountering a monster is just ridiculous.  To try and compensate, they've included an item that increases the encounter rate.  Unfortunately, that just brings the rate up to what it should be normally.  It still requires hours and hours of play time to get anywhere significant level-wise.  And with experience being split between main- and sub-classes, it takes even longer to level up.  In almost thirty hours of game play, my party is level 11.

Dungeons run on the same principle as the previous game.  Movement is forwards, turn left or right, or strafe side to side.  Everything is a grid pattern, with hidden walls, hidden doors, and secret passageways almost from the outset.  It also retains the pesky gimmick panels from previous games, like shock-floors, rotation panels, and waterways that are only there to annoy and confuse.  Also like the previous game, quests are very vague with their instructions, telling you "go here and investigate", or "gather this random item but we won't tell you where from".  As before, this gets highly irritating very quickly, as it prevents a player from being able to form dungeon exploration strategies.  There's a difference between providing a babying tutorial and providing an item book that shows you where you found something, and thus where you're likely to find it again.  Even telling me what monsters drop items would be useful.

One of the things they didn't change was having to use a rare and expensive item to save inside a dungeon.  You get one for free every time you defeat a Wanted Variant and return to town, but not all dungeons have Wanted Variants in them when you first go in, and beating them isn't exactly easy.  They also didn't balance out the equipment drops for the dungeons.  I was frequently wasting time getting very low-level equipment in higher level dungeons, which makes it near-impossible to beat bosses.  If my party is level 10, the boss is level 10, and I'm wearing level 3 equipment, I'm going to die.  Period.  No amount of skill or strategy can compensate for weak equipment.

On the whole, if you liked the previous game then the additions made to Operation Babel will certainly appeal.  If you love spending hours in dungeon crawlers, and have the patience of a saint, this will fulfill that need.  However, if you don't have hundreds of hours to invest in the game, or if you get frustrated with vague instructions, this will piss you off faster than hitting a cat with a spray bottle.  The balance has been tweaked, the encounter rate reduced, the item drops leveled down, and the instructions were not improved.  It is fun, but if you aren't wholly invested it will get very dull and repetitive very quickly.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Tokyo Xanadu (PS Vita) Review

A few days before I started playing Tokyo Xanadu, I finally cracked open my copy of Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel.  Why is this relevant?  Well, they are both made by the same company (Nihon Falcom), and had a few similarities, which I found kind of funny.

You play as Kou, a high school student who accidentally stumbles upon the hidden world of Eclipses.  These are doorways to another dimension brought about by strong emotions.  He quickly meets Asuka, a person who goes around fighting monsters to close the Eclipses, and decides to try and help her out.  As such, the game goes through a period of several months as new doors open, and Kou and his friends use their new powers to make sure the Eclipses get shut down.

Combat is very action-driven.  You have a normal attack, a jump, a projectile attack, and a dodge.  You can also hold down the projectile button for a powerful charge attack.  Both that and the projectile take SP, which fills over time, or from normal attacks.  Attacking is fun, but the SP can feel limiting when you are attacking enemies that are resistant to your physical attacks and need to be hit by your projectiles.  Plus, the dodge doesn't seem very good.  It's not an animation skip, so you can't cover for attack vulnerabilities, and it theoretically has invincibility frames.  I don't think I've ever hit them.  Considering how easy it is to get hit (there are a lot of cheap attacks), I would have liked a block, too, or at least a slightly better dodge.

A second meter you have in battle is for your X-Drive.  Using this will temporarily make all your attacks strike the enemy's elemental weakness, and give you infinite SP.  There's also a bonus effect depending on the element of your partner.  If that weren't enough, there is a third meter to fill, this time for your X-Strike.  These are basically super moves, which of course I save for boss fights.  they aren't quite as strong as I'd like, but they are useful.

Each Eclipse is a different dungeon.  They don't usually take that long to navigate, which is good because you are ranked on their completion.  Speed isn't the most important factor, though.  They also rate you on how many things you smash, enemies killed, and if you took advantage of an enemy's elemental weakness.  Sadly, it isn't always possible to get 100% for that, since you can only have three people with you at a time.  Switching to your partner is pretty easy, but switching to the "support" (third character) feels cumbersome.  You can always return to any completed Eclipse to grind or increase your rank.

Each character has an orbment soul device that represents their weapon.  There are several slots where you can equip crystals.  These crystals can give stat points, or even passive abilities like a percent chance to inflict a status ailment.  There are also spots that give extra combo damage and a couple of other effects once unlocked.  Monster parts randomly gained from loot drops are used to open and upgrade these slots.  There is also standard equipment, too.  Characters can equip an outfit (armor) and shoes, along with two accessories.

When you are not in a dungeon, you will run around and talk to people, advance the story, and maybe do some side quests.  Like Trails of Cold Steel, many of the people you talk to are tracked in your phone, and there are several pieces of information to learn about them as the story progresses.  You can also get side quests from an app.  Unfortunately, some are not shown in this way.  As a completionist, this bugs me.

The more important characters also have character episodes, where you can hang out with them, or help them out, and become closer friends.  As the game goes on, more people are added, and there are only a limited number of times you can spend with people per chapter.  If there is a free Eclipse, you will get an extra shard, but it's still nowhere near enough to spend time with everybody.  You are also at the mercy of who is available, so it's hard to focus on one or two special people.  I will give the game big props for being very clear about when the story is going to proceed, so it's hard to do so before you are ready.

My only real gripe with the game is that the localization feels a bit rushed, as there were several instances of typos.  The most glaring one was the shards used for the character episodes.  They are referred to as both affinity and infinity shards.  One time it's even called a Friendship shard.  Affinity makes more sense, but at the very least there shouldn't be two different names for the same thing.  Well, unless the character has a real name, but is always referred to as "mid-boss".

Tokyo Xanadu is a really fun action RPG that I enjoyed playing.  The difficulty felt about right (although it was a little too easy to get hit), and the length was good.  It is likely overshadowed by the enhanced version coming to PS4 later this year, but the Vita version is worth playing.

The Good:
I don't know if I could point to anything specific, but the game was just really fun.

The Bad:
Hidden side quests, and of course the typos.

The SaHD:
Wow, character models don't wear shoes in some indoor areas...nice touch!

(Review code for Tokyo Xanadu was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Ghost Blade HD (Xbox One) Review

Ghost Blade HD is another bullet hell shmup on home consoles, and I was happy to get my hands on a review code for the game.

There are three different ships, each piloted by a different lady, and each with different shot patterns.  You get the basic shot, which covers more area (some much more than others), but isn't very strong.  Next is a focus shot, which is skinnier than your ship, but packs a mean punch.  Finally, all three ships get a limited bomb attack.  The bomb is the same for all three ladies, and on the whole, the bombs are underwhelming.  They hit an area in front of your ship.  It doesn't even effect the whole screen.  It's not too powerful on bosses, either.  It does make you invincible for a few seconds, so it does have a use, but could be better.

The game has five stages, and three different difficulties.  Easy was nice because there are fewer bullets, but it has auto-bomb.  I'm not a fan of that.  Yes, it makes the game easier, but it also doesn't help you learn timing the bomb for maximum benefit.  There is a lot of stuff going on on the screen at once, which can make it feel a little cluttered, not to mention confusing.  There was an option to turn the background down, so I tried that and it does help a little.  Still, there are several different bullet types and colors flying around with other things, and it can be hard to differentiate the threats from the non-threats quickly.  Practicing does help, though.

Another thing that took some getting used to was the extra point stars.  When you kill some enemies, their shots will turn into extra point stars, which then fly toward you (auto collect).  It took me a bit to get used to that.  Granted, it's nice, but at first it's scary.  You are barely dodging some bullets when all of a sudden, they change their look and zoom toward you.  My initial reaction was a fraction of a second of panic.  Once I had a better grasp of when it would happen (since it's not all enemies, all bullets, or all of the same color/type), it was fine.

Besides the normal modes, Ghost Blade HD has the requisite Score Attack and Practice modes.  Score Attack is nice in that you have infinite lives...although that won't really help you get a high score.  It also has a set stage that has a different enemy configuration from any other.  Practice will let you, well, practice any stage or boss that you have previously encountered.  You can set the number of lives and bombs, too.  I like it for practicing the further out stages and bosses, since that's where I ran into the most trouble.

Ghost Blade HD doesn't do anything new for the genre, but it doesn't have to.  It's a solid, fun, and quick bullet hell game that I would definitely recommend to fans of the genre.

The Good:
Solid and fun shmup action.

The Bad:
The screen can get very busy and hard to make out threats.

The SaHD:
At first, I thought concentrating on the game would make me do better.  Eventually my mind wandered to other things, and that's when I started doing really well.

(Review code for Ghost Blade HD was provided by the publisher)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls (Steam) Review

Idea Factory International continues to bring their titles to Steam, so I recently checked out the PC version of Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls.  I previously checked out the PS Vita version, which I enjoyed quite a bit, and I expect this version to be in line with all the others.

Instead of starring Neptune or one of the other (non-Vert) goddesses, this one focuses on IF and her new friend Segami, as they battle to repair time and keep the history of Gamindustri safe.  Along the way they will meet new characters modeled and named after various Sega consoles (remember when they made those?)  Dungeons are mostly what you would expect: 3D environments to run and jump around in, with enemies patrolling around.  Now you can also climb ladders, monkey bar swing across rope lines, and crawl through small openings.  There's also coins and baseballs to collect, and item boxes to open.

Touching an enemy in the field (or getting to a certain point in story scenes) will start a fight.  Combat also looks familiar, but with some new tweaks and twists to keep it fresh.  You still move around a small plain to aim your attacks, but now each action fills part of your action gauge.  The more you do, the higher it goes, and the longer your next turn will take to come around.  If you fill it into the red zone, your turn ends by itself.  Normal attacks fill it a small amount, but there's also a charge attack that fills it the rest of the way, but you get a strong attack for the sacrifice.

Special skills require SP to use, which builds up as you attack in battle.  This is great because you can always build it up, but bad if you want to switch around your characters.  I usually ended up just saving it for boss fights.  A new addition is the Fever Meter.  When it is filled, grab the star that appears and your characters can continuously take turns while it lasts.  This prevents the enemy from having their turns, and, like SP, is best used on bosses.  Combat as a whole was pretty fun, and the different systems gave it some strategy.

Progress through the story is made by undertaking missions.  There's a limit to how long each quest will hang around, and that number decreases whenever a quest is completed.  This means you are going to miss some quests, since there are more than you can do.  You have to be a little careful of what ones you choose, since some will be very difficult or impossible on your first run through the game.  There is a great new game+ that lets you keep just about everything.  This make it easier to run through the game subsequent times.  My first run on the Vita version was under 25 hours, and I ended up going through the game a second time.

I probably sound like a broken record with a lot of my PC reviews, but the game ran fine on my i7/16gb machine.  I didn't encounter any weird problems in the few hours I played.  The keyboard and mouse work ok, but I far prefer the controller for this style game, and the Xbox 360 pad worked great.  Fans of Neptunia games should definitely check the game out.  Superdimension Neptune is a solid JRPG.

The Good:
Fun RPG featuring everybody's favorite scout, IF!  Plus, several new characters.

The Bad:
Bosses can and will require grinding.

The SaHD:
I'm never getting a Vert-based game am I?

(Review code for Superdimension Neptune was provided by the publisher)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

God Wars: Future Past (PS4) Review

God Wars: Future Past was definitely a game that sounded interesting to me.  It's a grid-based strategy RPG with heavy influence from Japanese lore.  It adheres to the tenants of the genre - each turn you can move and do 1 action, damage and accuracy from behind is better, and other such things.  Once everyone has had their chance to do something, it moves over to the next turn.  While being faster doesn't let you move more than other units, it does allow you to move sooner in a turn.  MP starts empty, but you get a percentage every turn.  This isn't so good for fighter classes (since their MP max is low), but great for casters...especially when you give them the MP+ passive.

There are also two types of treasure chests strewn about the maps, plus hidden items.  One unique aspect is gathering materials.  There are sometimes special places that you can gather herbs, or mine ore, but you need an appropriate skill to do so.  Side quests use the story mode stages, so you have plenty of opportunities to get these items, since you can repeat side quests.  The game's story is broken up into 4 chapters, with several episodes (battles) each.  Focusing on only the story battles should run you about 35+ hours, but much more if, like me, you do all the side quests.  I found it best to not do all the side quests when first available, since it made my progression feel sluggish.

Now for the job system.  Ever since the first Final Fantasy Tactics (and Final Fantasy V), I've loved that idea.  God Wars has it too, and I really like what they've done.  Each character can equip two classes, a sub and a main, plus they always have access to their default job class.  That's a total of three job classes, all giving active skills to use.  The amount of JP earned is reduced for each successive class, but that's a good compromise for such a system.  Sadly you can only equip three passives, which doesn't feel like enough when there are so many good ones (increased MP and JP are amazing).  It's probably for balance, because having too many passives would probably make certain combinations overpowered.

The story is pretty much fully voiced (at least in the PS4 version) story scenes, some of which are animated, and some others are more in a comic book style format.  It's dual language, so you can set it to English or Japanese.  Be warned that the animated scenes don't have subtitles.  I found that some lines (in English) were really quiet, and were overshadowed by the music.  Not terrible, but kind of jarring and strange.

I set the game to normal, and it wasn't really that hard.  Sure, some battles were harder than others (especially bosses that got multiple actions per turn), but none were super difficult.  I'm not sure if that's because I play lots of SRPGs, or if the game isn't very difficult in and of itself.  Also, some skills are far better than others, so learning those helps.  One gripe I have is that enemies get better skills.  One example is their magic damage reflect.  Theirs seems to reflect all magic damage, but my skills, even at max, don't reflect nearly that amount.  Accuracy can feel uneven at times, making misses at >85% more common than they should be.  You can save in battle, which is nice, but you can't save scum to make those attacks hit.  I tried it a few times, and it sadly didn't change.

God Wars: Future Past is a very good, solid, and most importantly, fun strategy RPG.  While it doesn't do anything revolutionary, being able to have multiple job classes at one time is a great start.  I definitely recommend the game to SRPG fans, especially fans of the classic Final Fantasy Tactics.

The Good:
Fun, old school grid-based SRPG.

The Bad:
No cross save.

The SaHD:
Wolf boss appears
Me: "Haha, it's Okami."
They identify enemy: "It's Ookami."
Me: "Oh..."

(Review code for God Wars: Future Past was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku (PS4/ PS Vita) Review

Having played a few hours of a previous Cladun, I was eager to try out Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku.  Leveling up, maxing stats with magic circles, and even throwing in some Sengoku era characters sounded like a fun time.  For awhile, it was.

On its surface, Cladun Returns resembles a mystery dungeon game.  While there are random dungeons in the game, the story mode isn't, but is instead an RPG.  They are all pre-made, each is only 1 floor, and can be run through pretty quickly.  There are locked doors that require either switches or killing certain enemies to open.  The last stage of each area also has a boss monster to defeat.  After completing each chapter, you also open up the EX stages that have Sengoku heroes to recruit.

Combat is not turn-based, but in real time, giving some action to this RPG.  You can freely move around the areas, attack monsters, and try to avoid getting hit.  You can also run (which halves your defense), defend (which ups your defense...a little), and even slide (because reasons).  There are several different weapon types, which are a bit different than each other.  Knives are fast but have little range, swords hit a wider arc but take a split second to attack, spears have good range but won't hit right in front of you, staves shoot out magic but take time to recharge, so on and so forth.  It's worth it to try them all out and see which works best for you (I prefer swords and knives).

You also get combat skills, many of which are dependent on the weapon you have equipped.  You have to actually go and equip the skills, which I didn't know.  I did wonder why I didn't have access to my healing skill, which would have been useful early on.  Unfortunately, the skills take a lot of SP to use, so you really need to save them.  Getting more SP and HP is not too hard, because of Cladun's signature Magic Circles.

Each class will unlock different Magic Circles as they level up.  The character at the center is called the lord, and other characters placed on the circles are vassals.  The HP of the vassals is added to the lord's effectively making the vassals the lord's shield.  The vassals' SP is used to equip various artifacts to the circle, which will increase stats.  Losing a vassal in combat will lose the stats they gave until you return to town.  Learning to use and then master the Magic Circles is the key to understanding and defeating the game.  There are also other ways to increase stats, such as the castle walls and, of course, equipment.  It's a cool system that will likely require many hours to fully take advantage of.

For the first 5 chapters, I had no real difficulties going through the story stages.  I eventually found that my created samurai was better at fighting than my initial character (who could heal), so I started using him as a lord.  Once I got to chapter 6, I got slaughtered.  I figured it was maybe because I angered the ice ogre enemy and suffered his cheap attack, so I didn't do that the next time.  Still got slaughtered.  It was puzzling to be sure, since I had little difficulty up to this point.  I did a few more quests, and a few more EX stages and tried again.  No dice.  I saved up and turned in a quest to get a good set of armor, and then I did much better.  I'm fine with needing to upgrade stuff, but it's not as simple to see what is actually better.  Plus it's a bit ridiculous to be totally fine one minute, then destroyed the next.

At various points in the game, you will encounter invincible or mostly invincible enemies.  These are highly annoying because they can trap you.  I've had several times where you end up down a narrow hallway, just to have one of those killjoys come in behind you, leaving you stuck.  Your only options are to sit there and die, or quit out.  Both are dumb, and avoidable if more thought was put into the game.  It really soured the experience for me.  Enemies will also chase you for near the entire map it seems, and they have several cheap attacks.  The aforementioned ice ogres have a snowball shower that tracks you everywhere else in the stage, even if they can't see you.  Super accurate/tracking shots when the enemy has no idea where you are is a pet peeve of mine in games.  Just don't do it.

However, if you can put up with poor designs like that, there are 10 story chapters and 10 EX chapters.  Plus, there are randomly generated and much longer dungeons like the Ran-geon.  You can also spend a ton of time leveling everyone up and min/maxing your stats.  That last part I would really like, if not for the other stuff.  I really liked the game for the first few hours, but some of the questionable designs put me off of it quickly when encountered.

The Good:
Lots of good customization and stat growth.

The Bad:
Getting slammed with a difficulty wall out of nowhere, cheap enemies.

The SaHD:
I really liked recruiting the Sengoku people, since I've seen them in several other games.

(Review code for Cladun Returns was provided by the publisher)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Severed (PS Vita) Review

Awhile ago, Severed was a free Playstation Plus game.  I downloaded it, but finally got the chance to boot it up and try it out recently.  I played a bit of Guacamelee, and figured the game would be kind of like that.  It isn't.  Had I remembered their previous game Mutant Blobs Attack!, I probably should have realized they can make different kinds of games.

Combat is very reliant on the touchscreen.  You use it to slash enemies, and it will do so in the direction and length of you finger swipes on the screen.  Most enemies require you to attack certain directions and angles to actually hit them.  To avoid damage, you have to parry the enemies' attacks.  This is probably the hardest part of combat.  The timing and angle have to be very precise, and even more so for charged parries.  Most enemies are open after being parried, and you will have to learn when you can attack.  Thankfully most of them have big enough openings that you can go ham on the slashes to rack up the damage.  Going ham on them is fun.

At first I didn't really like the combat.  Figuring out how to block, when to attack, getting the timing down, and accurately hitting the severs took a bit.  After about 20 minutes, I felt much more comfortable, and did much better in fights.  That isn't to say they were easy.  Some were, but fights against multiple enemies can be a crap shoot.  Usually you have to figure out which enemy to take out first, or which spell to use, and how to fight each enemy for it all to fall in to place.  Since the game autosaves so often, you can quickly return to the last fight and try it again.  Later in the game, you can fight in the clouds.  These have a time limit, which is really just there to be annoying.  It makes one fight notoriously hard.

When not fighting, you will be moving around the different areas of the game in first person.  The d-pad or face buttons (for left handed people, I presume) will walk you forward or turn you either direction as you make your way through the different rooms.  There is some light puzzle solving, mostly consisting of finding the right levels to open doors, and sometimes running through them before they close.  There are plenty of secrets to find, like health and magic upgrades.  Some of them are obscenely well hidden (stupid levers).  There's no teleport option, so you are stuck walking everywhere.  It's kind of a pain when you are searching for the last few collectibles.  However, the game still isn't very long.  It easily clocks in under 10 hours, even if you find everything and get the platinum trophy.  If you exclusively use a guide, it would be even shorter, but isn't necessary until getting the last few items.

At the start, I didn't like Severed, but at the end, I thought it was a pretty fun game (except that crazy hard fight for one of the mementos).  It has a unique style, creepy enemies, and won't take you very long to complete it.  It's definitely worth trying if you got it from Playstation Plus, but I don't know if it's worth the default price.  I would recommend picking it up on sale, though.

The Good:
Unique game that gets fun once the combat clicks.

The Bad:
Combat is very unforgiving until it does, and even then there are a few very hard fights.

The SaHD:
The story is either too mysterious for its own good, or happens exactly as it appears.

(Severed was obtained as part of the Playstation Plus program)