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)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 (PS4) Review

I wasn't sure what to expect when starting up Sniper Ghost Warrior 3, other than you probably play as a sniper.  I figured it would kind of be like Sniper Elite, but what I got was something....better.

The campaign starts off where most do: a video showing back story, then a quick tutorial mission.  The prologue was actually more difficult that I would have thought.  I failed the first time when trying to tag all the targets with the drone.  I took too long to find everyone, and one guy saw the drone.  Oops.  Second time, I guess I took too long to shoot the target, but the game said "you missed the shot" even though I didn't pull the trigger.  Ooookay, another reload.  Then they told me the target was X distance away, so I shot that guy.  Turns out he was the wrong one, and somebody saw him die.  Oops again, and another reload.  That was my last mistake in that chapter, but I was still worried, failing so much during the tutorial.

Part of that stems from trying to learn the controls and part from learning how to adjust for wind.  It's not something in most game I play, and it's always a bit different in the few that have it.  At first, I didn't even know where the measurement was on the HUD, since my attention was elsewhere in the brief time I could hit the touch pad and read the tutorial page on it.  Basically your scope can be adjusted close to the target's altitude, which can make your aiming more precise.

After some more story, the game properly picks up.  I was surprised to see that it takes place on a large, open map with many unknown places of interest and other things to explore and gather.  Kind of like a sniper-focused Far Cry 3 or even the more recent Ghost Recon Wildlands.  I was happy to see that, since I do like that style of game, and was eager to try out one with a sniper bias.  The only trouble is, when presented with such a world, it takes me forever to actually do the story.  I like to wander around and do the side activities.  The 23 main missions and 16 side missions are spread over 3 big maps.  That's a lot of points of discovery.

Besides the scope mentioned previously, there are other things to learn while playing.  Silencers are very helpful, but must be repaired to function.  You have three different healing items, which you use by holding triangle.  This is also used to loot weapons (breaking them down), so it's easy to accidentally use a medkit while trying to break down a weapon.  It's not a deal breaker, but it is annoying.  Like the actual sniping, after a few hours I was able to sort it out.  Shooting was also easier and I had a good grasp of where to aim to accurately hit my target.  Practice makes perfect...or at least something close.

To round out the game, there are three skill trees.  Certain actions grant experience in one of the three trees, and every 1000 will grant you a skill point.  Each skill takes multiple to purchase, and I'm fairly sure you can end up with all of them if you play enough.  You also get a multitude of equipable things, like gadgets, gun parts and drone abilities.  You can also unlock new weapons, and switch between what you have purchased at your home bases.

If you stuck to the main missions, the game would probably run 20-30 hours (especially if you are patient at sniping), but much more if you do all the extra stuff, like I do.  The game's not too hard, as there are a few checkpoints during missions, and you can reload/retry pretty freely.  As for problems, sometimes the stealth kills are glitchy, resulting in a body disappearing, or moving somewhere else nearby as you do it.  There's also the load times.  Reloading a mission takes a bit of time, but the initial load of your save file takes a ridiculous amount of time.  Putting the game in sleep mode instead of closing it out helps with that.

Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 was surprisingly fun.  I wasn't expecting such detailed sniping mechanics, nor the open world with many points to explore and loot to find.  The intricacy of the sniper rifle and the sometimes odd controls might chase some people away, but I'd recommend trying the game out.  As long as you are patient, you will be rewarded.

The Good:
Open world with fun sniping action.

The Bad:
Super long initial load, and the control configuration feels a bit weird.

The SaHD:
Why does a sniper shot through two heads not get old?

(Review code for Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 was provided by the publisher)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero (NSW) Review

The latest Shantae game has made its way to the Nintendo Switch after becoming available several months ago on other platforms.  While I didn't get to review that release, I was very happy to review this one.  Mostly because, after Shovel Knight, I learned the Switch was a good platform for this type of game, and Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero shows why.

I mostly used the 4-button d-pad on the Joycon, and for 2D movement, it worked great.  Shantae's normal moves felt controlled and precise.  I really like the Switch's 4-button d-pad, even though I didn't think I would.  Jumping and attacking was also very responsive.  The only parts where I found the analog stick was better was while swimming in the mermaid form.  Especially the start of the last stage.

The concept and game flow is fairly similar to before.  You have to go to various places and collect something or other to advance the plot.  The areas felt smaller than in previous games, and it also felt like there was less to explore.  Most areas allow you to save after and before moving on to the next, which is nice.  If you fall down a pit, you are sent back to the last of those, or the last door you went in.  This made some parts a pain to do, especially the auto scrolling bits.  They made sense in context, but I still don't like those parts in games.  Didn't back in the day, and that hasn't changed.  I will say this excludes the shmup section, since I love that genre.

Platforming difficulty seems more balanced than the previous game.  Yes, there are some tough bits, but the hard one near the end isn't nearly as bad as the one at the end of Pirate's Curse.  Also the boss fights got easier.  Maybe it's the multitude of healing items, but I didn't use them often.  Before you had to learn their patterns, and now it is much easier to just power through them.  Yes, that will turn some people off, but I appreciate it because I can play and enjoy the game, but see areas to improve if I want to invest the time.

The beginning of 1/2 Genie Hero is harder than previous games, mostly because of the low starting health.  If you get a game over, it sends you back a bit, but doesn't refill health, making it harder to progress sometimes.  Bosses don't drop health increases like they used to, so you have to find them in the wild.  I was struggling through the first and second dungeon, but once I increased my max health, I didn't run into trouble dying (but I still fell into pits).

My problem with the game flow is how much they send you back to previous areas.  In most games in the genre, you return with more abilities to get an item or two, but a lot of the secrets and items are left up to your discretion.  Not so in 1/2 Genie Hero.  They are helpful in hinting at where you need to go.  Even so, I want to return to previous areas because I want to get items, less so because the game requires me to.  It's not a deal breaker, but it's not a choice I prefer.  It's probably to pad the game time, since it took me just over 7 hours to beat the game with 94% of the items.  That was after wasting chunks of time looking for things I couldn't find.  At least I know what areas I needed, since the map is great about showing what is available to find.

Shantae gets a lot more dances than she's ever had before, some much more useful than others.  The bat transformation and the warp dance are much more valuable than they initially appear to be.  There's also a harpy one that lets you fly.  It sadly controls terribly, which makes a part near the end a huge pain to deal with.  As for upgrades and spells, Shantae has her usual assortment.  Yay, pike ball!  Thankfully money is much easier and consistent to come by than previous entries, so the upgrades felt much more evenly spaced.

Overall, I really liked Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero.  It has some improvements over the previous games, even if I think it forces you back to the same area too many times.  While it's only about 7 hours for the first playthrough, it's appropriate for the genre and price, and there is an unlockable mode if you are so inclined.  Plus, the art and animation are still top-notch and beautiful.  Action/platformer fans should definitely check it out.

The Good:
Very fluid and precise controls on the Switch.  Looks great, too.

The Bad:
Forced, multiple retreads of areas.

The SaHD:
The Grandma Blobfish and the palette swap lines were very funny.

(Review code for Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Dark Rose Valkyrie (PS4) Review

As a fan of most Idea Factory and Compile Heart games, I was eager to try out Dark Rose Valkyrie.  It sets you in a world where a virus is turning people into monsters called Chimera, and you head up a special group tasked with fighting them and keeping citizens safe.

The game started off pretty strange, by offering me the three difficulty levels of easy, hard, and very hard. normal?  The one difficulty level you should have is not present?  Well, against my better judgment I went with hard.  For the most part, it worked out pretty well except for some boss and mini-boss fights.  It just involves more grinding.  After about 30 hours I put it down to easy.  You get more experience after fights, but quest rewards are reduced.

Grinding does actually take time, since the game sports day/night and moon phase cycles.  As you spend time in the world map, it will slowly move from day to night, and back to day again.  After each day, the moon shifts forward one phase.  While you are in a dungeon, time will pass, but it will not be reflected as long as you are inside.  Once you leave, it will jump to where it is supposed to be.  This is helpful for the times when you need to fight a monster that is only around a certain time of the cycle.  However, enemies are stronger at night.  Unfortunately, the first time you do a dungeon, it will always be night.  Seems a bit steep to me.

Thankfully you won't waste time walking back to a dungeon, because there is a very helpful warp feature.  There are a few warp points scattered around each dungeon and the world map, and you can fairly easily warp among them from a warp point or a save point.  Sadly, you can't warp to a save point, which would have been nice.  Especially since they don't always have great placement for the warp and save points.  You can work with them, but they aren't in the most convenient locations.

Combat is some good old fashioned turn based goodness.  On the left side of the screen is a long bar with icons for everyone in the battle.  Your icon moves up (based on your speed stat) and you can take action at an appropriate time.  If you have played any of the Grandia games, you will quickly realize the basics.  When your turn comes up, you can attack, charge attack, use a skill, or even switch to your back up character.  The attacks have three different levels that you set the combo for, and each higher one is stronger, but takes more time before you do it.  For whatever reason, I stuck mostly with the level 2 combo for 90% of my attacks.  While hitting an enemy, their icon is stalled, which makes fighting one target easier than a group.

The charge attack will knock an enemy's icon back a bit.  I rarely used this, since the benefit is about equal to stalling them while you do a normal combo, but you get higher damage doing that.  Skills are things I mostly used on boss and mini-boss fights, at least in the early stages to knock down the extra targets.  There are plenty of elemental attacks in there to take advantage of enemy weaknesses, but no way to change your attack type (strike, slash, pierce).  There are healing skills, but they felt very weak versus the damage strong monsters could do.  Not good.  It was better to use them between fights and instead rely on expensive items for battle.

Since it is a Compile Heart game, enemies have guard gauges.  If you deplete it before their icon starts over at the bottom, you get some extra damage, plus your EX attack at the end of your normal combos.  You also build up TP while attacking, which you can use to defend from an enemy's special attack (SUPER useful) or unleash a powerful sync attack.  Using it for defense felt necessary for the boss fights (especially on hard), but using it for attack was more fun and flashy.  After you execute an EX move, the person behind you may rush in to get in a few more hits.  Afterwords, you can choose to spend 1 TP for a total (all enemies) or single (the target) sync attack.  The entire backrow will appear an unload their shots on the foes.  It's fun, and useful to rack up the hit count for extra damage and reward and the end of the fight.  Problem is, they don't always seem to activate when you actually need them, and instead are available many times when weak targets are already dead.

Lastly, your characters can use TP to activate a power-up for a few turns.  Called Ignition, it boosts your stats and protects from status ailments.  Honestly, I rarely ended up using it, which may explain why some boss battles are hard.  In my defense, I needed the TP to block (so I don't have to use the weak heals), and therefore didn't really have it to spend otherwise.  Also, the stat boost didn't seem that great, but I always appreciate abnormal status protection.

When not fighting or exploring, you will be spending your time at the ACID base.  Here you can make new items, sell items, rest, and accept quests.  They don't call it "sell items", so it took me a bit to realize that was what turning them in was.  The last section of items to turn in will give money and also components that you need for powering up your weapon and making pieces of equipment, so make sure to sell some of those when you get the chance.  You can also talk to party members for extra events, which will affect their relationship with you (and the ending).

The game follows a fairly simple path: event(s) in base, go to dungeon, return, event(s), do missions, return, rinse, repeat.  A lot more of the missions are required than I thought.  Even so, I was stubborn about doing all of them, even those not required, before moving on.  I didn't really run low on days to turn them in, either.  To mix things up, interrogations have also been included.  You see, not everyone is who they appear to be.  One of the group is a traitor, and you (Asahi) have to figure out who it is.  To do that, you will question characters about themselves and the others at a few points in the game.  These were...ok...but I found it odd you could only ask so many questions.  Yeah, it's probably to make it harder, but it feels a bit too limiting and hard to put it all together in a satisfactory way.

Even though I enjoyed Dark Rose Valkyrie and its high-hitting combo battles, there are a lot of little things that bug me.  Money is really hard to come by early on, story dungeons force it to be nighttime, and boss battles are aggravating on the hard setting (sometimes on easy, too).  It should take well over 40 hours to complete the game, especially if you try to do all the side quests like me.  Still, I'd say it's worth trying out for JRPG fans, even if you were put of by some of Idea Factory's non-Neptunia offerings.

The Good:
Fun combat in a completely stand alone game.

The Bad:
Lots of little nitpicks, like the high damage you take and the low amount of healing, among others.

The SaHD:
Another Asahi?!

(Review code for Dark Rose Valkyrie was provided by the publisher)

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Caligula Effect (PS Vita) Review

The Caligula Effect starts with an interesting premise: students are trapped in a virtual world, and go through high school on a continual loop.  The thing is: many of those people want to be there to escape reality, and don't even know they are in a virtual world.  I don't know why anyone would think of high school as a paradise, but I digress.  Your main character is one of a select few who awakens to this reality, and sets out with fellow students to set things back to normal.  To do so, you have to find and stop the virtual idol, Mu (it's written as the Greek symbol).

Like most RPGs, you run around a map, get into fights, and solve quests.  The locations in the game are appropriate to the setting: things like school and the mall.  Enemies and NPCs roam around, and fights take place when and where you engage the foes, which can be problematic.  It's usually possible to sneak around enemies as they roam.  Aria does say the Digiheads (aggressive students who fight you) have bad eyesight, and boy, is she right.  Well, if you out level them anyway.  You will probably fight a lot of them anyway, and they do respawn.  Sometimes a bit too quickly for my taste.  Even if you avoid a lot of them while running around the dungeons, it can take several hours to get through each one.

Fights in The Caligula Effect are the game's most unique aspect.  When you select a skill, it shows you the likely outcome of that attack.  Things like damage, countering, etc. can be planned in advance to make the most of your turn, and destroying a target quickly.  The game actually rewards you with double experience if you can win in one turn.  Some skills are counter skills, which can cancel certain types of attacks.  I shouldn't have to tell you how useful that is.  Some skills launch a target, or knock them down.  Some will do extra attacks if the target's "Risk" is high enough.  Some skills will benefit from hitting targets in the air or on the ground.  The bottom line is: plan out your attacks to get the most out of them.

To facilitate this, you can delay the timing on them.  This is pretty useful, and has great synergy with the predictive function of combat.  Unfortunately, you can't skip or delay your full turn if you wanted to wait until another character is ready.  You can string together up to three attacks, each one costing a reduced SP cost, which will really pile on the damage, and take advantage of launch or otherwise indisposed targets.  It seems a bit more complicated than it ends up being, even though it does look really chaotic when you have four party members all attacking some poor sap at the same time.  Once you kind of get how the attacks work, you can set them and have a pretty good idea what's going to happen.  As such, a majority of my fights ended in one turn.

This is all well and good, but what about bosses and strong enemies?  Sadly, that's where the battle system is weakest.  Planning the small details of a turn and timing everything properly is great and all, but if the enemy survives it (or if they aren't launched)?  You are left just hitting them with stuff and hoping they eventually die.  If an enemy is a higher level than you, the damage you deal is cut down drastically.  You will probably run out of SP in a turn or two, depending on character, and then have to sit there and use the charge skill for it to come back.  It quickly becomes a chore to finish those fights.  I do really like the battle system overall, so it's a shame that it can crumble so quickly.

Equipment is also pretty unique.  Instead of more traditional stuff like armor, you gets "stigmas", which are more like personality traits.  They affect your stats and can even give different skills.  There is also a rarity scale to them, so you can get stronger versions of each one.  The skills you can use in battle have the normal range of attacks, defense, and support abilities.  Honestly, I rarely used anything that wasn't an attack, the SP recharge, or the occasional emergency barrier.  I never really had the need to.  The points you use to buy skills are earned by gaining a level, winning some fights, and finding discoveries.  They are also stored in a communal pool, so all the characters share the same stockpile.  This can make it harder to save for the ultimate skills, since you may want to flesh out each character's other skills first, but you can gain more by leveling up the NPC students if you are a bit low.

Even though you are mostly a silent protagonist, there are many times you can make a dialogue choice.  I'm not sure how much each choice actually affects things, though.  Well, except for getting through the library.  Anyway, you will also end up chasing fellow students around and talk to them to raise their friendship.  A lot of chasing, and a lot of talking (it raises slowly).  I did like seeing new people, but it is a bit daunting to have so many possible people to talk to, and multiply that by the number of times you have to talk to them.  Sheesh.  There are also little quests where they may want to meet certain people, or go to a certain place.  It doesn't sound that hard, but with 500 students, it's going to be a long process.  I'm not sure it's worth it just to be able to use them in battle.

The Caligula Effect isn't really a hard game, even on normal, provided you understand (or can at least use) the combat system.  I only really had trouble on a few enemies that were just above my level (because of the low damage), and for that reason I tended to avoid them.  You get most of your HP and SP back after a fight, so going through the dungeons wasn't too bad except for all the running back and forth you do.  The bosses are more difficult than normal fights, but not by much.  The story will run you over 30 hours, but there is a new game plus and some post-game stuff.

A lot of what The Caligula Effect has to offer is its unique battle system.  The story is pretty good, and I liked the dialogue, but the fights are what really set it apart.  They seem a lot more complicated than they ended up being, and I can easily see it turning off some people.  I'd recommend sticking with it if you can, as the game is pretty fun.  A solid RPG offering on the Vita.  One final note:  I've heard chatter of a bug that erases your save file near the end of the game.  I have yet to encounter it, and hopefully never will.  Make sure to back up to the cloud and be careful!

The Good:
A fun and exacting battle system...

The Bad:
That falls apart if a battle takes too long.

The SaHD:
"Archive of Regrets" is a great name for a location.

(Review code for The Caligula Effect was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Surge (PS4) Review

When I first heard about The Surge, it sounded pretty cool.  Action RPG where you control a man with a mechanical exoskeleton?  Sounds awesome.  After requesting it, I found out it's from the people who made Lords of the Fallen, and like that, is an attempt at a Souls game.  There's probably a proper name for the genre, like punishingly hard action rpg-lite, but everyone just refers to it by the game that started the current craze.  I'm not too into them, or good at them, but figured I would still play The Surge, simply because I'm always interested in mech and technology (mechnology?) focuses in games.

The opening scene is really good at setting the tone of the game and the backstory.  There's a nice little twist when you first control your character that I thought was super well done.  I got a little lost trying to figure out where to go after that, but once I did, I was treated to a fairly brutal cut scene that set up the main premise of the plot.  It's fairly quick and does what it needs to do.

Like others of the genre, The Surge has very deliberate combat.  The controls are wonky to me, but don't feel as clunky as similar games I have tried.  I'm not fond of melee attacks being on the shoulder buttons.  Each swing takes stamina, so you can't just hack, slash, and dodge until the enemy is dead.  Well, you kind of can, it just takes a lot longer than a typical action game.  Enemies don't often stagger from your blows, so you have to be careful when you actually attack them, so you won't get hit as well.  Most damage you suffer is pretty big, and you won't naturally heal.  You also won't pick up health packs, but instead have to use a healing item.  You can carry 3 at the start, and they are thankfully refilled at the med stations.

The med stations also serve as respawn points for when you inevitably die (another trope from the genre).  You'll also drop whatever tech scrap you were carrying.  You'll have to go back and get it if you want it.  If you die again, then it's gone forever.  This might not be an issue, but enemies respawn whenever you go back in the med stations.  Sure, this can help you grind a bit nearby, but is also a pain when you actually want to move ahead.  You can, and should, store your excess scrap at the crafting station or the medical bay.

Besides a mechanical focus, what separates The Surge from other competitors in the genre?  Executions.  Many enemies have different areas you can target.  Damaging a target quickly enough builds energy, which can then be used for a cinematic kill called an execution.  There are different ones depending on what area you targeted.  If you damage one part enough, you get a higher chance at drops from that part.  Want an enemy's weapon?  Focus on the arm that is holding it.  Want parts to build a new leg piece?  Keep hitting it and do an execution.

To facilitate this, there is a pretty decent lock-on feature.  Click the stick and focus on your nearest target.  The right stick will then sort of cycle through the different areas you can target.  While this is great for one-on-one, it's not that great when fighting multiple enemies.  You do eventually get a drone to help out a little bit.  Even so, switching targets is a bit of a pain, which becomes a big nuisance when also dodging attacks.  Also there were times I had trouble targeting a certain limb.  It might not have had equipment on it, but it can be hard to tell that when also trying not to get hit.

Besides storing scrap, you use it to create equipment, make it stronger, and level up your core.  Each piece of equipment has a power cost, and the total power you can equip is based on the core level.  Therefore, raising its level will let you equip more and better stuff to defend yourself and dish out punishment to your foes.  Creating stuff took me a bit to figure out, as you need both the salvage and the requisite items to do so.  So, you better learn the executions so you can actually get drops.

Since you will die a lot while learning every enemy's pattern, you will get your money's worth going through the game.  I'm a super cautious player (I save a lot), so it takes me forever to get anywhere in games like this.  For this reason, I really appreciate the shortcuts you can unlock.  I have yet to beat the game, and at my current rate, I could probably do so by the time I'm a grandfather.  Actually, that thought alone is scarier than anything the game could throw at me.

The Surge is an unforgiving action RPG in the vein of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and checks all the appropriate boxes for the genre.  It does have a technological bend to it, and adds flashy executions, though.  Fans of that genre should definitely check it out, but if that's not your thing, The Surge probably won't convert you.

The Good:
Feels less clunky than similar games in the genre and the executions are pretty cool.

The Bad:
Any tiny mistake is paid for in lots of pain.

The SaHD:
Not like it took much, but this is waaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy better than their previous offering (Lords of the Fallen).

(Review code for The Surge was provided by the publisher)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Akiba's Beat (PS4) Review

I had a lot of fun playing Akiba's Trip on the Vita and the PS4.  It was a unique action RPG where you defeated synthetic vampires by ripping off their clothes, exposing them to sunlight.  It was goofy and fun.  This made me eager to get my hands on the sequel, Akiba's Beat.

After starting the game, I quickly realized this has very little to do with the previous game, so I guess it's more of a side story rather than sequel?  The story is set in the same place, but involves no one from the first, and the battle system is completely different.  Gone is vampire stripping and in its place, battles straight out of the "Tales of"series.  You fight on a 3D plane, and pressing left or right toward your target will move you toward them, and the opposite direction moves you away.  Holding L1 allows you to free run, which I found very useful for 90% of the game.  Dodging wasn't as reliable as just running away or around targets to avoid attacks.  Plus, the dodge button was either not responsive, or too much so.

You have an AP number, which dictates how many times you can attack before you have to stop for a few seconds and let it fill again.  Even if you have more than your standard attack string, you will pause after it, unfortunately.  Attacking while holding up or down will do high and low attacks respectively, which mixes up what you can do.  Pressing the special attack button with different directions on the left stick can also give you different special moves, which you set in the menu.  Thankfully, you can set another set on the right stick.  I like this since you get so many useful moves, that one set isn't enough when at the end of the game.  You can also set the buttons in the options, which I did since early on I mixed them up often enough.  Like the dodge button, the attacks weren't always responsive either, and not just because I ran out of AP.  It's a fairly big deal in such an action heavy battle system, and was pretty annoying.

Fights with normal enemies tend to be over very quickly, as quick as a few seconds early on.  This is nice, since it means you can usually make your way through the dungeons without sacrificing an afternoon.  Then come the boss fights.  The first two are longer than normal fights, but not by a lot.  After that, the bosses become standard JRPG massive HP slogfests.  Toward the end, I was dreading the thought of duking it out with dungeon bosses, simply because it would take several minutes of mashing attacks.  This gets compounded when they start having two boss fights back to back, which sadly happens more than once.

However!  As you do damage, you build up the Imaging Gauge.  When you do, you have infinite AP for a few seconds, and your damage is increased.  If you use it when the gauge is fully filled, your damage increases as you land attacks, and it lasts for the duration of the song you equip.  Near the end of it, the percent jumps up, and you will output a lot more damage than normal.  The Imagine Gauge is way too strong for normal fights, and does make boss fights a little shorter.  Still, I would have liked it to be more effective on the dreary boss encounters, or even do something great like making casting instant, or even making special moves free/cheap.  Bottom line: it works okay, but could be more interesting.

The story places you in the role of Asahi, a career NEET that does little but stay up late, watch anime, and play games.  I'm pretty sure I went to college with someone who lived like this and also woke up at the crack of 2pm, but I digress.  Progress is broken up into two parts, one where you run around the map, talking to people, and another where you traverse the dungeon, fighting monsters and then the boss, dissolving the delusion.  There are times where you go into the dungeon in the middle of the talking parts, but it's still a back and forth between these two scenarios.  It's not the best balance, since sometimes the running around and talking is a bit long, or the dungeon is, but the fast travel can help with some of that.

As for the story itself, it starts off pretty strong.  Then toward the middle of the story, it starts to go down.  A chunk of that is from my own pet peeves.  I won't spoil things, but one character that behaves a certain way does something that doesn't make sense in context.  Sure, they try to explain it later, but I still think it just doesn't work.  There are other instances, like when the main character has their stereotypical "doubting themselves" arc.  Again, it just doesn't work with how it is presented.  It could, and I get what they are going for, but it's just not pulled off well.  Also at the end they shoehorn in some nonsense, and stuff in some more to pad the length a little too much.  It's a shame the story went so bad for me, since the localization and the dubbing are top notch...probably the best I can remember in an XSEED game.

The dungeons in the game are pretty basic, just rooms connected by hallways, all very block-like.  Some have switches to open doors, and there are treasure chests to find.  Later dungeons get pretty long, but thankfully, several floors are shorter on repeat visits.  Any shortcut is welcome because they get a LOT of mileage out of these dungeons (so get used to seeing them).  There are also enemy encounters littered throughout the dungeon floors.  Getting the spacing and timing for the first strike is a bit of a chore, but it helps.  Assuming it works, as I've had times I was back attacked while facing the enemy.  While I'm usually okay with palette swaps of enemies, Akiba's Beat goes all in.  There aren't many types of enemies, and you will see most of them in all of the dungeons.  I remember remarking to my son when I finally saw a new enemy type after 30+ hours.  The boss designs are pretty good, though.

The story and side quests took me over 60 hours to complete.  If you cut out the side/character missions and the monster killing quests, you could shave some time off of that.  Even so, the main story itself went on for about 10 hours too long.  It felt like the third Lord of the Rings movie, where there were several places it could have ended, but didn't.  It really could have cut out the last chapter or so, and be a much more concise (and better) story.  Admittedly, you will get your money's worth completing the game because of this.  I'd say it's worth trying for "Tales of" fans, but fans of Akiba's Trip should know it isn't really anything like that game.

The Good:
If you like "Tales of" combat, the fights will make you feel right at home.  Good references, localization, and voice acting.

The Bad:
Story goes down as the game goes on...and it lasts longer than it logically should.

The SaHD:
My favorite reference had to be the sequence from the children's trading card game.

(Review code for Akiba's Beat was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (NSW) Review

Shovel Knight is a pretty good game that I'm not good at.  Still, I wanted to try out the two new campaign DLCs, since they are for characters that play very differently to the titular one.  After finally getting a Switch (for reasons that still aren't clear), I figured I would try out the new version on the new system!

I first wanted to try Plague Knight.  Instead of a close range attack, he can throw his little exploding vials.  As you progress, you can buy modifiers to the vial, which give them properties.  The vial can explode in flames, send fire up walls, or throw it up at an arc instead of down toward the ground.  While these are pretty cool, it's not quick to switch to them, so I end up barely using them.  You can also charge up the vial attack, which causes and explosion that launches you into the air (they do explain this at the start of the game).  Even though he has a (bad) double jump, this gives Plague Knight a more powerful jump.  And boy, are you going to need it.

Like Shovel Knight, Plague Knight has a world map with the same set of stages, and a different "town" area.  However, each stage has been slightly reworked to fit Plague Knight's unique abilities.  This means higher ledges and farther jumps.  The vial jump does work, and charges quickly, but has a set angle if you are moving forward while doing it.  This throws me off, since I'd prefer more control.  As it is, I can do it straight up, then move slightly to the side.  As always, I would have just preferred a good double jump instead.  He also relies mostly on temporary gains to health with special potions, but they wear off after your inevitable death.  Plague Knight and I didn't get along, so I moved on to his "friend".

Spectre Knight was next on my list.  He swings a scythe, which means again you have a short range weapon.  His kind of floaty movement and jump seem close to Shovel Knight's, but he has a few other tricks up his bony sleeve.  One, he can briefly run up some walls.  Of course they don't tell you this, old school style, so I sat around on the first screen for a minute before figuring out how to actually move forward.  Wall runs lead to wall jumps, which Spectre can also do.  This mechanic works, but it takes some getting used to.  I had to figure out which walls he can run up, and sometimes it gets messy when I'm trying to jump off of them, only to have him reach the top, or fall off, which then messes up the jump, and has me scramble to not fall in a pit.  Again.

Lastly, Spectre Knight doesn't just swing his scythe in the air, but dashes toward nearby targets.  He will either dash up or down at an angle, which is shown on the potential target.  It's actually really cool.  Plus, this is used many times as a method of mobility to get to higher ground, or to cover a long gap.  It takes a bit to get used to (there are many times I would accidentally dash down instead of up, which would put me in danger), but works really well.  Just be careful when doing it to enemies, since the game loves to bounce you just far enough back that an enemy will still hit you...ugh.  Spectre Knight has even more remixed stages for the bosses, and they will also change their patterns to feel fresh.  I really like that he has a more Megaman-like stage select instead of the map.

Even though I've played the core Shovel Knight before, I tried it again for a few levels.  The gender swap feature is there, so I switched everyone over.  It's not a huge difference to me, but I think it's a very cool feature that I would definitely mess around with.  It also has co-op (I don't recall if it needs the amiibo, which I do have), but I don't have anyone to try it with (my wife doesn't like these types of games).  The three campaigns also feature new game plus once they are completed.  For Spectre Knight, it combines will and darkness into one huge bar, but also constantly depletes it.  I tried for a few minutes, but it's definitely not something I'm going to actually put time into.  It's nice for people who want that extra challenge, though.

Each of the three campaigns runs about 4-8 hours, not counting deaths.  You will get a fair amount of playtime just completing what is offered, and some more if you go for completion, the feats, or any of the challenge modes.  The game can get pretty hard and frustrating, but practicing does help a lot.  There are plenty of times I would get a button or other move mixed up, make a mistake, get flustered when trying to correct it, and make it worse.  Other than that, the controls were pretty good, maybe even the best iteration of the Shovel Knights that I have played (Wii U, Xbox and PS4).  Who knew the four button d-pad could be so useful?

This was probably the best time I had playing Shovel Knight.  Partially is because I think the Switch controls really well, and partially because I've had some practice on other versions.  While I didn't really like Plague Knight's campaign, I really enjoyed Spectre Knight's.  They both use familiar level design (but not the same) with new moves to feel very much like new games.  If you haven't played any versions before, I definitely recommend the Switch version.  If you already own another version, the DLC should be coming as a free update (assuming you bought it before the specified date), so no real need to double (or triple) dip, unless the portability and really solid controls are a necessity to you.  I wasn't sure I would prefer this version, but I think it's the best one.  I'm looking forward to King Knight's campaign dropping, just to see how that mixes things up.

The Good:
Lots of new content for this version (others will eventually update for free for previous owners), Spectre Knight is fun to use.

The Bad:
Many instances of difficulty spikes.

The SaHD:
There needs to be a rule against pits on's just mean (and dumb).

(Review code for Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove was provided by the publisher)