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)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Birthdays The Beginning (PS4) Review

Birthdays the Beginning starts with a simple premise: change the terrain to help create and sustain life in an effort to return home.  It's basically a god simulator, where changing the height of land and water will change the temperature, thereby spawning new life, ending some, and changing others.

It's pretty easy to control, too.  There are two views: macro and micro.  Micro allows you to raise and lower the terrain and the cost of HP.  Be careful with positioning and not to mash the button, as you will inevitably waste HP.  You can also scan new creatures to add them to your massive organism list/tree, and use items.  Or just sit back and watch the creatures roam around.  Time does not move forward in this mode.  As you scan creatures, your level increases, which allows you to terraform larger areas.  This increases the HP cost proportionally.

Macro view allows you to recover HP fairly quickly as time progresses, or fast forward time by spending a little HP.  Basically, you zoom in to change the land, which then changes the temperature, which allows creatures to be born (hence the 'birthdays' in the title).  When you zoom out and let time flow forward, these changes actually start to take effect.  Like real life, it is a slow process, and the results aren't guaranteed.

There are four chapters for the story, which takes you through different parts of the development of life on earth (sea life, lizards, dinosaurs, people, etc).  At first, they give you simple tasks that are clearly laid out, so you can do your best to meet the birth requirements, rinse and repeat until the chapter ends.  Build for a bit, then wait for a bit.  It's pretty fun and helps you get used to the game.  During the third chapter, they decide to open it up a bit, and give you a final goal, but not the necessary milestones along the way.

This is where it frustrated me.  I made all the other goals, and thought I had a handle on how the game functions, and how to do what I needed to.  When they skip over milestones, it became much harder for me to complete it in a timely fashion.  I would meet the temperature and moisture requirements, wait, and...nothing.  Tried giving more room, change some other things, and...still nothing.  Eventually I realized that looking at the 'tree' view of the creatures, not the 'list' view would sometimes help, as there were steps I needed that I didn't know about, like creature Y coming from Z instead of X.  Still, there were times when that didn't help.  Since it takes a bit for the temperature and other things to catch up to changes, figuring out what went wrong can be a long, arduous, and annoying process.

Besides the normal/story mode, there is also a challenge mode, which gives you a pre-made world and objective.  Some of them have special features, like height affecting temperature at a greater rate, and tasks you with completing them.  You have a fairly generous time frame to do so, and it logs your quickest completion.  A nice addition, but probably not one I would finish off.  There's also a free mode, which I think was patched in, which is good for trying out new things, relaxing, or cleaning up some of the creature specific trophies.

Overall, Birthdays the Beginning was alright.  Not great, but not terrible.  It was fairly relaxing as long as all the milestones were working, but annoying when they didn't seem to, despite the conditions being met.  You will get around 10-20 hours out of the story mode, a few more out of the challenges, and a lot more if you dive into the free mode.  A solid offering for the price if you like god simulator games.

The Good:
Fairly easy going god simulator that won't give you the same experience twice.

The Bad:
It can take awhile for changes to show, which doesn't help you learn as quickly.  Annoying when life doesn't happen even though conditions are met.

The SaHD:
Weird that global warming is a useful thing in the game.

(Review code for Birthdays the Beginning was provided by the publisher)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Toukiden 2 (PS4) Review

I really enjoyed the first Toukiden, more than I thought I would.  I figured Tecmo Koei's first foray into the monster hunting genre would be a bit shaky, but it was solid and felt familiar enough, yet different, from other offerings.  I ended up playing it for many more hours after reviewing it, and was very excited to finally get my hands on the sequel.  Of course, I had the carryover demo to help satiate me beforehand, so I was able to hit the ground running in the full release.

If you haven't played the first Toukiden, or read my review of it, I'll briefly cover the basics.  You play as a slayer who is tasked with defending a village from various monsters called Oni.  This involves choosing a weapon, getting some allies together, and hitting them a lot until they die.  You can then purify them, which gives you an item.  Each medium and large Oni has several parts that have their own durability.  If you hit them enough, the part will break off.  Those too, can be purified.  While you can sever legs and arms, most time the monster gets a phantom version so they can still use it to move and attack.  Those parts can still be targeted, which can aid in stunning  or tripping them, giving you a few seconds to hit them without fear of retaliation.

The controls are mostly the same as the first entry, but with a few new additions.  Square, Triangle and Circle will do different attacks based off the weapons types.  X is your dodge button, which is the same as last time.  Filling up your weapon gauge still allows you to do your super attack that will sever a monster's limb instantly.  Running and the Eye of Truth no longer drain stamina, which is nice.  Also newly added is the demon hand.

The demon hand adds a new layer of mobility for your character.  You can target an Oni with it to pull yourself to them quickly, which can help in hitting their higher sections.  You can also use them in the environment to go up ledges and across gaps.  The unity gauge has also changed to be used with the demon hand.  When it is filled, you can target a monster's part and break it, sometimes permanently.  It's different per monster, but some can be left legless, dragging themselves around to fight you.  It's really useful and cool.  At first I didn't really care about the demon hand, but after smashing off an Oni's arms and watching it walking around trying to peck me, I realized its true worth.

Mitama are back, and also slightly reworked.  They don't level up as before.  Instead, doing different things will unlock and level up their skills.  There's also very specialized skills that some have, affecting other types of mitama or certain weapon types (think of the corporate buzzword "synergy").  The second and third mitama give you new skills.  One is activated by holding R1 and pressing R2, and the other activates automatically when the conditions are met.  They have lots of new skills, too, like filling up your weapon gauge at the cost of health, or keeping you from dying when your health is out.  It took me a bit to get used to how the new skills worked, but I do like them.  Besides just reworking the types of mitama already present, a few more have been added..  I still really like my spirit type, but I'm starting to like the plunder type as well.  The command type is a bit of a let down, though.

The story mode for the series went through an overhaul.  It used to be just like Monster Hunter, where there was dialogue bits in the town, and you would take missions from the counter, complete them, then repeat to press on through the story.  Now, the town has the different "ages" outside of it in a giant, connected map that you can run around in.  There are plenty of Oni, items to pick up, side quests to complete, and even collectibles.  There are also random "joint operations" where you help another slayer out (or even a Tenko).  When you complete it, the slayer will temporarily join you, effectively giving you a fifth party member.  You can encounter other player's characters in this way.  When encountering a large or medium sized Oni, there is a barrier keeping you within a certain area.  It's possible to leave the blue types, but red keep you in.  These are for quest targets, so you probably don't want to run from them anyway.

When I first experienced the large map, I though it was just a side thing to do, where you could free fight Oni and gather stuff.  It took me way too long to realize that this is where the campaign takes place.  I thought about if I liked that or not, and finally decided it was actually a good choice.  It moves it farther from the game that inspired it, but gave it something unique that works really well.  I don't know if it needed the collectibles, but I really like the new, large, connected map.

The multiplayer stays closer to its roots.  However, instead of having a map with different zones, you are basically put in the area with the target(s).  You will be in a section of the normal map, but within the red barrier area.  This makes missions much faster.  I wasn't able to find an online lobby the few times I tried, but you can do the quests offline with the story characters or a copy of anyone that you have the card for (other players, basically).

While the first Toukiden and the Kiwami expansion had story and plot, Toukiden 2 has more.  The story is a bit predictable towards the end, but the character backstories are really good.  Going through the story and some of the side quests took me 25 hours.  Completing the rest of the side quests and doing the hunting missions will rack up many more hours.  I've put on an additional 20 hours and still have more to do.  Like the first game, the difficulty isn't as high as its competitors, mostly because you can take AI with you almost constantly and they can revive you.  I had no difficulties going through the story, although some of the later monsters hit very hard.

If you are a fan of the first Toukiden, like myself, I would definitely recommend Toukiden 2.  Just realize that they have changed some things to better separate it from the crowd, which I could see alienating some people.  I actually really like the changes, and had a lot of fun playing through the story and side quests.

The Good:
Expands the game in interesting ways to further differentiate itself from its inspiration.

The Bad:
The changes may alienate some fans of the genre.

The SaHD:
I'd really like to play online with my friends, but none of them have the game.

(Review code for Toukiden 2 was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds (PS Vita) Review

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is a visual novel set in Kyoto, Japan in the mid 1860s.  It stars a female protagonist searching for her father.  She quickly becomes a "guest" of the Shinsengumi, and the story unfolds from there.  Kyoto Winds is also a remaster of the previous Hakuoki, which came out a few years ago on the PS3 and Vita.  The story has been partially reworked, adding more minor characters and romance-able targets for the leading lady.  Sadly, the story has also been split in two, and this is the first part of it.

The story is pretty entertaining overall.  You interact with many different characters, which feels more logical for such a big group, as opposed to cramming all the characters into every scene.  There's also a fair amount of voiced dialogue.  Of course I expected some, but with so many characters, I expected less than there ended up being.  If the dates in the game match up with historical dates, it would make sense why there are sometimes big jumps in time (up to about a year) during the story.  Otherwise, it would be kind of strange that a lot of things happen in a month or two, but then nothing for the next four months.

Many points in the story will task the player with choosing an option which affects how the story unfolds.  Some of these make big differences in the short run, but in the long run, the story unfolds in much the same way.  Since the story is based on historical events, it makes sense that that would be the case.  Sometimes the following scenes feel a bit disconnected from some of the choices.  Basically, there seem to be better options to make the story flow perfectly, but you don't have to do that.  What your choices do greatly affect is which characters you can raise your relationship with.  This, in turn, changes which final chapter you get in the game.

When I say "final chapter", I don't mean the story's conclusion...yet.  It's only the first half of the entire tale.  This was a bit of a disappointment.  The breaking point is a pretty logical one (at least in the routes I did), so it isn't some awful cliffhanger to leave you waiting for the next part.  With so many different last chapters, I'm curious to see how the second game deals with that at the start.

Like most visual novel games, Hakuoki runs about 4-6 hours for your first playthrough.  There are several points where a different choice will change parts of the game, plus a route for each of the characters gives you some good replay value.  Finishing the game once allows you to choose at what point to start at, and then select one guy to set the relationship at high or low.  This makes it easier to see the alternate routes without having to skip through parts you have already seen.  Plus, when you come to a choice, previous selections will be marked with different font color, which aids in choosing another.  While a lot of this stuff should be standard in visual novels, I'm still very happy that it's included here.

If you think it would be hard for a guy to play and enjoy an Otome game, you would be mistaken.  Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds in an interesting story that is unfortunately split in two.  That is made better by the fact that it splits in a logical place, and with so many different ending chapters, has replay value for hours, even if you have to wait for the full story to conclude.  Visual novel fans should definitely give it a try.

The Good:
Interesting story with some nice twists, and plenty of ending routes.

The Bad:
Having to wait for part 2 to finish the story.

The SaHD:
I've seen Ruroni Kenshin, so I recognize a few of those names.

(Review code for Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds was provided by the publisher)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Marvel Heroes Omega (PS4) Closed Beta Test Impressions

Marvel characters meets Diablo-like gameplay?  Sounds like a great idea.  I have played a few hours of the PC version, but early on my computer couldn't handle it, so I waited until I got a machine that could.  Even so, it was a game that I really wanted to use a controller for, and was very happy when it was announced to be moving to consoles under the slightly changed name of Marvel Heroes Omega.

There's a new intro mission that has you play as a few of the Avengers while introducing controls and key aspects of the game.  After which you will then do the old tutorial level, the Raft.  If my memory serves me correctly, this Raft mission is a bit stream-lined from its old version, and I like this one better, mostly because it feels shorter.

It's a good thing too, since story progress is saved by character.  So, if you switch to a new one, they want you to do the Raft again to get a level and some starter gear.  With so many characters already available to try (and more that I have to wait patiently for), it's a nice idea, but there are easier ways to just try a character out.  First, there is a training room hidden in the list of teleport locations, which lets you attack a set of dummies to try out your powers.  If you want live combat, you can just enter the first street zone and run around beating up a few punks to see how it feels.

So how does it play on a controller?  For me, it's great.  You move with the left stick, and the face button uses your moves.  Several moves don't have a cooldown, so you can either hold down the button or press it continuously to use the moves.  Holding down the L2 will give you access to another set of four moves once you have them unlocked.  Setting what skill was on what button was easily done from the skill menu, too.

L1 will use a healing item, although I wasn't sure how many I had.  Maybe it isn't limited, but a cooldown?  The right stick doesn't move the camera, which I thought it would.  Instead it...does nothing?  I'm not sure what it, R1 and R2 do.  I imagine one would do the ultimate skill, but I didn't play far enough to find out.  I should when there isn't the looming threat of a character wipe, though.

However, the biggest thing I was excited about was the inclusion of couch co-op.  Many of you may know that I play several games with my awesome wife, and after sinking hundreds of hours into Diablo, Marvel Heroes Omega is a game we were itching to try.  It took a bit to get everything lined up (she apparently couldn't actually pick a character to join unless I was already in a mission), but after that it worked out really well.

The second player is basically sharing the account of Player 1.  This is good because you only have to buy characters for one account to get the benefit for others.  Inventory is shared, too, which is good (easy to give pieces to other characters) and bad (capacity will get filled faster).  With loot still being character specific (a choice I'm not too keen on), it helps to not have to trade or drop it so the other player can use it.  Of course starting inventory limits are not conducive to my play style (I'm a hoarder), so I know I'll spend some G to increase it.

As much as I enjoyed the game, I of course had a few problems as well.  Some of the UI text is absurdly small, even on a 55" TV.  I imagine (and hope) that will be fixed by launch.  I also would have liked a help page that showed the controller layout, since I had a devil of a time trying to log out the first time.  It turns out it's cleverly hidden in the lower right corner of the screen when you first open the menu.  I guess I've played too many other MMOs, since I was looking for it in the options, and other places for several minutes before I just saw it sitting there, laughing at me.  Lastly, when you level up and gain a new skill, it puts it on a button.  Fine, but it tends to duplicate it, or just put it over one you had before if you've set up the buttons manually.  It's not game breaking, but it's weird and annoying.

It's safe to say I had fun in the closed beta for Marvel Heroes Omega.  I set out to try different heroes to see who I might have to buy, and to play some couch co-op.  Both goals were met, so now I have to wait patiently for the open beta, and then the game's launch!  I'm definitely looking forward to that.

The Good:
Lots of heroes to choose from, controller works great...and did I mention couch co-op!

The Bad:
Some UI elements aren't optimized

The SaHD:
Really, really looking forward to when my boy Juggernaut is added.  And of course Venom!

(Founder's Pack / Closed Beta access codes for Marvel Heroes Omega were provided by the publisher)

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Silver Case (PS4) Review

The Silver Case was Grasshopper Manufacture's first game.  Originally a Playstation game released in 1999, it was recently remastered for a PC release, and now it's on the PS4.  The game is a crime drama adventure game split into two parts, Transmitter and Placebo.

Transmitter follows the main character (that you name) and their story through 7 chapters.  While the stories don't always appear connected, they are in sometimes obscure ways.  I was able to follow most of the plot, but a few points escaped me.  Some of these are things addressed in the Placebo portion of the game.  Placebo only has 5 chapters, stars a different character, and gives a different perspective on the happenings of Transmitter.  As already mentioned, it fills in a few gaps, so it isn't as ancillary as it first appears to be.  Also, finishing all the cases on one side unlocks a bonus one for the other, which is new content not from the initial release.  Sure, they are really short, but new is new!

Being a Suda 51 game, you know it has to be dripping with a unique style.  In that respect, The Silver Case doesn't disappoint.  Part of the game's style is the background imagery.  There's lines, letters, symbols and other things floating around.  At first it was really distracting, but once I was used to it, I thought it was pretty neat.  Plus, it helps that every chapter had its own color and thing going on in the background, making them all feel unique.

In addition to that, there are also a myriad of ways the game shows things.  Many characters have portraits (that are different for the two "sides" of the story), there are still images, 3D models, animation and even some live action videos.  It's all kind of crazy, but since it uses them at least a few times each, it kind of works.  There is little spoken dialogue, so the game uses a text noise when writing the dialogue.  It actually has a few different noises, which is nice.  However, it just kind of cycles among them, instead of having certain people's sound one way, as a way to differentiate people from others.  That would have been cool.

When you aren't scrolling through and reading dialogue, you will likely be moving around the game's limited 3D environments.  These sections are the weakest part of the game.  It's also the only "gameplay" you get, which is what makes it an adventure game and not a visual novel.  Anyway, the controls for them half make sense, but are still jumbled.  I get the movement, but selecting what thing to do (movement, system, etc.) with the wheel feels very cumbersome.  There's an alternate way, where you hold the L1 button and use a face button, that feels more natural.  One of the characters even points out that it won't makes sense, but that you will get used to it.  They don't say that it gets better, mind you, only that you'll accept it and move on.  While these sections aren't fun, in the Placebo story, they feel superfluous.  Many times, you basically move a square forward and interact with something to advance the story.  I guess it at least gives you time to save.

Early in the game, my dislike for these sections was cemented.  I was moving around in the first room you can move in, and I couldn't go anywhere.  I examined what I thought it wanted me to, but all I could find was a door it wouldn't let me though, a panel that I could type stuff in, and a blurry picture that seemed like it would be important if it was legible.  After about 10 minutes, I found a comic book near the ground.  "Ok, great the game is going to have collectibles during these parts," I thought.  I wandered around for a few more minutes, just not understanding what I was missing.

Then I tried to walk though the door again.  And it worked.  "What?!" I yelled (actually, there were more expletives in what I yelled).  I apparently had to pick up a silly and useless collectible in order to go through the door.  Sadly, that wasn't the only time I would not know what to do, only to find out it was look up or down on a specific panel and a specific direction.  Sigh.

In the Transmitter half of the game, several of the 3D sections have puzzles to figure out.  The first ones I came to didn't really give any indication of what I was supposed to do (remember that panel I mentioned?), and being already confused, I didn't know what to do.  There's a little magnifying glass icon, that when hit, solved the puzzle for me.  So what was the point of actually doing it?  I don't know.  After completing all of those ones in the same way, I figured out what you were supposed to actually do to solve it.  On one hand I think it's silly to just easily give the solution like that with no penalty, but on the other I appreciate that you aren't stuck when they just dump a puzzle on you with no explanation.

The other puzzles don't have a button to solve it for you, and they aren't very hard when it comes down to it.  I will admit I got stuck several times, but it wasn't usually because of an actual puzzle, but more that I didn't know what part of the area I was supposed to walk to, or look up or down or something else that feels pointless.  Luckily getting all the questions right in the 100 question kumite isn't actually a puzzle, since that wasn't going to happen.  (Apparently, they always ask in the same order, meaning a guide will get it done.)

While I do have some big problems with The Silver Case, I think the story is interesting.  There are parts that don't feel as well explained as they should be, and there's a few twists that feel unnecessary, but I enjoyed it overall and kept playing to find out what was going to happen.  I'd enjoy it more as a visual novel, since the movement sections were far more painful than they should have been.  The style is the game's strongest point.  Still, if you are a fan of some avant-garde design and story telling, The Silver Case is worth a playthrough, especially if you have played any of the related Suda 51 stories.

The Good:
Pretty interesting story, very unique style.

The Bad:
The 3D environments.

The SaHD:
One of the characters nicknames the main character "Big Dick", which makes for some hilarious lines...which I unabashedly took screenshots of.

(Review code for The Silver Case was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Mechrunner (PS4) Review

Endless runners is a genre usually withheld for mobile gaming platforms that are free to play and offer many microtransactions.  There have been a few released on consoles, even ones that are sold as complete games.  Mechrunner is one of the latter, and you... play as a transforming mech?!


When you start out, you get no real explanation of what's going on.  Just start the game and you're in.  Well, I'd recommend looking at the controls first.  There is a backstory to the game, you just have to play far enough to buy/unlock the movies that explain it.  It's a weird decision, since I would like some context for this game world, but I'm sure many people just want to jump into the action.

As most endless runners do, you mostly move forward, making your way down the war-torn streets, destroying enemies and rescuing civilians (except that poor dude at the start).  When you do encounter an enemy, you stop moving forward and the view zooms.  If you are hit by either enemy attacks or obstructions in the environment, you will take damage.  If you run out of health, it's game over.

You can either be the mech or tank form, and the Triangle button switches between them on the fly.  The mech has melee blades that can cut up enemies, and a gun that you can aim.  Unfortunately, you can only aim while shooting and for a bit afterwards.  It would be much easier if you could aim before hand, so you wouldn't have to waste shots.  Even though you have infinite ammo, the mech's guns overheat as you shoot them, and have to recharge.  It's actually a pretty big pain, simply because its guns aren't very accurate or strong, and just about every enemy is outside of the sword's range.

The tank, on the other hand, is far better.  It can shoot missiles and its dual cannons.  These can't be aimed manually, but the missiles have some tracking ability and it isn't really a problem.  Plus, they don't overheat, so you can spam the triggers the whole time, which is stupidly effective.  Once I quickly figured out the stay in tank mode 95% of the time, the game got much better, and easier.  The only time I change to mech mode is to finish off a stunned target after a battle, since you get more protoenergy (currency) for doing so.  Oh, and to slowly work toward the associated trophies.  You can also hold the tank's shots to charge them up, but I didn't really need to, nor see much reason to, since spamming the shot kills things rather quickly.

There are some random pick-ups scattered through the game, which you can use when you want (you can only hold so many, though).  They are all pretty useful.  There's a healing one, that you have to actually activate.  I didn't know this for awhile, and thought they would replenish some health when you pick them up.  There's one that makes your missiles stronger (I think).  It's a bomb icon, so I thought it gave you a screen clearing attack or something, which would have been cool.  The last one is the shield, which will protect you from damage for a short time.  This is invaluable.  It not only makes difficulty enemies trivial, it helps with some of the cheap hits you get when the endless running speeds up.

Killing enemies and gathering the protoenergy will give you experience and money.  As your level increases, you can buy new upgrades, skins and areas to explore.  Most of the unlockables require the protoenergy, so you will be grinding a lot to get the amounts you need, and to reach the required level.  At least that helps work toward many of the trophies.  Strangely, the movies that explain the story of the game are in the upgrade shop, offering you a small glimpse every 10 or so levels.

There are a few problems I have with the game, though some are minor.  One, you can only pick up civilians in the tank.  Sure, I quickly realized this when it didn't work when I was the mech, but it would have been nice to be told, or have that loading screen tip come up way sooner.  As mentioned earlier, the mech form is almost useless because the tank is so much better.  Plus, having the shooting on the triggers makes sense, but gets to be a real pain if you play for too long.  Spamming them to shoot fast makes the game easier, but cramps your hands after a bit.  I would think an arcade stick would be great for the game, except for needing the right stick the few times you might need the mech's guns, and having to need both the d-pad and the right stick for the menu and moving respectively.  As for mashing the triggers a lot, a turbo controller fixes that right up.  (I won't tell if you won't.)

Being an endless runner, you don't really "beat" the game, as it just keeps going.  There are different areas that you can unlock, but you transition to them during your run, as opposed to being an actual different stage.  It's a pretty neat effect, but having it as different actual stages would have been cool too.  Hit detection for your tank/mech seems a bit off most times as well, which really shows when things speed up.  My biggest problem is the many cheap hits the game has.  As an example, there are many times where something drops in the only place you can go to avoid an obstacle, which means you have to take damage.  Also if an enemy is behind an obstruction and stunned, closing in to slice it up will damage you.  Yuck.

Overall, Mechrunner was pretty fun.  I'm glad the game isn't a free-to-play microtransaction trap, but instead a low priced release.  It's good for a pick up and play game for a few minutes at time, but you might cramp up your hands playing it too long.  It could use a bit more polish, but it was definitely worth the several hours I put into it.

The Good:
Cool mech design, easy to pick up and play.

The Bad:
Mech is nowhere near as good as the tank, spotty hit detection, cheap shots, and can cramp your hands after awhile.

The SaHD:
Can some make an actual transforming toy of the mech in the game?  Maybe on Shapeways?  I'd love to get one.

(Review code for Mechrunner was provided by the publisher)

Friday, April 21, 2017

PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness (PC/Steam) Review

PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness came out last fall for the Vita, and is now available on Steam for PC fans to enjoy.  It is a visual novel set in an alternate Japan in the year 2112.  There is a computer system called Sybil, which dictates what your future path should be.  Everyone's feelings are quantified, and those with "clouded hue" can be deemed dangerous.  It's used as an indicator for criminals, and Division 1 is tasked with dealing with them.  To do so, they use a special gun called the Dominator.  It can either subdue a target, if their hue isn't too clouded, or, if they are beyond redemption, blast them into tiny bits.  "I am the law" indeed.

As you go through the game, you follow your chosen protagonist (either Tsurugi or Nadeshiko), and together with the rest of CID Division 1, solve some crimes.  From their perspectives, the crimes start out as unrelated, but quickly coalesce into an over-arching story that is pretty enjoyable.  Admittedly, I'd like a little more closure to one of the game's bigger mysteries, but it may be tied into a future game or even the TV show (that I still sadly haven't seen).

At many points throughout the game, there are choices to make, which will affect some of how the story plays out.  The game is great at showing you when the paths diverge, but it's not always obvious how or why certain choices would affect it.  Your choices will also affect a scene in the middle of the game where you get to know one of your colleges better, and the ending.  As noted in my review of the Vita version, my first ending felt very abrupt and out of nowhere, and felt more like an extra scene than an ending to the game.  Still, much of the story plays out similar regardless of choices.  However, there is also a mini-game to play, which lets you earn points to unlock things in the gallery and other bonuses.  It's a pretty fun mini-game, but you will have to get really good at it to get enough points to unlock everything, as the total cost is way too high.

As a visual novel, the controls shouldn't make much of a difference.  The keyboard works, but the controls felt really off, and it took me a few tries to figure out where the menu was.  It's on the "1" key, which, in my limited PC gaming experience, is kinda weird.  Once I found that, I was able to look at the keybindings.  I left them on default, which is ok once I knew where everything was mapped.  To me, the mouse is the best, as left click advances text or makes a choice, while right clicking is the menu.  Pretty much everything you would need is right there.  Plus, you can click the on-screen buttons if you wanted to set the text to auto (which advances for you when the spoken dialogue reaches the end of the line).  The Xbox 360 controller works just fine as well, if you prefer that.

PSYCHO-PASS is a fairly engaging visual novel that takes around 5-6 hours for a first run.  The two main protagonists and the branching paths give good replayability, although I wish some choices were clearer in what it affected.  I imagine the system requirements aren't too high, but the game ran perfectly fine on my i7.  Loaded quickly, too.  I'd recommend the game to any crime drama fans, as the story is well written, and the world is pretty interesting.

The Good:
Good story, lots of choices, and many ending scenes.

The Bad:
How the route changes is rarely apparent.

The SaHD:
I'm glad the real life (non-killing) Dominator sold out so I wasn't tempted to get one.  Not like I could afford it, though...

(Review code for PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Torment: Tides of Numenera (PS4) Review

Torment: Tides of Numenera has come to consoles after a very successful Kickstarter for its PC release a few months ago.  It harkens back to the old PC RPGs of years ago, where atmosphere and characters were top billing.  In contrast to most games nowadays, you can talk yourself out of most situations, and rarely have to resort to combat...unless you want to.

The game starts off with some voiced lines that sets up what is happening and helps set up your character with a personality quiz, or something like it.  I found this bit confusing, as I was trying to sort out what this world is, and it wasn't coming together for me.  There is then a brief tutorial before the game properly starts, and that was the point where I started to "get" the backstory.  I honestly felt the game could have started there, then went into the other parts, but I'm sure there are others who are fine with how the game starts.

The idea of the game is neat and unique.  There is an entity called the Changing God, who, in an effort to continuously gain knowledge and also escape a powerful being called Sorrow, creates a new body every 10-20 years, and transfers into it.  This leaves behind the old body, which is then filled with a new soul.  These "castoffs" are known throughout the world by their telltale scar, and this is the character you play as.  You have no real past of your own, except for whatever trouble the Changing God caused in your body, plus memory fragments of previous bodies.

The game has a lot of reading.  In fact, that is an understatement.  It has a near insane amount of text, as first encounters don't just name a person, but describe them in a Robert Jordan kind of way.  By contrast, few lines have voices.  Most interactions have a lot of extra text that sets the tone and scene, describing actions to make things seem more alive.  It's pulled off really well, even if there are a lot of complexities that are almost too much to digest.

Here's an example.  A character you meet is an alien with intricate mechanical arms.  He is studying the mating habits of other creatures because they differ so much from that of his race.  To reproduce, they cut off a limb, which will grow into a new person.  Which part is cut off determines what the person does.  Legs make laborers, arms make more thoughtful people, and the head makes leaders, because of the obvious sacrifice.  Regrowing or replacing a limb is seen as offensive to your offspring, and is frowned upon in their society.  When this particular guy accidentally ended up with mechanical arms, he was exiled from his society.

I should now note that this isn't even a party member.  This is some NPC that you interact with for about 2 minutes.  That is a crazy amount of thought and effort put into something so small, but it really makes the game deeper and more realistic.  It's easy to get absorbed into as you read everything.  It's also easy to spend a ton of time and not really go anywhere...I spend almost 20 hours in the first town alone!  It wasn't all from the loading screens.  They were frequent, and were on the long side, but still not as bad as some other recent titles.

The core system of the game is Effort.  To do something, you must expend your stats.  You want to break something?  Use some of your Might to do so.  Want to catch a fast moving object?  Spend some Speed.  The more points you use, the higher the success percent.  There is a definite balance between using more Effort to guarantee success, and leaving some to use for the next choice.  There are items to restore stat points, and sleeping will also recharge you.  However, sleeping too much can advance some quests, simply because you were taking too long to do it.  Plus, money is pretty hard to come by, especially early on, so you might go broke if you have to spend a few days at the inn.

I actually really like the Effort system, mostly because you can see the percent chance of success, and with multiple party members, you can alternate who spends the points.  Effort also extends to combat, where expending more increases accuracy and damage done.  Plus, you spend the stat relevant to your weapon type.  Speed for light weapons, Might for heavy, and etc.  Once you understand the basics, it works well.

Of course, as alluded to earlier, you barely have to fight in the game if you don't want to.  Many quests have multiple outcomes, which can be brought about by talking, convincing, lying, or maybe even stealing.  I'll give you an example.  In one quest, you meet a trio of ancient builder robots that cannot move, but can talk and think.  So, they help direct people in building and renovating the city above and around them.  One of them is having a bit of an existential crisis and wants to produce offspring.  It has failed several times, but the only way to succeed will ultimately kill this intelligent, ancient and rare being.  Do you help it, or convince it to live instead?  I choose to help it, and it created several robo-babies that scampered about.  You could round them up, or let them run free.  I let them out into the world.  However, there is one that didn't work out.  You can leave it, but I chose to take it with me.  Never would I have thought that an item I would receive in a video game would be a stillborn robot baby, but here we are.

While fighting and finishing quests can give you big chunks of experience, a lot of things in the game give little bits.  Reading things, or learning about people can provide small boosts toward your next level, or should I say Tier?  Instead of a more traditional set-up, your characters will advance toward the next tier, which requires 4 advancements.  At each advancement (level up, basically), you can choose one thing to improve, from a list of four or five.  However, each can only be taken once each tier, so you can't load your characters up with stats or skills, and then do the other later.  The things you can choose from are: increase a stat, increase edge (which basically gives you a free stat point toward effort checks), extra effort (can expend an extra point to increase success %), improved ability (give you a new ability to use), and improved skill (can improve a passive skill).  Several of these are useful, so it's best to think about what you want from your characters when deciding.  I especially like edge, as it helps stretch out your stat points.

One last thing I want to mention is the "tides" system for your character's personality.  Well, I think that's what it's for, the game didn't really explain it.  As you choose responses to the many, many text options, your tides will shift toward different colors.  I would think this effects how others see you, but I'm not really sure.  I only caught on that they are supposed to represent your personality from a random loading screen hint.  Your character screen shows your dominant tides, but you have to use the touch pad to see more detail, then scroll down in the appropriate tab to actually see what those colors represent.  I would have liked a more detailed (and easy to access) explanation, or even just knowing which responses might trigger the shifts, because they don't all fit with their descriptions.  If it doesn't actually affect the game, I'd at least like to know that, too.

The developers tout not being able to see everything in one run of the game, and I believe it.  There are lots of little choices and alternate outcomes to quests that add up throughout the playthrough that I see good reasons to go through the game a second time.  Plus, you could try another character class, or different skills.  Trophies are sometimes awarded for competing quest outcomes, and it is very easy to miss a good chunk of them if you aren't following a guide.

So, Torment: Tides of Numenera is an engaging and deep game to eat up your free time.  It won't be for everyone, but if you are the type to get completely engrossed in a game and its lore, this is definitely a game you owe it to yourself to play.  It's fun, unique, and offers good replay.  It controls well on consoles, too, so pick it up on your platform of choice.

The Good:
Lengthy, deep, old school RPG that can suck you in for hours.  Effort system is a refreshing new way for skill checks and combat.

The Bad:
Might be more text than you can handle.

The SaHD:
"I haven't had this much fun, since...the last time!"

(Review code for Torment was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey (PS4) Review

By Aly Hand

Atelier Firis: Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is the newest game to join the prestigious Atelier series. The eighteenth iteration of the series, Atelier Firis is not the one I would choose for people just starting out with the series. The game begins with Firis, a young girl who is living in an isolated town, hoping to venture outside and see the world. The first stranger she encounters is Sophie, the titular character from the previous game, and Sophie agrees to teach her alchemy. Firis then uses what she's learned to convince her parents to allow her to leave town. She begins her journey with a time limit: if she doesn't become a fully licensed alchemist within a year, she will have to return home. She begins her journey, venturing out of her hometown accompanied by her older sister, Liane. In a move quite different from other RPGs, there is no "final boss" at the end of that time limit, but instead an exam designed to torture people with poor memories for trivia, or people who rush through the game without taking the time to learn recipes and practice what they've learned.

From a personal standpoint, I have to say this is not the best example of what an Atelier game can do. The game can be divided into two sections: pre- and post-exam. Unfortunately, the directions for how to proceed pre-exam are not always clear. In terms of game time, over half of the time limit was spent trying to figure out how to get out of Flussheim. Everything pre-exam is tense, with the time limit hanging over your head, pressuring you to do things faster. And while it is very possible to get through the pre-exam time without issue, it's much harder on an initial play-through unless you have a strategy guide or FAQ handy. Not all the quests are clearly explained, nor are the solutions to them intuitive, so numerous times I found myself suffering through trial and error in order to progress.

Learning recipes has changed once more. No longer do you learn them almost exclusively from recipe books and by tinkering with other recipes. Now you learn new items by what you do: through battles with specific monsters, gathering specific materials, or synthesizing specific items a certain number of times. While there are recipe books, they are rare and often prohibitively expensive. And with money being a comparatively rare thing, it takes a significant amount of time to build up the necessary funds to afford them.

The battle system is relatively simple to understand, with turn-based combat and a chain gauge that allows you to combine party member attacks into massive combos for additional effect. While the addition of the chain gauge is nice, nine times out of ten the monsters (even bosses) die before you can get it set up properly. In fact, setting up a chain combo without help is so difficult I never managed to pull it off. Without carefully reviewing the help menu and lots of trial and error, you may complete the timed portion of the game without ever managing it.

Bosses in the game are also different; rather than a staple of a finished dungeon, now they wander around specific sections of the map and are completely avoidable. In fact, it is very easy to complete the timed portion of the game without ever fighting one. Maps are large, with many quick-travel points scattered around, though the quick-travel is also somewhat limited in that you can only quick-travel on the map you're on. Though there is a world map, you can't travel between maps from it, nor can you see quick-travel points on any map other than the one you are currently on. These limitations are frustrating, particularly while the time limit of the game hangs overhead like the Sword of Damocles.

The one thing that would make it easier to progress in the game—the addition of new party members—takes an almost prohibitively long time to occur. I pushed through to the first major town, called Flussheim, and it still took over half of my time limit before I could find another party member and recruit them. And he cost money! With how little money you get from battles, hiring him would have taken me several more hours to afford. Thankfully, by wandering around several of the other maps, I managed to stumble across two more party members, before finally finding a third and fourth. Unfortunately, once you complete the exam, you will have to go fetch them again, which makes it very frustrating to try and get through maps you've already completed.

Still, there are a great number of quests to do in the game, and while they all follow the standard model (kill x of y enemy; gather x number of y material; make x number of y recipe and/or deliver to so-and-so) there's enough spread out amongst the maps that it's possible to do them all with relative ease. Unfortunately, again, reviewing active quests can be a time-consuming and often frustrating process, simply because of how they are designed. For example, if you open your quest book and page between active quests, you will have to back all the way up to the initial quest detail you opened before you can exit that portion of the menu. Kind of like having to hit the back button to get back to your home page in a web browser with no way to close it unless you do. As frustrating as that would make surfing the web, that is the frustration felt when navigating the details in the menus.

Overall the game was entertaining and a decent addition to the Atelier series. Unfortunately, between the severe lack of direction and the extreme frustration of the final exam, the initial portion of the game makes it difficult to appreciate the secondary portion. It was fun, but the previous game was much better in both design and execution.

(Review code for Atelier Firis was provided by the publisher)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

World of Final Fantasy (PS Vita) Review

When World of Final Fantasy was first shown at E3 a year or so ago, I was intrigued.  Who where the twins?  Why is there a more "normal" style and a chibi style?  What are battles like?  When the game was released, I got a taste of it by using the shareplay function on the PS4, but I have recently finished up the Vita version and decided to review it.

World of Final Fantasy's battle system looks and sounds more complicated than it is.  Each character has their own skills and can fight on their own, although their HP is low and can be killed quickly.  To combat this, you can stack up to three party members, one of each size (S, M, and L) to add their stats together.  This makes them much stronger and harder to kill, but each stack only gets one turn, as opposed to each member getting their own turn.  Still, I went through the whole game stacked, and it usually went fine.  Some attacks will weaken the stack, and eventually knock it over.  This stuns everyone in the stack, making them vulnerable to a focused assault.  If the stack loses all of its HP, all three members will be dead.  Enemies can also be stacked, so knowing how they function not only protects you, but gives you knowledge to fight enemies.

Each member of the stack has their own abilities.  Depending on how they combine, you may get stronger abilities too.  This is the way to get stronger spells.  If two people have the water spell, then your stack also has access to watera, the next strongest tier of water spells.  It's actually a well thought out system that isn't too hard to figure out, and is rewarding when you use it.

In battles, there are two ways to give commands, the new style and the classic style.  New has each character's skill list as a separate button, or direction or something...and I hated it.  Classic puts it all in one list, so it is easy to see what you have available.  My only gripe with it is that you can't customize the order or sort it.  Also the game features the Active Time Battle that was a staple of Final Fantasy games for years, but you can also make it turn based by turning off the ATB.  While I did love that system back in the day, I have it set to turn based, so I have time to think about my moves, find the right skill, plan out my actions, or just knowing I won't get blown up if I have to deal with some child's emergency during battle.

To capture monsters, you need their prismarium (or elder box for the robots) and to fulfill specific conditions to make them capture-able.  These are listed in their info if you scan them, and range from doing damage, using a certain element/ailment, or even things like hitting them with a counter attack.  Some requirements can be met up to three times to increase the capture percent.  Thankfully, you only use up the prismarium or elder box if you actually capture the creature, so you can try multiple times until it is successful.  They also supply you with a prismarium (but not elder box) for each creature the first time you fight it.  In terms of monster catching, this is a great way to do it, and probably the best I've used.

Monsters that you take with you gain experience and level up.  When gaining a level, their stats improve and they gain a CP, which can be used on their mirage board to gain stats, abilities, and skills.  They very much remind me of the sphere grids from Final Fantasy X.  Many monsters can transfigure into other monsters that have connected boards, which share stats and some skills.  Some can turn into other monsters that have their own connected boards, which do not share stats or skills, but have the appropriate CP for their level.  Buying skills on monster's boards will up their sync percent, which gives bonus stats at certain intervals, and awards a skill at max.  This take in to account all boards, so those small stat boosts are shared, but the mastery skill isn't, so you can pick different ones.  However, the twins do not have mirage boards and instead gain skills depending on what mirajewels you equip them with.  There are numerous to find and earn, and you can freely switch them out of battle.

As you make your way through the story, you will come to many dungeons, each with a boss at the end.  There are also secret areas to find.  The dungeons can get pretty long, but the encounter rate feels appropriate so it isn't a slog.  However, a few of the dungeons have bad designs that are pretty much run forward in a (near) straight line.  I did enjoy the story, too, but some scenes had a bit too much unnecessary dialogue, which I've come to get tired of quickly in my older age.  It would be fine if you could advance it quicker, but the dialogue is voiced and I couldn't find that as an option.  But good news!  You can pause the cut scenes!  Thank you...this should really be a standard for games.

Though at one point in the story, it feels like it comes to a screeching halt.  To help the champions against a new threat you must...take part in some minigames.  These come out of nowhere, and are pretty terrible (at best).  You can't really skip them either, but some let you advance after losing.  I really hate this part of the game, simply because they lock off the actual game until you complete some stupid and terrible minigames.  It's annoying when games do that, and doubly so when it's a game I'm really enjoying.  Several of the games are pure luck based, so you can't even get good at them, just lucky.  You also unlock the ability to play them whenever you want, as if that is some sort of reward.  Instead of the minigames, they should have just made them all non-gimmicky fights.

On to better news, the game takes around 50 hours to get the first ending.  It took me more, but I was doing some grinding and other extra stuff that drove up my playtime.  The only time I felt I had to grind was before the final boss of each ending, but only because it's a fast little jerkwad.  To get the second, true ending, it takes maybe about 10 more, depending on how strong you and your monsters are.  When I finally finished everything but the post-game dungeons, I had put over 70 hours into the game.

World of Final Fantasy is definitely a love letter to fans of Final Fantasy, and an easy recommendation to JRPG fans.  It's still accessible to new fans, but you will get more out of it the more of the franchise you have played.  Even the secret boss...well, I don't want to ruin it, but I was super excited to see it.  I played the entire game on the Vita, and the only problem was the longer load times.  It's not terrible, but it is noticeable.  The game has a lot of playtime, monsters to catch and ways to customize your battle party.  It is easily worth the price for either the PS4 or the Vita.

The Good:
Battles, game length, customization, references...

The Bad:
When the story grinds to a halt because of mandatory minigames.

The SaHD:
Aw, man, that secret boss hits me right in the nostalgia.

(World of Final Fantasy was purchased by the reviewer)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Monster Monpiece (PC) Review

Monster Monpiece was released on the PS Vita two and a half years ago, and was a competent card-based strategy game that was unfortunately mired a silly controversy.  It could also be a bit creepy.  Regardless, it has made its way to Steam, and is now in 1080p!  It looks pretty good, too.

It also boasts having all of the original artwork from the Japanese release, which should mean those four censored images are restored.  This also means all the whiny people can finally chill out and play the game.  However, the PC port lacks multiplayer, which is an odd omission to be sure.  I'm not big on versus multiplayer, so it doesn't effect me personally, but I know others love it, so I'm sure there will be people bothered by this.

As you and your friends make your way around the game world, you will frequently encounter characters that you must battle.  The card battles take place on a 3x7 grid.  Each participant can place a card in the closest 3x3 section, leaving the middle column neutral.  On a card's second and subsequent turns, it will move forward one space (if able), and attack if it is in front of an enemy card.  There are four types of cards- melee, ranged, heal, and support.  Melee fighters usually have higher damage and health, ranged fighters can predictably attack a few panels in front of them, healers restore HP of the friendly card in front of them, and support will increase the attack of the friendly card in front of them.

Monster girls cards have HP and Atk values, and heal/support ones have MP.  Your Atk value does that much damage to HP, and if you run out of HP, the card disappears from the field.  MP dictates how many times a card can heal or buff another card.  Cards also have a family or type, and a color for their border.  If you place a card of the same type on top of another, it will fuse them for the duration of the battle, which adds their stats.  If you summon the same color card multiple turns in a row, you get bonus mana and subsequently, extra health and attack.  These make sense once you start getting into the game and deck creation, plus it adds a few layers of strategy.  At first you don't need to use them, but later in the game you will need all the tricks at your disposal and have a well-balanced deck to succeed.

Now to the infamous part of the game's mechanics.  You can power up cards in your deck by using rub points to...well, rub the cards.  You have to find the right spot on the girls to poke, rub, and pinch to fill up the gauge.  If you fill the whole thing in time, the card will level up, and hopefully get stronger.  Admittedly, it can be a bit creepy, but it's a little better than the Vita version since you aren't grabbing both sides of the Vita and rubbing furiously.  I tried both the controller and mouse for this, and the mouse is easily the better of the two options.  The controller works, but is much slower.  I would very much recommend using the mouse, even if just for this section of the game.

Since the it's a card game, I didn't see much need for the controller.  I did try it and preferred it, but by such a narrow margin that I could easily stick to using the mouse and keyboard.  When I first tried to play the game, it wouldn't work.  I suspect my graphics card wasn't working properly.  Once it was, the game started up and ran just fine every time I played it.  It saves and loads quickly, and the game runs well on my i7.

I enjoyed Monster Monpiece on the Vita, and now that the card artwork integrity is intact, hopefully anyone that had a problem with that will now give the game a chance.  Sure, it had to give up versus battles, which seems strange, but I'm not sure it was a heavily used feature to begin with.  The story give you plenty of battles as you make your way through, that you might not need to fight your friends.  It might not be for everyone, but the card game and battle mechanics are very solid and worth trying out for CCG fans.

The Good:
The game was bumped up to 1080p and contains all the original Japanese artwork on the cards.  It's also a fairly fun and involved strategy card game.

The Bad:
Increasing a card's level doesn't always make its stats better, limiting the usefulness of the function until you can max out the card.

The SaHD:
I'm sure the people who moaned about the Vita release will find something else to complain about for this version...

(Review code for Monster Monpiece was provided by the publisher)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Touhou Genso Wanderer (PS4) Review

Touhou Genso Wanderer is a mystery dungeon style game.  If you aren't familiar with that, you basically run through multiple floors of a simple randomly generated dungeon to get to the end, fight a boss, and then leave.  You have to contend with limited item space, many enemies, traps, and hunger to survive.  Leaving resets your level at 1.  Dying means returning to base with little to no items.

Fortunately, Genso Wanderer lets you keep your items when you die.  You will lose all of your money, though.  This makes it easier to do subsequent runs, since you hold on to your main equipment, but also useful items.  However, the game seems very liberal with the traps that make your weapons weaker, in an effort to balance things out.

It also does a few other nice things.  The main character, Reimu, has four skills you can use while fighting, and each is useful in different situations.  There's a ranged one (my most used one), a skill that hits the three panels in front of you, a piercing distance shot, and an AoE that hits the eight panels surrounding you.  Each of these skills takes a certain number of Danmaki energy, represented by the red-boxed "P" under your health.  You collect a lot of these during your travels, so you can definitely use them when you need them.  Might as well, since they don't stay with you when you leave.

Reimu also has partners that can tag along on the dungeon excursions.  While they can get into trouble on their own, I found that they are extremely helpful.  They also have their own set of skills, but aren't the best judge of when to use them.  You get more as you go through the game, each with different abilities and stats.  Plus, you can also unlock other characters to play as, but I wasn't good enough to get any.

Instead of having smaller dungeons and more of them, Genso Wanderer has longer ones that change scenery every few levels.  The first dungeon changes themes at least five times, and is long enough to have three different shop floors.  The first shop area is a yokai town, which houses the kappa house.  Donating money to each of the three kappa girls (the amounts are separate, which I don't think the game informed me of) can upgrade their facilities.  Thankfully one of them lets you warp to the different shop areas, and as such, was my priority for donations.  Especially since the home base doesn't have a shop to sell your extra stuff to.  Since you lose the money when you die, might as well spend it on some useful items and upgrading the facilities.

To fuse weapons, armor and items, you need Nico points.  These are also dropped by enemies and can be stored at your home base.  Fusion is how you transfer skills and upgrades to other pieces of equipment.  This is probably my favorite aspect of the game.  There are a wide variety of skills, and it's fairly easy to move them to useful pieces of equipment.  More slots open up as the item's level increases, and you can see what skills transfer to what types of equipment.  Alternatively, you can also use Nico points to create some items.  Unlike fusion, item creation is cheap, but needs random drops as ingredients.

The game offers a good length of play, but a lot of it is trudging through the same dungeons over and over until you can complete it.  Even the first boss is stupid hard, necessitating several trips.  I'd prefer taking less damage, since your health is so low.  Equipping a shield didn't seem to help, as the extra damage from dual wielding made enemies die faster, and thus, do less damage.  There's also a couple of story arcs, each with their own dungeons.  You can also unlock a few extra locations, and some dungeons have up to 99 floors.

As mystery dungeon games go, Touhou Genso Wanderer is pretty good.  I prefer more dungeons but smaller, and ramping up to the longer ones, as opposed to what the game offers.  I like that you keep your stuff when you die, and the skills are nice and useful.  That's about all it does to distinguish itself from others in the genre.  I'm still not a huge fan of mystery dungeon games, but I'm sure fans of the genre will like Genso Wanderer.  It might seem easier at first, since you keep your inventory, but the later dungeons won't let you take anything in, and go to 99 floors, ensuring there is plenty of challenge for the diehards.

The Good:
A mystery dungeon game that lets you keep all your items when you die!  I didn't think I'd see the day...

The Bad:
First boss is pretty cheap, and, in the beginning, the dungeons are too long.

The SaHD:
I was very happy to see the attack range extension so early in the game.

(Review code for Touhou Genso Wanderer was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Touhou Double Focus (PS4) Review

Contrary to its same-day released brethren (or is it sistren?), Touhou Double Focus is an action/adventure metroidvania game staring Aya (the reporter Tengu and my personal arch-nemesis in the fighting game) and Momiji (a wolf spirit).  In it, you can freely switch between both characters, each with their own attacks and skills.   Momiji has a close range sword and a defensive shield while Aya is ranged and relies on mobility to avoid attacks.

The X Button is always set to jump, but the other three face buttons can be set to any of the skills you have unlocked for the character, and three different sets of those that you can swap between.  This is pretty neat, so you can make a normal set, a boss set and an exploration set, or any other configurations.  The only part I don't like is you have to set the passive skills on these to actually get any benefit from them.  I might be able to adjust to something like that, but the game doesn't even tell you that's how it works.  I mean, why would I equip a passive skill in an active slot?  That doesn't make much sense.  It would have been nice to get a passive slot or something (how about on the X Button since it already has an active use?)

Each attack or skill you use takes stamina, which is the bar below your health.  Some of these have a charge time (like the heal), which is both good (harder to accidentally use) and bad (might want to use them quickly).  While it is unfortunate that you can't spam attacks, at least stamina refills pretty quickly to make it less of an issue.  I only really had problems after blocking a boss' attack, since that will drain stamina something fierce.

Speaking of bosses, they are a huge pain in the butt when you first encounter them.  The health system is already a bit wonky, and the bosses point that out with authority.  Hit detection is spotty, both for getting hit and for platforms and jumping.  Not a good combination.  Hits can do a lot of damage, especially early on, and there is little to no invincibility time after getting hit.  An even worse combination.  Bosses hit even harder, and tend to cover very large areas with their attacks.  It's all about pattern recognition and patience.  Or just retrying constantly until you succeed.

Oh, and while there are two characters, the health bars are separate, but connected.  Damage drains towards the center, but going over won't kill that character or switch you to the other.  Instead, you take double damage.  Again, the game doesn't tell you this, you just have to find it out on your own after dying super quickly and wondering why.

As you move around the map, you get a few exploration skills that help open up new areas.  I appreciate that they are fairly unique (you don't get a double jump, but something else that lets you go up high), but I have a problem with the default ones the characters get.  Aya can hover in place in the air and Momiji can run up walls.  Sounds great, right?  Yeah, except- surprise, surprise- the game doesn't tell you that.  I got to a point where I couldn't go any further and was confused as to what to do.  I was stuck.  Turns out that I could run up the wall, but I had no idea that was even a function in the game.  If you are wondering why I never ran into a wall to accidentally trigger it, it's because Aya is so much better at normal fights and traversing the areas.  Momiji gets her turn to shine in the boss fights though, as blocking is vital to success.

A really cool idea the game has is letting you create your own warp portals.  There are several books that let you create a warp portal in just about any spot you choose.  Trouble is, they can't be reused or reset, and you don't know how many you have to work with initially.  Still, I tried to be somewhat conservative with them and I never ran out.  I ended up with several left over after finding all the items in the game.  You can also designate which one you will warp to, and holding up while standing at the portal will always return you to the home base.  A nice system, even if not perfect.

Double Focus only takes a few hours to beat.  Of course, it will take you a bit more than the game clock says, simply because you will die a fair amount, which sets you back to the last time you saved at the home base.  There's also a speedrun mode, and a trophy claiming you can beat the game in under an hour.  You also get three difficulty settings.  Note that Easy isn't easy at all.

Touhou Double Focus is at its most fun when you are making your way through the rooms, finding items along the way.  Unfortunately, it can get annoying very fast, which mars the overall experience.  It's also a bit short.  Touhou fans will likely be the most happy with the game, since they would know most of the characters.  Metroidvania fans might find a quick diversion, but it's definitely not the best offering in the genre on the PS4 or Vita.

The Good:
Good customization of the skills, being able to set your own warp points.

The Bad:
Taking damage and of course, the boss fights (did I mention that enough?)

The SaHD:
I would be very happy to see a refined and expanded sequel, since the game does have some good ideas and promise.

(Review code for Touhou Double Focus was provided by the publisher)