Saturday, September 30, 2017
I'm sure many people's first knowledge of Conan Exiles was that it allowed nudity, and even had a character creation slider to set size. Once I sat down to play the game preview of the Xbox One version, I realized I didn't even know what type of game it was. Needless to say, I was surprised to find out it's an open world survival game.
I tried my first run, carefully setting up my character and reading stuff. I didn't have much time then, so I had to quit out and hope that it had saved. I tried to return later, but the single player needs an internet connection. Sigh. After finally getting it to work again, I found it had saved my stuff. However, it also seemed to stop giving me experience. I also quickly learned that the game tells you nothing.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again, there is a huge area between too many tutorials and not enough. Conan Exiles is, at the moment, firmly in the "not enough". I don't think it tells you how to do anything other than the button prompt to read stuff. This wouldn't be as big of an issue, but you kind of need to know a lot of stuff in a survival game. I need SOMETHING to go on here. What are these meters? What should I actually do? How do I build stuff? I don't really have time to figure it out if doing so makes me starve or dehydrate.
I eventually figured out a few things I could harvest, and that I could eat bugs for a minuscule food boost. I also ran into a lake...and monsters. I somehow won my first fight. Then I lost my second. The game respawned me...somewhere. There is no map or minimap that I could find. Since you asked, yes, that IS a bad decision. Even so, I could only craft five things, and was unsure what to do.
So, I started over with a new character. Unfortunately, it seems you can only have one offline character, and that co-op is only online. Hopefully that changes in the full release. Like 7 Days to Die, I'd love to play it offline and couch co-op with my wife.
Even so, I was finally gaining experience, and had some ideas of what to do. Still annoyed about the lack of map, though. When I leveled up, I could increase a stat! I don't know what each stat does, though, since as I might have already mentioned, the game doesn't tell you things. You also use level up points to purchase crafting recipes. This is kind of neat. Plus, I finally found how to get more than five things to craft!
Sorting through all of the things you can craft is a pain, though. Once you do find what you want, or think you want, you then have to have enough stuff to actually make it. Even basic things seem to take a lot of stuff to actually make. So, I hope you grabbed a ton of stuff while on your way, since no map will make it harder to find your way back. Don't grab too much and become encumbered. Also remember to make a bed roll!
Finding a place to put it was a bit of a chore, too. I build a few walls, a door, and a foundation to put it on. Good thing, since you actually need a foundation to attach the walls to. The problem was getting them to play nice. The foundation pieces, walls and ceilings didn't always attach to each other. I'm not sure why. So, my "house" has a hole at the top. The interface to build and actually put them down was kind of a mess, too. In fact, most of the UI in general wasn't that good.
Combat isn't much better. You have to be pretty precise with your aim, which is just as annoying in combat as it is for mining and gathering. Well, humans have that problem, not the AI. When hit, it moves your aim to the side, so you have to re-adjust to actually hit the next blow. I don't think that happens to your enemies when you hit them. You seem reasonably sturdy, as it took several hits to down me. Unfortunately, the same applies to your foes. That's only really annoying when attacking the animals for their skins, as it's a chore to chase after them after each attack.
So what things am I hoping they fix or add? Well, a few optional tutorials, and some in game info to start. I'd really like a mini-map, or a compass so I can figure out where to go. No, I don't want to have to craft them, just give me something basic so I can find stuff. It would be nice to have single player not need online, and have multiple save slots for multiple worlds. If at all possible, I'd like couch co-op instead of online only. Other similar games have it, so I would think it's possible.
If you are a fan of Dark Souls-like difficulty and like survival games, then boy do I have the game for you! For everyone but those ten people, I'd say wait and see how the game develops closer to launch and see if it's been improved before forking over your money. Conan Exiles is definitely a game preview, as it's not ready to be released, but does have a lot of potential.
Fans of survival, crafting and hard difficulty will get some fun out of it. Plus, the music is very reminiscent of Conan.
The game offers no help, tutorials, or information to get you started.
Once it's more complete, I'll play with the server options, as it looks like there's some nice settings there.
(Review code for Conan Exiles was provided by the publisher)
Thursday, September 28, 2017
While not a game series I talk about often, I do have a fondness for Ys III. I played it way back on the SNES, when my friend bought the game. I think I eventually traded him for it, but regardless, I remember it being hard but fun, and having cool artwork in the instruction booklet. I haven't really played many other of the series, except some of Ys I and II on the DS...and Ark of Nepishtim. Strangely, I don't recall much of either title. Still, Ys VIII sounded interesting enough to give a try, and I'm very glad I did.
I'll say that the first impression of the game wasn't great. It's a PS4 title, but the graphics don't seem to support that. Especially the water. This could easily be because it's also a Vita title, so I'll look past that. Also, a game should not solely be judged on its looks, but they will and should play some part in the overall impression.
Ys VIII is an action rpg where you battle creatures and find other castaways on the deserted isle of Seiren. Fights are in real time, and you will need to be quick on your toes to avoid getting hit. Dodging at the right time will slow down time for everyone but you, allowing you some free hits. Hit detection felt a bit off most times, with attacks hitting me before it looked like they should. Still, there were plenty of times I pulled off the dodge. The game is sometimes generous with it to, and enemies won't aim-bot you with their attacks. There are times when they blatantly do so, especially the bosses.
The controls just felt a little off. Attacking is done with the X Button, and jumping with the Circle Button. I would have preferred them each moved one button counter-clockwise. You can actually re-map most of the controls. I thought this would help, but I think I used the default just enough to make switching not feel right either. I ended up switching back, and just tried to get better. I still made mistakes occasionally. Maybe my brain is what's just a little off.
As you explore the areas, you also find materials and treasure chests. Materials as used to trade for or make items, including weapon upgrades and armor to wear. Sometimes you find a blockade that can be moved when you find enough people, which I thought was a pretty neat way to limit areas of the game. Adol and friends also find adventure equipment as you wander around, which will help you reach even more areas. I will say several of these were not stereotypical to me, like boots that let you walk on top of mud instead of sinking. They are all useful in several places, so thankfully you can eventually equip more than one. Even so, you might have to swap more than you'd like.
Besides the main quest, there are side quests, invasion battles, and suppression battles. The side quests have time limits, but based on plot progression, not real time. Still, it's best to do what you can as soon as possible. Suppression battles are like small scale horde mode fights. There are several waves of enemies, and you must defeat them before they can destroy the town gates. While kind of fun, these fights are mostly optional. Invasion battles are you going into an area to destroy monster nests. You have to light torches and keep them lit to weaken the nests while you hit them. They make sense in the context of the game, but still feel largely superfluous.
Ys VIII has its fair share of difficulty. It starts off fairly easy, but steadily ramps up throughout the game. There are a few annoying battles, usually involving a boss or the ancient species before you get special weapons for them. Being an action RPG game, its content leans more toward the RPG side, offering many hours of playtime with lots of story and side quests to keep you occupied. I'd say it's easily 35-40 hours for your first run through the game.
I wasn't sure I would like Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA when I asked to review it, but I'm happy that I did. It's a very fun action RPG with fun exploration aspects. It offers a good amount of content, too. I'd recommend it to action and action RPG fans. You'll find a lot of things to enjoy!
Several characters to use, a big island to explore, many fights to be had, and lots to do.
Boss fights can be tiring, early fights against the ancient species are annoying.
I really could have done without the murderer subplot.
(Review code for Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA was provided by the publisher)
Friday, September 22, 2017
Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is a visual novel otome game set in, well, Kyoto at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It's also only the first part of the whole story. I previously reviewed the PS Vita version, and the Steam release for PCs is largely the same.
As an Otome game, you will play as a female protagonist, with many romance options. In fact, most of the guys you meet are romance options. You won't interact with all of them in every scene, as that would get way too crowded. They float in and out of each scene, which feels logical. You are a "guest" of the Shinsengumi after all, and they wouldn't all go to every thing together.
There are several dialogue choices as you go through the game, some of which change the affection of the various guys, and some of which will change the next scene. Once you get to the final scenes, it will be exclusive to the guy with the highest affection, and is effectively their route. Then unfortunately, the game will go to a "to be continued" and we have to wait until the second part is released. Other than that, I do like the story. Having fantasy takes of real events is pretty neat, and they pull it off well.
One playthrough is about 4-6 hours, depending on reading speed, and if you reload to change a choice. Since there are over 10 romance options, you will get a fair bit of replayability finishing the final chapter several times. I'd also recommend playing through at least twice, since there are a few different scenes depending on dialog choices, and they are worth seeing. They're also sprinkled in throughout the story, so it wouldn't be as easy as just replaying one chapter, which you can do for the character routes. I'm not sure if and how the character endings will play into the second part of the story, but it might be worth doing a few, just in case.
Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds ran perfectly on my i7 with 16gb of ram. I mostly used an Xbox controller for it, but a keyboard should work perfectly fine, since it's a visual novel. It's a pretty good story with good replayability for the different endings. Now to continue to wait patiently for the next part...
Good story, lots of options for ending routes.
Having to wait until the second part is released to finish off the story.
Maybe after the second part, we will get Sengoku Winds?
(Review code for Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds was provided by the publisher)
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Dungeon RPGs. While not initially a fan, I think I've reviewed enough that I'm starting to like them more and more. Or maybe Mary Skelter is just good enough to make me like them. I'm a sucker for folklore and mythology, so I really like that the playable characters are people like Cinderella and Red Riding Hood. Plus, you can give them gifts and up their affection!
If you have played a dungeon RPG before, then the dungeon maps will be immediately familiar. You move around a grid, opening doors and fighting enemies, some of whom appear on the map. Thankfully there aren't many gimmick tiles, just some easily identifiable damage, pitfall, and the like. One new thing is the chain lines, where you need to balance to move across them. They aren't bad, but do feel unnecessary. Each blood maiden also comes with a map ability, most of which let you move past obstacles or unlock new dungeon areas. As cool as these are, I think Alice's is my favorite. She creates a rabbit hole that allows you to save or escape the dungeon. Very useful!
Since the giant tower you are in is a living creature, it has needs. Doing specific things will fill one of three meters, hunger, libido and sleep (hey, that sounds familiar!). Filling one brings up a roulette wheel that offers multiple bonuses. Some are way more useful than others. This is the only way to unlock the hidden areas in most dungeon floors. If you hit the "Growth Area" tile, then it uncovers a new area with tougher enemies. I really liked to explore, so I had to go there, too. I don't like that it's behind a roulette wheel, even if you can save scum it.
What about the battles? They are turn based, but action order is determined by character agility and if you used a skill. It's actually a lot like Moero Chronicle. The girls can attack, use a skill, guard, or try to escape. They can also lick the blood off of another girl for a minor heal. I promise this makes sense for the game. Anyway, Jack can use items, or guard one of the girls. Oh, he can also use his gun to shoot blood on them. Why would you do this?
You see, the blood maidens can get powered up when covered in the blood of enemies, called Massacre Mode. Sometimes they enter Blood Skelter mode instead, where they are even stronger, but completely berserk. As the story explains, there is no recovering from this...except Jack's blood. So, he has to shoot the girls with it so they can enter the powered up state, but remain in control of themselves. Balancing this with building up blood (if he loses too much he's likely to be stunned) gives some battles added tension. I really liked the main character getting a more active role in battle than just an item mule.
Battles are okay, but what about the bosses? Here's where my biggest gripe with the game is. Sometimes they wander around the dungeon floors. When you are close enough, they will try and chase you down while you try to escape. Trouble is, they don't follow the normal rules, and will keep moving even if you aren't! Also, you can't see the minimap when this happens, which is just bad. If I put the game on easy, the map is supposed to stay up, so maybe I should do that. If you run into the Nightmare and damage it enough, you can attempt to run away again. If you get far enough away, it will end that mode and return the game to normal.
If that was the extent of a Nightmare's annoyance, I could probably deal with it. The actual fights with them are much harder. Normal battles aren't that hard, but the boss battles give the game a lot of difficulty. They have a ton of HP, and hit like a truck. As the fight goes on, there are times they attack twice. One boss in particular, the boss of the Temple stage, came within a hair's breath of making me quit playing the game entirely. You have to set off traps and fight it up several floors of a tower. I was missing doors on two of the floors that let you fight it. For some reason, fighting it on floors 2 and 3 wasn't enough, but fighting it on floors 1 and 2 was. I don't know why, but such a simple and easy to miss thing (there's no minimap, since it's like the Nightmare encounters) was the cause of a massive amount of frustration.
In your base, you can use blood crystals dropped by enemies to upgrade your equipment. It's worth doing, since you aren't sure when you will get stronger stuff. Sadly, the base store doesn't sell equipment (but you can sell to her), so you are limited by RNG with what you get. Sometimes enemies drop stuff, and some chests have equipment. Your best bet is to save up lots of money and buy stuff from the dungeon shops. They are random, so again, RNG is your limiter. It's not the best system, as I'd prefer some reliability in getting better equipment.
Your characters can learn the active skills from any of their unlocked job classes, which is nice. Passives are locked to the job however. Unfortunately, you have to have 'permission' to switch jobs, which you get every 10 levels. I wouldn't mind this, but you still need a permission to switch to unlocked jobs. The only exception is the character's default class. Because of this, I didn't experiment with the jobs as much as I would have liked. I usually would unlock one for the skill(s) I wanted, then move back into whatever class I liked for them.
You can also level down a character. There are set levels you will lose, and it costs blood crystals for some reason. However, you will get bonus stats and CP to buy skills. It also effectively is a re-spec, since it refunds your CP too. I tried it once, and the results were far from stellar. I don't know how many extra CP I got, but I ended up with 1 extra point per stat when I got back to my original level. Maybe doing more levels gets a bigger bonus, or doing it multiple times, but it doesn't seem useful until maybe very late in the game.
Since the game has some things in common with Moero Chronicle, you might be wondering if any of the more...questionable systems are in Mary Skelter. Well...kind of. To cleanse the blood corruption from the maidens, you have to rub it off of them. The first time you do this to a girl, you are rubbing the screen over a picture of them. They won't be completely naked, but close. After this, you can skip that part if you want. It's also completely optional, as it only give you a boost to max HP or SP. I'd use it more if I could pick which of those two it would give, but it seems set based off the character.
I would recommend dungeon RPG fans pick up and play Mary Skelter. It's a fun game with some nagging issues. I really got into the game more than I thought I would. I just kept playing!
A dungeon RPG without most of the pitfalls of the genre. Cool story premise and character designs.
Boss fights and Nightmare attacks are not fun.
Red's backstory is pretty cool...and dark.
(Review code for Mary Skelter was provided by the publisher)
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Tamsoft brings us another action game, this time featuring girls who can transform into cars. Named Drive Girls, this sounds like it has the potential to be one of the best games based off the premise. In execution, it is anything but.
So you run around and attack various "bug" enemies. The square button is your normal attack, which builds up your EP meter. Triangle does a stronger attack, which takes EP. Well, if you have it. If your EP is empty, Triangle...does the same attack. I don't know if there's a difference, but since you don't need EP to do it, why even take it in the first place? You can also hold either of these buttons to do different attacks. For some strange reason, this isn't mentioned in the game or the manual. Yup, you have to look up game info online to even find out such a basic thing. It's a pretty dumb oversight, but not the last.
The X Button will jump, and pressing the Circle Button will dash/dodge. Unfortunately, dashing is your only defensive move. There is no blocking in Drive Girls, and it is sorely needed (more on that in a bit). You can only dash so many times (depending on girl and weapon) before needing a second to recover, which is a great time for the enemies to hit you. Holding the Circle Button will sacrifice your EP to fill your Overdrive Gauge. When filled, you will have double damage for a minute, which is really crucial, and the goal of any fight. Trouble is, the gauge will decrease on its own, and the effect only last so long. Plus, you have to build up EP, shunt it into the Overdrive Gauge, and hope you don't get hit while doing so. In practice, this is way too difficult, especially for something the game relies on and expects you to do regularly.
Another use for EP is to shoot your gun. Ostensibly, you would select it like a normal item to equip it. This is not intuitive and cumbersome. You can also tap the touchscreen to switch. The manual does show this in small print at the bottom of the controls section, but again, the game doesn't mention it at all. However, I found tapping the screen to switch wasn't really that responsive. It does skip animations, which is what the high level play of Drive Girls is based on. Still, tapping the screen in the middle of combos or whatever else is also awkward and cumbersome. Also the actual aiming of the guns doesn't seem that great, either.
So now that we know the controls aren't very good, and the game doesn't tell you basic functions, how is the actual combat? Sadly, it is no better than anything mentioned before. Enemies are very quick, aggressive, and do real damage quickly. Did I mention there are lots of them? They also only use the same three colors so it can be hard to pick out the leaders quickly. You can lock onto enemies, which sometimes can help, assuming it locks onto the one you want, or there aren't more than one strong enemy.
Oh, they also rarely react to getting hit, also known as 'staggering'. So, enemies are fast, chase after you, hit you, juggle you, do good damage, and punish you for attacking them? Yup, they have pretty much every advantage they need to destroy you. I'm not even sure Dark Souls is that unbalanced. Searching online does have information to make battles palatable. Basically, you have to animation skip by switching to your gun and back, then get in Overdrive all the time. It's sad that the "high level" play is what makes the game, well, playable. That should not be the case. I'd let it go if you could grind for experience or something, but there are no levels in Drive Girls, and no selectable difficulty for missions.
Since you don't gain levels, what can you do to get stronger? For one, there are stickers. Seeing as how the girls can transform into cars, having sponsorship-like stickers makes sense. You can see what bonuses they give, and change them freely with the ones you have acquired. If you collect a full set, you can equip that for a set bonus. According to the stat bars, the set bonus replaces the individual bonus, but the in-game tutorials claim they don't. Since there are only vague bars and not actual numbers, I'm not sure which is lying to me. Also, the bonuses are all percent based, meaning if a character is bad at something, increasing it by a percent instead of a flat number isn't going to make them much better.
You can also equip L Gears for...some kind of boosts. As far as I can tell, you have to buy them for each character, which will get expensive. Maybe that's what you grind for instead of experience...money and stickers, so you can buy stuff for marginal increases. Anyway, the gears can be re-set, and put into one of three categories- physical, strong, and accel. What does each affect? I don't know, and the game, of course, won't tell you. I can take guesses, but I shouldn't have to.
Oh, right, you can also turn into a car. This helps you drive from one group of enemies to the next, or even compete in the few races the story mode offers. Control-wise, driving is fairly competent. Enemy groups seem to be spread out far enough that it's a pain to walk to them, but not so far that driving is that much better. You'll be in the car mode for a second or three. Well, that's when they let you. After the first few levels, they start placing landmines on the road so you won't drive. I'm not sure who puts the landmines down, as the bugs don't trip them, and they don't seem smart enough to make that many personal explosive traps when they could kill you far easier with their cheap attacks. I do know that placing the mines negates using the car, which kind of negates half of the game's title.
The story structure is similar to other Tamsoft Vita games, where you select a chapter, then the level you want. It's laid out very well. There are also multiplayer missions that can be completed by yourself (except maybe the very high level ones), locally with ad hoc, or online. I'll give the game props for having a good selection of missions to complete, even if the ability to do so is beyond me.
If you couldn't tell already, I was very disappointed in Drive Girls. The concept is silly and should have been great, but almost every aspect of the game was bungled. I like some of Tamsoft's action and action rpg games, but it feels like the quality declines with each new title. Unless you want to master high level play to actually make it through the game, and don't mind mashing buttons and the touch screen to make it happen, I recommend letting Drive Girls pass on by.
The combat, controls, equipment...you know, the important stuff.
No, seriously, why are there landmines and who put them all over the place?
(Review code for Drive Girls was provided by the publisher)
Monday, September 4, 2017
The first Yakuza game that I played (and reviewed) was the latest chronological entry, Yakuza 5. I am glad to get to play Yakuza Kiwami, which is a PS4 remaster of the PS2 original game. I'll eventually get Yakuza 0, too. New things were added to Kiwami, making it more than a simple remaster.
The story is actually a big focus of the Yakuza series, and the story of this game is good. Some points are predictable, but I was interested and entertained the whole way through. Although, Kiryu needs to stop leaving unconscious enemies laying around...you think he'd learn eventually. Anyway, the remastered character models and graphics look great, and run super smooth as you battle thugs, rescue friends, and run around Kamuracho. It does feel like Kiryu gets stuck on the environment a lot, which is noticeable, since you run around town a lot.
I loved the brutal combat in Yakuza 5, and fully expected to love it here. I was mostly right. You still beat up thugs with various kicks, punches, and grabs. As long as you hit and avoid damage, you build up a heat meter which allows you to do special (and damaging) moves that usually look extremely painful. Some are clearly deadly. I would like it if the heat moves were on a different button, since there were times I used it when I just wanted to use the Triangle Button attack. Kiryu can block and dodge, but so can the enemies. And oh boy, do they love to do that. It's really (not) fun to watch an enemy dodge/dash around 10 times while you do nothing. Calm down, son!
I initially started the game on normal, but the enemies were sometimes annoying. They would dodge out of the way of every attack while their friends took cheap shots. They like to also have cheesy get up moves that would hit me, or attack right as I got to my feet. So I bumped it down to easy. Trouble is, that didn't really fix it. There are still too many enemies that just constantly dodge attack after attack unless you are in certain styles (more on that in a bit). You also fall down...a lot. It's really annoying. You can mash the X Button to theoretically get up faster, but it rarely helps. There's plenty of fights where a gun guy hangs back and just picks you off, so you fall down and his buddies can land some more cheap attacks on you. I'll fully admit I wasn't going to learn every in-and-out of the combat system. If I'm playing on easy, I shouldn't have to.
Kazuma Kiryu now has different stances in battle. I don't know if this was in the original. Each is set to a different direction on the d-pad. They also have their own strengths, weaknesses, combos, and heat moves. While it's fun to switch stances, there are times when it's pretty much necessary. Some enemies are only really hit by some styles. Switching isn't as easy or fluid as I would like, since there are only certain times you can switch. You can stand still to do so, but that makes you an easy target. Bosses sometimes kneel down and you can use a specific style's heat move on them for big damage. This would be cool, but they aren't specific to the enemy. Oh, and they heal while down, too. Not a good combination. Overall the styles are passable, but not as fun or fluid as I think they should be.
While your attacks and stats are lacking in the beginning, there are multiple skill grids that you can spend experience on. The main three - body, tech, and soul - use experience levels to purchase passive and active skills. Each "ring" has a set cost, from 1 to 85. Yes, 85 is a lot when you are starting out, but completing the later chapters will net you a few hundred. The fourth grid is "dragon", and you can't spend experience to level it up. Instead, you will fill out most of it by battling the Mad Dog of Shimano, Majima. An added feature is "Majima Everywhere", where he can jump out and attack you, or interrupt one of your fights. Strangely, it you don't advance it much, he doesn't really appear. This is nice because your fights won't get a lot harder randomly, but bad because the dragon style will suffer for it.
The story mode will set you back 20-25 hours. Mine was toward the end of that, and I didn't do much extraneous stuff, just some of the side stories. The side stories aren't marked on the map as they are in the...later(?) Yakuza 5, so I may have missed some. After the story there is the premium mode, where you can clean up various things, and also new game plus. Nice. Besides that, there are several mini-games. Bowling, karaoke, slot car racing, a glorified rock-paper-scissors card game...you get the idea. They aren't all my cup of tea, but the slot car racing was pretty fun.
Is Yakuza Kiwami good? Yes. Is it fun? Yes, mostly. I enjoyed the story, even if the combat didn't feel as good as Yakuza 5. There are still plenty of scenes that sell Kiryu as a legit badass. It's easy to focus on the story, and there are a lot of extra activities to do when you are done. It's an easy recommendation for people like me that got into the series more recently, as the story is a central focus.
Brutal heat moves, good story, and lots to do.
Fighting some of the bosses is really frustrating.
I am totally excited for this studio taking a swing at a Fist of the North Star game, even if Kenshiro will have to do silly side jobs.
(Review code for Yakuza Kiwami was provided by the publisher)