Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Curse of Deadpool 2

A few weeks ago, there was a small contest of sorts that allowed people to get a free digital version of Deadpool 1 and 2 on Vudu.  I didn't have an account at that time, but managed to get one of the codes.  So, I just had to wait until it was available, and then my wife and I could watch it.  Simple, right?

Of course not.  Story time!

Before it was available to stream, I looked at the listing in my Vudu movies.  It's in a format called HDX, which I had never heard of before.  According to the site, it's a very high quality, and not really meant for streaming.  That meant it was unlikely to work on my downstairs TV.  The most logical course was to download it when available, use the Chromecast I received with my phone purchase, and watch it on the upstairs TV.

Just for kicks, I tried streaming it on the smart TV.  It would play about 1/2 a second of the 20th Century Fox logo, cut to a black screen, and repeat.  After a few rounds, it politely informed me that my connection wasn't good enough.  Not quite how I thought it would play out, but somewhat entertaining.

So, on to the main event!

Early Saturday morning, I started to set everything up.  Step 1 was download the movie.  Well, first I started to stream it on my computer, to see if it was actual possible, and if the HDX description lied to me.  It ran for about 30 seconds just fine.  Even so, I didn't think it would be a good idea to stream it from the internet while streaming that to my TV, so I figured I would just download it.  I knew it wouldn't just let me download it, I also had to download the Vudu app on the computer to do so.  Fine, let's just get it over with.  I downloaded what it wanted, signed in, and hit the download button.

An error message.  "Download is incompatible with Adobe Air 30, you need Adobe Air 29 to download in the app."

The hell?  Then why not just put version 29 with the download instead of 30?  I sighed, dug through the programs to find it and uninstall it.  Then I followed the link to get version 29.  Well, eventually.  There were 3 different options, and I didn't know which to get at first.

Anyway, back to the program, which of course wanted to update to version which I said hell no.  Program up, Deadpool 2 downloading.

While that was finishing up, I hooked up the Chromecast to stream to the TV.  Plugged it into the HDMI, and...nothing.  Oh, it needs a power cord of course.  I don't remember seeing one in the box, so I check again.  Nope, not there.  I had opened it previously, but it hasn't been used.  Was the power cord ever there?  I couldn't remember.

I looked for the power cord and plug for a solid 30 minutes, and came up with nothing.  My wife was content to sit on the couch and read her phone.  Don't worry, she helped by showing me what the cord looks like.  Thanks, honey.

No cord.  It might never have been in the box.  I don't know, and it's too late to do anything about that now.  I found a similar one to try.  It powered on.  Success!  Well, for the moment.

I have to set the dang thing up now.  Go to the site it gives me and...the site tells me I need an app.  Why?  Let me just set the stupid thing up.  I search to see if I need the app, as I don't want or need more apps on my phone, and I don't want to use the phone just to set it up, which I know I don't need to.  There's supposedly a link to do in on the PC, but it doesn't show up on the site.

Guess why?  Because that link only shows up if you view it in Chrome!  F#($#ing stupid.  So, I go to the link in Chrome to finally set up this monstrosity.

Well, until it tries to connect to it.  I don't know what went wrong at that point, as it just didn't connect.  Then, it couldn't try to reconnect, even though the setup could find the Chromecast on the network.  I could have spent more time on that problem, but during this whole debacle, my TV display was showing lines.  It just started when I tried to connect the WiFi to the Chromecast the first time, and didn't want to stop.

Power cycling didn't work.  Unplugging it for a few minutes didn't work.  Slapping it a bit didn't work.  Hey, don't laugh at that, I've known several TVs that don't work right until you teach 'em who's boss.  Point is, the TV seems to finally be giving out.  Either I pay $300 to get the board repaired, or pay a similar amount and get a new TV.  Pretty easy option, but not a happy situation.  It does make sense, since the TV is over 10 years old, and had a few brief issues in the past.  Not bad for a display model!

In an effort to salvage the day, my wife drove us to Best Buy to price out some new TVs.  We started to look online, but for some reason trying to connect to the Chromecast set our region as Canada.  All sites kept sending us to the Canadian version until the PC was rebooted.  How does that even happen?  After a drive to check out the TVs, we found a pretty good contender for $500.  That's less than the previous one cost me, hopefully it lasts near as long.

Let's recap.  My free digital copy of Deadpool 2 cost me a day, a Chromecast power supply, some of my sanity, my old TV, and (probably) a few hundred dollars for a new one.

All of that, and I still don't know if the movie is any good.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Vampyr (Xbox One) Review

Vampyr is a unique RPG set in London just after World War I.  You take the role of Dr. Jonathan Reid.  Besides having a great name, he has also recently become a vampire.  He seeks to use his newfound powers to track down the one responsible, and end them.  While the fights are very action-oriented, I wouldn't call Vampyr an action RPG.

Coming across enemies, which you will do, requires combat.  Jonathan can equip two main weapons and two sub weapons.  The d-pad allows you to swap between the two when you need to.  The main weapons are things like swords and clubs.  Sub-weapons might not always deal damage, like the stake or the Liston knife that draws blood, but they are still useful.  Guns are very powerful sub-weapons that have limited ammo capacity.  Used strategically, they can turn the tide of a fight very quickly.  Enemies will of course try to hit you too, so there is a dodge maneuver.  It seems okay, but isn't the best.  For example, it can't get you out of a corner if an enemy traps you there.  It's also not a reactionary dodge, so you have to do it before an attack, but not too much before, otherwise you will still get hit.  Both attacking and dodging take stamina, so you need to do better than just mashing buttons to get through.

What I'd really like in the game is a proper stealth attack.  Something that does a lot of damage, and rewards you for being sneaky.  The vampire bite would be ideal for this, but unfortunately, it is only used to give you a small amount of blood.  If you do sneak up on an enemy, you can "stun" them, which equates to you shoving them to the ground.  You can then bite them for a measly amount of blood and damage, or hit them, which instantly breaks the stun.  Some kind of powerful attack would have been the best, I think.

There are several different weapons to find, including two handed weapons (if you equip one, you won't get an off-hand weapon for that set).  Hopefully you like crafting, since they can be made stronger.  True to many Focus-published RPGs, you can increase the stats of a weapon by using parts and leveling it up, or adding mods.  While some part amounts seem a bit high, the whole system is much more streamlined than other, similarly styled game.  I also found enough parts that I could take advantage of the system, instead of hoping for a stronger weapon to be found.  While there don't seem to be many different weapon mods, the ones present are solid.  More damage, less stamina consumed for attacking, and drawing blood.  This last one is easily my favorite.  I had difficulty getting blood reliably, because "stun then bite" was not useful after the first 30 minutes.  Moding a weapon to give some blood per hit ensured I could build up enough to use abilities and heal myself.  I definitely recommend getting one rank of this on your main weapon as soon as you can.

In addition to more normal weapons (well, as normal as swinging a broadsword around in post-WWI London can be), there are some special vampire abilities to learn.  Most take blood, which you can get from certain items, or by drinking some from enemies.  There is a blood spear, which gives you a ranged attack, or the claw, allowing you a quick and powerful melee attack.  I really liked the blood shield, which allowed me to take an extra hit.  It was very useful when dealing with multiple enemies, or ranged foes.  However, the heal is probably the most useful ability.  It does cost blood, but really helps in a tight spot.  Once you are level 10, you can also purchase an ultimate skill.  These are powerful,but have a long cooldown.  All abilities are set to the shoulder/bumper buttons, and can be re-assigned if you get more than four.  They felt a bit expensive to me, since blood can be tricky to get in fights, especially early in the game.

When not in combat, Jonathan will make his way around town, talking to others, doing side quests, finding items, crafting, and maybe even curing some sick people.  He is a doctor after all.  If you want to get powerful quickly, you can also drain people of their blood for some fast experience.  Of course, you won't be left with quest givers or shops at that rate.  To make it easier to stay your fangs, people have a blood quality.  You could eat them right away, but if you learn more about them, you will get more experience from draining their blood.  It's a nice system to balance a mad quest for power with actually talking to people.  When you talk to people about these hints and secrets you learn, Jonathan uses his mesmeric vampire powers to get them to talk.  It's a neat little detail that I like.  In fact, I really like talking to the various people and finding out all of the hints I can.

Gaining experience doesn't directly give you levels.  Instead, when you sleep, you spend your experience to buy new passive and active skills, or upgrade the ones you have.  In turn, this raises your level.  I'm not sure what amount of spent experience equates to a level increase, but it doesn't seem that important.  Your skills and weapons seem a better determination of how an encounter will go, rather than a level vs level comparison.  Your experience can also be reassigned, so don't worry too much about picking something that isn't that good.  Also note that experience costs climb quickly, so it would be very hard to max out a useful skill instead of spreading it around to several useful ones.

Vampyr's difficulty is a bit of a rocky area for the game.  You can easily take a lot of damage, and it's not hard to get hit (detection feels a bit off).  However, I could still make it through most fights without much trouble, which I like.  What I don't really like is how enemy levels seem to jump up, instead of a more natural progression.  In the first area, I received several side quests.  However, there was no way to complete a few of them, because the enemy levels were double mine or more.  Even one I could complete had level 6 enemies on one floor, and the next had level 9.  This lopsided balance even extends to the end, as a friend of mine had to fight a level 50 boss, while he was topped at 35 or so.  It's not the best design, I'd say.  And no, embracing people for experience wouldn't have helped, since doing that what got him into that mess in the first place.

My last, and biggest problem with the game is the saving.  I am fully aware that one of the game's core ideas is you living (or un-living) with the consequences of your actions.  That's fair.  However, they should remember that it's a video game, so fun should be a priority.  Instead, the developers went down the Fable road, of each game having only one save slot, and it's an auto save.  Let me save in slots, so I can have a little fun.  That's one of the reasons Bethesda games do so well.  This problem is exacerbated by the Mass Effect-like dialogue options.  Remember the joke that you pick an innocent-sounding option, only to have it go awry?  While not as overblown as the jokes, that sort of thing is sadly present.

There are several minor ones, but the first major one is what stuck with me the most.  I don't want to spoil parts of the story, so I'll be vague.  I caught someone doing something bad, and had the following options: killing them, making them quit their job, or making them forget.  I thought that having them forget the bad thing they were doing was a great idea.  It was also in the blue text, which previously meant it was derived from a hint.  So, I picked that option.  Instead of doing what it sounded like, it made them forget everything.  Not enough that they could continue being useful and not do the thing I wanted them to stop, but all of what they knew.  So, they just wandered off, ruining two communities.  What?!  That's a really severe consequence to a choice that doesn't have near enough information.  Why are there two bad options instead of the one obvious one?  Too bad I can't just load and get the result I wanted and was trying for, all because of some David Cage-like god complex.  Forcing consequences may be alright at times, but not when it feels like you are being tricked into it.  It really made me want to stop, but I persevered and kept playing.

Vampyr has its faults, but I'd still say it's a fun RPG.  I was expecting something more along the lines of Focus' other RPG offerings, but this is much more substantial than a downloadable game.  It offers 40 or so hours of quests, dialogue choices, and adrenaline-filled combat.  It's a solid title, and one I would heartily recommend to RPG fans, or people looking for an interesting vampire game to play.

The Good:
Lots of choices for who to feed on and who to save in this fairly solid RPG offering.  Good replay value.

The Bad:
Hitting and dodging can be spotty at times, enemy levels seem to jump up instead of rising normally.  One auto-save file and questionable dialogue choices don't make for a good combination.

The SaHD:
It's pronounced "vampire", although I keep wanting to say "vam-peer".  I'll deal, since the "Y" motif is meant to evoke the autopsy incision.

(Review code for Vampyr was received from the publisher)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Aces of the Luftwaffe - Squadron (Xbox One) Review

Aces of the Luftwaffe - Squadron is a vertical plane shooting game, popularly referred to as a shmup (shoot-em-up).  I'm always happy to try out a new one.  It is set during around World War II, where you are eventually tasked with taking down some of the 3rd Reich's air forces.  It also has up to 4 player co-op, in case you wondered why it has the "Squadron" subtitle.

The game is broken down into 5 chapters, each with 5 stages in them.  The fifth stage is a boss fight.  As you complete each stage and chapter, the next opens up.  There's a story as well, as every stage has some dialogue to set up the mission, and banter between the squadron mates.  While the voice work isn't great by any stretch of the imagination, the story is okay.  It does make a strange turn toward the end, though.

In addition, each stage has a specific extra mission that, if completed, awards extra medals that can be used to level up your squadron.  Several of theses extra missions are staying in one place for a few seconds to drop or pick something up, or destroying a certain number of a specific enemy.  Boss fights have the all important "survive" extra missions, where you have to...well, not die.  Yeah, that one isn't that inspired, I agree.  The most unique one is when you have to remain undetected.  Enemy aircraft will have searchlights, and you have to maneuver your squad around them with out triggering the alarm.  Thankfully you can't shoot until you are detected.  It's a neat idea, and one that I felt was pulled off pretty well.

Adding even more unique mechanics to the game, there are several points in the story when one of your pilots will be afflicted with the disorder that they suffer from.  When Mark is feeling the affects of the poison in his body, you have to move very slowly until it subsides.  When John is angry, you either steer clear, or get wrecked.  Steve will fall asleep in the middle of the battle...somehow.  Strangely, defending him wakes him up faster, where I would think him getting shot would wake him up right quick.  Melissa just has a fear of heights.  Great thing for a pilot.  In another strange twist, hers is the easiest disorder to deal with.  She just leaves.  No special condition, no real inconvenience.  Her firepower is missing, but that's no different from when she gets shot down.  These happen at set points in the story, so at least you can plan around them.  I like the idea the developers had for these, as it makes the pilots more unique, but it can be a pain to deal with.

I definitely would not have expected this in this type of game, but there are full-blown skill trees.  Each character has several skills they can learn, both passive and active.  When you level up, or find a hidden skill coin, these are saved to your profile and later used to buy skills.  There are skills to make the pilots do more damage, increase dodge chance (very useful for the AI), and even ones that have a chance to active.  These are my favorite, solely because of Steve's skill that can slow down time.  This helped me out of more than one jam.  All learned active skills are available, and you cycle to the one you want.  They share the same cooldown though, so you don't get several at the same time.  While I haven't done it yet, the skill coins can be refunded and spent anew.  It costs some medals to do so.

While the game has some new and interesting things, there are also some problems.  You can get new ships to fly, but they are random drops from bosses, complete with rarities.  This isn't too bad, since the skills on the ships I have are not very good.  I'm not a fan of random drops like that, though.  Speaking of which, gun upgrades are also random.  You have to collect a crate to upgrade, and those are usually random upon enemy defeat.  Considering you are pathetically weak without the upgrades later in the game, this is not good.  The power ups also have ammo, so they can run out.  Conserving ammo is not really a thing to force in a shoot-em-up's kind of the point to shoot everything.

But of course everything will shoot you.  It's not bad on the easier levels, but toward the end and on higher difficulties, bullet spreads and enemy attack intervals ensures there are times you just can't do anything except get hit.  That chance increases when the screen shakes from your supposed helpful skills, or when the UI/dialogue/explosions cover up valuable screen space.  Plane movement is sometimes wonky, moving you faster than normal.  Maybe it's the "wind resistance" that one plane partially protects against?  I don't know, they don't really tell you that.  Speaking of movement, you can't go all the way to the bottom of the screen.  It actually hurts your dodging ability, since so may big things (like bosses) take up too much of the screen.  That last inch would make a world of difference.  Add in spotty hit detection, and it's a recipe for going down.  Plus, there is no way to dodge everything and not have the wing-men get hit.  They will die plenty of times, and there isn't much you can do about it.

Oh, and that third boss.  You have to go into her shield to damage her?  How on earth would we figure that out?  The shield blocks shots, and you take a ton of collision damage, so why would you fly into the shield, unless you died several times and gave up trying to figure out what to do?

I feel like these would be less of a problem if a few things were different.  For one, the bomb ability should get rid of bullets.  That's baseline for a shmup.  Second, you need a reliable spread shot.  Pretty much every shot is focused toward the front exclusively, with very little capable of hitting outside of that.  When the only plausible or safe way to hit an enemy is from an angle, this is killer.  Very high level power-ups will give some kind of area attacks, but they tend to be very weak.  So even if you could get them, they aren't much help.

Overall, Aces of Luftwaffe - Squadron had some fun.  There are a some problems I had with the game, but it was enjoyable outside of the problem missions.  I would encourage shmup fans to give it a try.

The Good:
Unique pilots, ships, and skills.  Skill trees!

The Bad:
Hard to maneuver around shots while not getting something hit.  Shots are front focused, which is not the best thing to force in a shmup.

The SaHD:
It took me awhile to realize it, but they only refer to the enemy as "Germans" and "Krauts", not "Nazis".  And wait, that isn't the right symbol on that UFO...

(Review code for Aces of the Luftwaffe - Squadron was received from the publisher)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Rainbow Skies (PS4) Review

Over 4 years ago, Rainbow Moon hit the PS3 and Vita.  Since then, the team was hard at work bringing out the spiritual successor, Rainbow Skies.  At first glance, it looks a lot like Rainbow Moon.  Upon further examination, it also sounds and plays a lot like Rainbow Moon.  Since that game was a fun mix of RPG with SRPG-style combat, more of the same is not a bad thing

The story is more involved this time around.  It starts with two friends, Damion and Layne, accidentally setting monsters loose in their town.  While trying to fix it, they inadvertently crash down to the world below (they live in a floating city).  Just before they hit the ground, Ashly, an aspiring mage, casts a spell of binding on a nearby monster.  Of course, things go awry, and the three must travel together, seeking a way to undo said spell.  I really like the setup for the plot, and there is some good dialogue in the game.  On the other hand, Damion is really obnoxious.  While he is your stereotypical loudmouth braggart, he wears out his welcome rather quickly.  You don't have to be a jerk to everyone!

As you move around the map, there are enemies to fight, chests to plunder, hidden items to seek, and people to interact with.  The main quest line is fairly easy to follow, and there are plenty of side quests, of course.  Looking at one of the companies involved in the game's creation, this makes perfect sense.  All quests are tracked in the journal.  It can also alert you to ones that are available, even if you haven't found it.  This is really nice, since I don't like missing out on quests.  Even with plentiful side quests, Rainbow Skies feels shorter than its predecessor.  This is largely in part to the reduction of grinding.  There were a few points where I still needed to, but it was far less common than the previous game, which is a big step in the right direction.

Combat is largely the same as Rainbow Moon.  When you either touch an enemy on the field, or accept a random encounter, your party will be transported to a medium-sized area laid out on a grid.  Characters will take their turn based off their speed value.  When it is your turn, you have a certain amount of actions that you can take.  Moving, attacking, using an item, or activating some battle skills will take one action.  So, if you are far from an enemy, you can spend your actions to move closer, but if you are next to them, you can instead attack multiple times.  It a really cool system that rewards you for being smart (or cowardly) with your turns.

Fights just feel better than they previously did.  At the start of the game, they were a lot easier too.  It was a good way to ease players into the game and its systems.  However, it does start to rear its unbalanced head as you go through the story.  When you know what you are doing, fighting against small groups of enemies isn't any trouble.  It's when the game throws you against 12 enemies that it gets more annoying.  The damage they deal isn't always the issue, either.  It's waiting around for your turn, and having to sit through the skill animations.  Hopefully, it isn't a technique that poisons, since that damage is completely bonkers.  I accept some damage per turn, but taking almost 20% each time is absurd.  Couple that with limited potion space for anti-venom, and it's a recipe for frustration.

Now back to the animations.  Oh boy, those obnoxious animations.  It's one of my biggest complaints about the game.  The basic fireball spell of Ashly's is palatable, but every other skill has an animation that is just too long, or too silly.  The wacky ones could be fine, but seeing them more than once or twice diminishes their appeal drastically.  You might notice a "Skip FX" function when selecting the skill, and that can help, but it's also way too limiting.  You have to hold the button before you confirm the target, and it is way too hard to skip enemy animations.  Plus, you have to see the animation once per battle before you can skip it.  To make that worse, if a character uses another skill in-between, you can't skip it again.  Only repeated uses of the same skill allow you to skip.  Ugh.

Beyond that, your characters learn several skills, and the skills can gain levels to make them stronger.  MP costs of these skills starts off more reasonable than the ones in Moon, so that isn't a problem until later.  The area of effect for the skills could use some work, though.  Many just aren't useful.  Either the target areas are awkward, having one panel that has to have a target, or some other problem.  The basic ones are fine, but just past that it becomes much harder to actual find uses for them.  I could live with not needing most of the area of effect, but not at the cost for some of the later skills.  They are not high, but they add up, and are not at all efficient when you only hit 1 out of 3 or 4 squares.

A big new addition to the formula is monster party members.  After a certain point in the story, you can find monster eggs from enemies you have defeated several times.  Take the eggs to a special NPC, pay some money, wait a few battles, and presto!  You can then retrieve your new monster from the NPC.  It's really helpful to have more party members in battle, and very nice that the first they give you can heal.  At the start, you can only have one monster in battle, but that number increases as you progress.  Monster tend to be very strong, but not that sturdy.  Rotating them in and out is a great idea, plus it lets them heal between fights.  They do need equipment and stat upgrades, so the downside to using them is scattering your resources even further.  However, it is still great overall.  I would like to be able to use the monsters earlier than you currently can.

Similar to Moon, you can increase character stats in Rainbow Skies.  Last time it took Moon Pearls, which were obtained by killing enemies.  The huge problem was that only the character that struck the final blow got the pearls.  This meant that characters that fell behind would stay behind.  Thankfully, that has been rectified.  Now, the different colored chips you need are enemy drops that go to a shared pool.  It's a lot easier to increase stats now, and the boosts (especially to HP) feel more significant.

Equipment has received an overhaul as well.  For one, armor, helmets, and weapons now show up on your characters!  They can also level up independent of the character's levels, which gives them more slots for upgrading.  Monster parts can be used to give stat boosts to equipment.  While it may be tempting to save them, you will get plenty throughout the game, so use them.  As an added bonus, selling upgraded equipment will net higher prices, so you aren't missing out on money by using the parts instead of selling them.  I like that you can keep equipment useful for longer, because money is still a problem in the series.  There is a lot to buy, and not a lot of money to do it with.  You don't start with many inventory slots for important things like potions, and having to pay more and more money to increase your capacity drains more money than it rightfully should.  If they again add money as DLC, I may get some when it's on sale, as it helped in the last game.  That is far from an ideal solution though.

While Rainbow Skies looks, sounds, and plays very similar to Rainbow Moon, this is a good thing.  Just about every aspect of the game has been improved.  There are still a few annoyances, but overall the game is very fun.  Fans of the first have likely already started playing Rainbow Skies, but I'd recommend it to any fan of RPGs.

The Good:
RPG with strategy RPG battles is still a fun mix.  Several additions and improvements over the previous game.

The Bad:
Poison is way too powerful against the player.  Combat skill animations are annoyingly long and silly.

The SaHD:
Why does the archer hit people with his bow instead of shooting an arrow?  Throwing a rock is not the same thing!

(Review code for Rainbow Skies was received from the publisher)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk (PS Vita) Review

Finishing off Aksys' "Summer of Mystery" is the third Vita visual novel, Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk.  Like the others, it is an otome game, so you play as a female protagonist.  She is a witch, which the townspeople fear.  To avoid suspicion, she was raised as a boy alongside her two "brothers", her secret known only to a select few.  As the story progresses, she will learn to dress and act like a girl to help her locate the mysterious Kaleido-Via, all while trying to keep her secrets from being exposed.

I will definitely give the game credit for a unique premise.  I was interested to see where it would go, and what exactly they would do with it.  At first, though, I wasn't that impressed.  You quickly meet most of the characters, and most of them annoyed me instantly.  Not the best way to start a game.  However, as the story continued, the characters either changed, or the annoying elements were pushed into the background, ensuring I would enjoy it.  There are some twists that I did not see coming, and they were pulled off very well.  My opinions on at least two characters completely flipped.  That's not something I expected.  Some of the endings felt a little too random for my tastes, so it's not perfect.  While I won't spoil anything, there are some connections to the previous title, Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly.  After I started, I didn't think there would be, but fans of that game should appreciate what's in Ashen Hawk.

At a few points in the game, you will have a simplified map of the town.  From here, you can select short stories, comments from townspeople, and the next main story section.  I would have liked a quick explanation as to what the icons meant, but there isn't one.  Thankfully it isn't too hard to figure it out.  The pink eyeglass icons are comments from townspeople, which will give you a point.  These points are used to purchase special items from the antique store, which will unlock short stories, other side story scenes, and some gallery pictures.  To unlock them all, you have to talk to everybody.  It's not the most interesting way to unlock the additional scenes, but it's much less intense than Black Butterfly's shooting mini-game.

Once you have the necessary items purchased, it is very easy to go back and view any scenes you have missed.  All because of the glorious flow chart!  It was my favorite thing about Black Butterfly, and I was overjoyed to see it back in Ashen Hawk.  It allows you to see where all the scenes and branches are, so you can quickly move back to grab them.  This makes it easier to get all the endings and explore the story.  It's also much easier to actually get on to the branches than it was in the previous game.

Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk was a fun visual novel.  After a rough beginning, the story and characters got a lot better.  Factoring in all the townspeople conversations and side stories, the main game is longer than most visual novels I have played.  The flip side is the "routes" tend to just be the endings.  Thankfully the awesome flow chart is back to make jumping to the relevant scenes quick and easy.  I definitely recommend this otome game to fans of visual novels, and especially fans of Black Butterfly.

The Good:
An interesting and unique story that pulled off some difficult plot twists very well.

The Bad:
The story is largely linear.  There are branches, but they are pretty much just the endings.

The SaHD:
I'm not a fan of the "character is abysmal at cooking" cliche.  It's not funny, and doesn't make sense.  It did have some small relevance in this game, but that doesn't really make it much better.

(Review code for Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk was received from the publisher)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Space Hulk: Deathwing - Enhanced Edition (PS4) Review

When I first started playing Space Hulk: Deathwing - Enhanced Edition, I was excited.  I've been a fan of Warhammer 40k for years now, and always hope that an amazing game capable of capturing that universe comes along.  While the real time strategy ones are very good and accurate, I know there’s a great action or RPG game just waiting to be made (preferably featuring the wonderful Eldar).

The game starts off with the tutorial, even if you already did it from the main menu (like me).  Afterwards, you are put into the space hulk with your mission.  The scenery looks really nice, and appropriate.   It's also pretty dark.  I didn't find any enemies for the first few minutes, so I figured the game was going for a more atmospheric approach, rather than an action oriented one.  This could work, since you are in heavy Terminator armor.  You are big and bulky, so going for the scare factor would play off the resistance and fire power you should have.

Once closer to the first major objective, there was a group of enemies that ran in.  Since it was from a more enclosed location, they were fairly easily dispatched.  So, maybe they weren’t going with a fewer-but-scarier enemy layout, but instead some small waves of them.   I pressed on, and reached the first objective.  It was time for my third assessment.

There were a lot of enemies.  Not like Left 4 Dead horde amounts, but a steady stream.  I stayed with my two squadmates, fighting them off.  I figured there would be an end to them, and I could move on.  There wasn't.  They just kept coming.  Eventually, I realized this, and had to run back to the beginning area of the level, with occasional stops to shoot a few foes in my way.  I eventually got toward the end, and received a brief reprieve.

Then, I had to defend my position.  I figured it wouldn’t be too bad, since I’m on easy, and my squadmates are fairly helpful.  I was wrong.  After a few minutes of valiant fighting, I went down.  It was a bit of a shock, since I’m not terrible at FPS games.   I’m not great, but should be able to beat the first level of one on the easy setting.  So, I reloaded and tried again.  This time, I hit up the warp portal to fully heal everyone, and tried again.

Another failure.  I slightly revise my strategy and tried again.  Yet another failure.  Revise, die, repeat.  I started to question myself, my abilities, reality, and the existentialism of the universe.  I eventually hid in a nearby tube with my squad, which limited where the enemies could come from.  I lost one member (thanks suicide exploder enemies!), but managed to get through.  Great, only several more levels to go.

Besides the story mode, there are Special Missions and Multiplayer.  Sadly, these both just recycle the story mode maps.  Special Missions are just playing the same maps with random objectives each time you load in.  It’s not the most interesting idea, but it gives you some decent replayability.  Multiplayer is either a story mode or special mission map that you play with other people.  It’s more enjoyable than playing with the AI, and probably a lot more fun with actual friends.  I really would have preferred some kind of horde mode too, as I really like those, and it would fit with the theme.  The game still has the same problems, but with four people, it’s a little easier.  Plus, when not in story mode, you can pick your class.

Since you are stuck as a terminator, the class selection isn’t near as varied as it could be for a 40K game.  Each class gets a melee weapon on one hand, while the other has a ranged or another melee weapon.  There are only so many weapons, so there is plenty of overlap between the classes.  Skills, on the other hand, are unique.  Once you find the skills you like (if you can navigate through the terrible menus to actually see what they are), you stand a decent chance of also finding weapons you like on that class.  Killing enemies and completing objectives will give your multiplayer classes experience.  When you level up, you get a random unlock and some in-game currency to buy upgrades and skins.  Pretty basic stuff.

Death in Space Hulk feels off.  Your final hit just kind of kills you.  I rarely saw where it came from, you just…fall over.  It's very lackluster and made me feel like I wasn't even hit, but that my guy just gave up.   It also likes to happen very suddenly.  I’ve been killed in one hit by some enemies, and even died immediately upon loading into a map.  If you fail a map, you get some experience, but don’t seem to get any currency.  With how much you money you need to unlock stuff, the game somehow makes a long grind even longer and more grind-y.  Plus, you have to sit through several long load times, making it even worse.

It would be easier to not die if the visuals were tweaked.  Scenery, while detailed and appropriate, shares the pallet with the enemies.  It is much harder than it should be to pick up the off-white and grey enemies from the grey and dark grey backgrounds.  To make matters worse, your HUD and weapon effects take up a ton of screen real estate.  The information on the HUD can be useful, but it could also be presented in a better way.  Plus, sometimes your character will put his shoulder up into the frame which blocks more of the screen than anyone should be okay with.  The flamer and plasma cannons are useful weapons, but also disguise what is going on behind their fancy effects.   Is the enemy dead?  Should I stop shooting?  Are they more enemies behind them?  Having all of these things interfere with your sense of sight is not good design.

Choosing a class and playing with other people is a better experience than single player, which sadly, isn’t really saying much.  I was looking forward to playing Space Hulk: Deathwing - Enhanced Edition, but was left feeling disappointed.  Muddled visuals, repeating stages, cheesy enemies, cumbersome menus, and long load times really bring the game down.  Looks like I'm not the only one to bring shame to my chapter.

The Good:
Player models look really good.  Classes are a nice touch, and you can always have a varied experience in the special missions.

The Bad:
It's way too hard to see anything, since it is very dark, there are lots of effects everywhere, and the enemies are the same colors as the scenery.  Back in my day, Tyrannids were blue and purple!

The SaHD:
How does the power fist not kill the genestealers in 1 hit?  It's a strength of 8!  If it hits them, they die.  Have they not played 40K or read the codex?

(Review code for Space Hulk: Deathwing -EE was received from the publisher)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Fox n Forests (Switch) Review

Fox n Forests is a retro inspired platformer.  It has nice sprite artwork and a very old school game map.  Your goal is to guide Rick the fox through the seasons and find each piece of magic bark.  To do so, Rick will bring along his trusty sword and crossbow, while also gaining magic that allows him to change the season in each stage.

Platforming is decent overall.  Rick starts with a double jump, which is very useful.  There are some jumps that feels just out of reach of the double jump, which is disappointing.  It is unfortunately harder to jump over enemies and hazards than I want, because Rick's hitbox feels too big.  He will frequently hit his head on things above him, which kills your jump momentum.  There are, of course, bottomless pits, too.  Running out of health or falling to your doom will quickly send you back to the last checkpoint.  The saving grace is that respawning is so fast.  The bad side is you have to pay to use checkpoints, and the cost increases as the level goes on.  You can skip them if you want to save your money.  I don't really like that idea, since I need most of the checkpoints.  I also feel it's a way to keep your total money down, meaning you will need to replay stages more times to buy the upgrades.

Combat somehow feels worse than the platforming.  Rick has two basic attacks: one with a sword, and one with a crossbow.  It's a great idea, but suffers from both being attached to the same button.  If you are standing still, Rick will use his crossbow.  If you are moving or jumping, he will use his sword.  I'd really like to be able to use the crossbow more than you can.  Ranged attacks help a lot, given Rick's large hitbox and how cheesy the enemies can be.  I'd also love to be able to jump and shoot.  It's not like that would break the game, just make it more fair, so having them as separate buttons would be great.

The crossbow is weak, and has a cooldown between volleys, so you still need to use the sword.  Even so, the sword had its own problems.  The range isn't that good, and I frequently got hit while trying to attack enemies.  The purchasable double jump attack hits a nice circle around Rick, but the single jump attack is much more confined.  If it was more of an arc, it would be better, and it wouldn't be so easy to get hit while trying to use such a precise attack.

The unique mechanic if the game is the ability to change the season.  Each level has two versions, and using your magic effectively swaps between them.  Water will freeze so it can be walked on, plants grow or retract, and fog can disappear.  It's a really cool idea that is used pretty well.  My only gripes with it are that you cannot activate it in the air (but can turn it off while jumping), and the activation time.  When you change the season, Rick has to stop and hold up his sword.  This would be fine if the rest of the game paused with him, but it doesn't.  So, if you aren't careful, or constantly unlucky, you can get hit when you activate the season change.  As if the game needed to get in more cheap hits.  It might be less frustrating on a TV instead of handheld mode.

The money you gather not only pays for checkpoints, but can be used to get potions and upgrades for Rick.  Health and special move upgrades just require money, while mana and melee attack upgrades also require some collectibles.  Unfortunately, you have to alternate buying special move and melee strength increases, so you will have to find some of the whetstones to get all the moves.  The potions you can buy are cheap, but you need to find the bottles first.  Easier said than done.

There are not many levels in the game, as each section has two, a boss fight, and a bonus stage.  To make up for this, the levels themselves are long.  Too long for my tastes.  I'm a fan of more, but shorter, levels (see Disney Infinity versus Skylanders).  Especially when you can easily jump back to completed stages for missed collectibles with new abilities.  Well, I say “can”, but the game means “will.”  After beating a boss, you need a certain number of the seed collectibles to progress.  While I usually like going back to grab missed stuff, it feels arbitrary when I'm forced to.  Plus, when I’m happy just getting through a stage, given how frustrating things can get, I don’t really want to go back.  However, since the levels are big with some alternate paths, you may be completing each level several times to find everything.  Or without finding everything, like me.  You also need every seed in a set of levels to do the bonus stage.  The first bonus stage gives a little extra money, but you only get one chance to do it.  Considering the work I had to put in to get it, the reward was not worth it.

Parts of Fox n Forests are fun, but it feels like a missed opportunity.   There are good elements, such as the different attacks and the season changing mechanic.  Too bad most other game mechanics are working against you.  In reality, the game is short, and has to resort to artificially drawing it out.  Because of this, it feels strange to complain about each level being way too long, even though I will still do just that.  Ultimately, die hard platform players looking for a challenge or something unique should check it out, but for others it's a pass.

The Good:
Season changing leads to some nice level designs and opportunities.

The Bad:
Controls aren't always responsive, character's hitbox is too big, not many levels.

The SaHD:
I really appreciate the Gorgeous Gorge name.

(Review code for Fox n Forests was received from the publisher)

Monday, June 25, 2018

Megadimension Neptunia VIIR (PS4) Review

The mainline Neptunia series is no stranger to updated re-releases, and Megadimension Neptunia VIIR (Vee-two-are) keeps it rolling.  Besides sounding like a new Star Wars droid, the name also clues you in to one of the biggest additions: there's new VR scenes.  Thankfully, you don't need a VR headset to play the game, because I don't have one yet.   In addition, there is a new graphics engine for smoother visuals, and the combat has be revamped.

For better or worse, the game starts with one of the new VR sections.  You can still view it without a headset, but I imagine it would be a lot cooler with the new hardware.  Some scenes pop up between chapters, while others have to be selected from the player's room.  In fact, most things are done from this new area. It's where you can view the scenes, or jump back into the stories.  As far as I can tell, all three stories from the original release are intact and unchanged, save for a few changes for the endings.

The other major change in the game is the combat.  Before, you would put your unlocked moves in a combo flowchart, which was determined by your weapon.   It...wasn’t my favorite, not by a long shot.  Now, moves require AP to use, but you can attack multiple times in a turn if you have enough stored up.  Plus, you have access to all of your unlocked moves...sort of.  Your weapon again determines which of the three types you can use, but you are free to use any in those.  It’s certainly an improvement.  The only real downside is that each move now costs money to unlock. Early on I just didn’t have enough to buy many moves, so I was stuck using the same ones for awhile.  After each combo or special move, you have to select “defend” now.  It’s not the most streamlined process, but it does work in the player’s favor.

That’s not all.   There’s now a skill that lets you heal when you de-transform from CPU form.  I think that’s pretty neat, and useful.  HP is fully restored after each fight, which does make the game easier and faster.  SP is used for special moves, which is built up while you fight.  SP build up feels a bit slow, especially in the giant battles, but the system is functional.  Thankfully, the middle act now allows all players to share items.  It should be less of a pain to complete.

Challenges from previous Neptunia games (like jumping a lot, or getting symbol attacks) return, but with a re-tooled purpose.  Before, they gave stat boosts. Now, they give bonus points that you can put into stats of your choosing.  The best part is that these stat points can be re-allocated on a whim.   No need to visit a special person, or use an item to respec your stat bonus, just decrease the number.  Part of the reason for this is weapon balance.  Now, weapons need a balance between to stats to keep a high accuracy.   You can pump everything into strength, but it will eventually lower your accuracy.  Keeping in mind what stats balance your weapon will still allow you to get stronger, but it’s not as simple as dumping everything into one thing.

I don’t like all the changes.  It might be minor to some, but the saving has changed.  It’s nice that it saves so often, but it is an auto save, and it’s all in the same slot.   I would think most RPG fans prefer to at least have a few slots, or be allowed to manually save before stopping.  I know I do.  I haven’t had any issues with it, but it makes me a little paranoid.  Oh, and if you had any DLC for the previous release (yo), it sadly doesn’t work here.  I can guess there was a licensing issue for some of them, but at least Umio could have been there.

The new additions and reworked combat are nice, but not necessarily worth coming back for.  It might be a different story if you have a PSVR.  If you haven't played the first release, or wanted it to be better, then it is worth trying out Megadimension Neptunia VIIR.

The Good:
Combat was re-worked and is much improved.  Graphics look better, too.

The Bad:
DLC doesn't carry over from the previous release.  Game is auto save in one slot.

The SaHD:
So is the next remake/rebirth game 4GO VR?

(Review code for Megadimension Neptunia VIIR was received from the publisher)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Lost Child (Switch) Review

The Lost Child is NIS America's latest offering for the Switch, and is, I think, the first dungeon RPG on the system.   It sticks to several staples of the genre, but doesn't offer created characters.  Sorry, David!  It also boasts some good artwork, a nicely animated intro, and very unique monster designs.

The game flows much like other dungeon RPGs.  You find a new dungeon, explore it, beat the boss, and move on to the next.   There is a bit more to finding the dungeons, since you are a reporter.  Basically, you just have to talk to some people, so it still isn't super involved.  Moving to the dungeons is a bit strange to me.  You first have to leave your office (or shop), go to the world map, enter the place that has the layer, then the layer (dungeon) itself.   I eventually saw you can hit the R button to go to directly to the layer from the world map.  That's better, but still felt a little more cumbersome than I'd like

Dungeons are in first person.   As you move around, the map fills in automatically.  Thankfully there are shortcuts that open up, which allow you to move past explored floors quickly.  It would be nice if there was a quicker way, since there's only about one save point per floor, but it's at least helpful to have these shortcuts.  I would also like save points closer to the bosses.  Dungeons contain a fair amount of locked doors, which you need to find the switches for, and of course the occasional puzzle to solve.  There's not a whole lot in the way of gimmick tiles, which is a plus.

Combat is pretty simple, but has a unique mechanic that I'll explain in a bit.  Your party of five will face off against the enemies.  I'm not sure what the limit of opponents is in one fight, since I've seen it go as high as 15 or so.  While in most dungeon RPGs fighting more than five can be a pain, it wasn't too much of an issue in The Lost Child.  Most enemies cannot attack from the back rows, but you cannot hit them either.  Each member of the battle party gets one action per turn, and you can attack, use a skill, defend, or use an item.  Pretty standard stuff.

As mentioned early, the astral designs are very unique.  Some are outright creepy.  While the main character cannot use skills, if you kill an astral using the Gangour (his special gun), you will capture it.  Once I got the hang of the burst gauge and the gun’s damage, it was pretty easy to capture the astrals.  You can only have one of each though.  Once captured, you will need to spend a little karma to purify them, and they can then be used in battle.  Sometimes, special or rare astrals also require specific items before they can be purified, but you can still capture them beforehand.  Astrals can be freely switched between main and sub parties, but changing one from the stock will require a bit of energy from your tablet.  While the energy is limited, I haven't needed it much, and it fully refills when you leave a layer.

Your main characters will level up in the traditional way, by gaining experience from battles.  To level up an astral, you spend karma.  I really like this, since you can boost a new acquisition, or pump up your strongest party members.   They do have a max level.  When at that limit, you can go to the temple and have the astral's rank increased.  This resets their level back to one, gives them a tiny stat increase, and raises the max level.  Their appearance also changes, for better or worse.  Just make sure to save some karma after ranking them up, so you can boost them toward the level they were at before the change.  Ideally, I'd want a bigger stat boost, but I think the higher level cap is the main attraction to increasing an astral's rank.

Stat points are automatic (and set) for astrals, but you will have to choose which stats to increase for your main characters. Astrals also gain skills at certain levels. An interesting idea in The Lost Child is the”spirit scale”. This allows you to trade skills between astrals.  I like the idea, since you can theoretically move some good skills to the astrals you use most often, but I didn't do much with the system.  It's a scale, so the skills have to balance out in order to be traded.  It would take a lot of time to figure out what to trade to who so you could end up with a few killer sets, and I didn't feel much need to.  It would have made a few astrals better if I had invested the time necessary for working it all out, so it is something I would look in to when I have the time.

Your non-astral characters can equip different armor and weapons.   Most of these are found in dungeons, or unidentified enemy drops.  Selling excess equipment and items is the only way to make money, as killing the enemies doesn't give it directly.  At least they give out a fair amount of selling items.  I only really used the money to identify items, and didn't run out.  You can also get items from treasure chests, either on the field, or that enemies drop.  However, each chest is booby-trapped.  To open it, there are two meters.  The left is the danger meter, which fills as you are triggering the trap.  The right is opening the chest.  Attempting to open it, or using a skill, will increase one or both meters.  If you fill up the left one first, the trap is sprung and you suffer its effects.  If you fill up the right one, the chest is opened.  At first I liked this system, but after several hours, I grew tired of it.  It would be much better if you didn't have to do it for every chest, as it just wears out its welcome.

There game's difficulty spans from easy to hard. Most fights aren't that hard, but the enemy damage can be high at seemingly random times. Boss fights are more difficult. The first boss trashed me soundly. I did some grinding, came back, and was victorious. The subsequent bosses didn't feel quite as hard, so maybe I just got better at the game, or was diligent about leveling up my good astrals. When an astral dies, you have to re-purify it after the battle (it’s slightly different in R’lyeh Road). Game overs can be reversed by spending karma or money, but I usually stuck to reloading my last save.  I'm just that cheap.

Dungeon RPGs are a genre that have grown on me over the years. I enjoyed playing The Lost Child. The capture mechanic added something new to the formula, and I really liked the karma system for leveling up your monster party members.  Dungeon RPG players should give it a shot, unless you turn up your nose at not creating characters.  It's a fun game that might be of interest to RPG players looking to break into the dungeon RPG sub-genre.

The Good:
Easy to add new monsters to use in battle.  Leveling them up is also easy, ensuring new blood isn't the weak link.

The Bad:
I'd like more save points, or even quicker short cuts.  Those dungeons get long.  The treasure chest mini-game gets old after awhile.

The SaHD:
Some of those monster designs are a bit too creepy for my tastes.  At least they stand out!

(Review code for The Lost Child was received from the publisher)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

7'scarlet (PS Vita) Review

Continuing Aksys' "Summer of Mystery", 7'scarlet has arrived for the PS Vita in the US!  This visual novel/interactive fiction takes place in the crescent-shaped country town of Okunezato.  Ichiko, the main character, arrives to locate her brother, who disappeared in Okunezato one year ago.  Tagging along with her is her childhood friend Hino.  While searching, she will meet several other characters that may be friend...or foe.

There are plenty of choices during the story, some of which are very important, and a few of which don't affect much.  One choice early on was obviously me choosing my route.  After finishing that route, I went back and was confused that the other options didn't change the two choices I had.  Eventually, I figured out that the first two routes can be done in either order, but the rest are unlocked sequentially.

It's an odd choice for sure, but the stories that take place build upon each other, even if they are mostly separate.  Happenings in one will become clearer when you play another.  Sometimes, there are little details that seem unimportant, but become small revelations when you are involved with another guy.  Every route was interesting to me, even if it takes all the playthroughs to actual see the main plot brought to completion.  There are a few twists that seem a bit random, but overall I think each route is engaging.

As for the length of the story, it felt a little shorter than average.  I'd say each route takes about 4 hours to get through.  The game makes up for it by having over five routes, most with two different endings.  Once I understood how to get each ending, it wasn't that hard to get them, but it did take time to replay each route.  There is a standard dialogue skip function to fast-forward through the game.  Since the only starting points are the beginning of the game, or the start of each unlocked route, you'll likely need that function to clean up any missed routes.  I was spoiled by the flow chart of the previous "Summer of Mystery" game, I know.

I really enjoyed the stories in 7'scarlet.  While it has some strange differences from other visual novels I have played, the story was very engaging, and I kept wanting to read more.  I'd easily recommend it to fans of the genre.

The Good:
Interesting and engaging story that adds more with each route.

The Bad:
New game starting points aren't the best when trying to clean up the endings and CG images.

The SaHD:
But why would the ca---hmmm...

(Review code for 7'scarlet was received from the publisher)

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (3DS) Review

Following in the storied tradition of re-releases, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey now has a Redux. This release sees a new playable character, new endings, a new multi-level dungeon, some new story scenes, new monsters and some updated elements, such as UI changes.  Sounds nice, but admittedly it's a little lost on me.  I have not played the previous release, so I won't be as privy to these changes.  I do appreciate the added content.

Although part of the SMT series, Strange Journey is a spin-off, much like Nocturne. As such, it plays very similarly to the core games, but with a few differences. You still have demons in your party, and must recruit and fuse them to gain more. Like Nocturne, your main character is also a party member. While having a steady battle participant is good, it also means that having him incapacitated can mean game over.

I actually had that happen a few times. The random aspects of battle has that effect. Fights range from simple affairs too winning by the skin of your teeth. It really depends on how many enemies appear, and if they decide to spam certain techniques.  I can tolerate that, but it's far from ideal for my playstyle.  Later on there is an app that prevents game over from losing the main character in battle, which I understand is one of the new additions to Redux.  That's a good change!

Winning a fight gives experience, but it seems relative to the strength of the opponent.  This means grinding isn't that effective, which is an odd choice for a dungeon crawling-centric game.  Another big gripe I have with the game is the stat gain from leveling up.  It's random.  I'm very much against that idea.  Supposedly your random gains will favor whatever support you got from the opening personality quiz, but again, it's random.  While I'm mentioning it, I'm not really a fan of quizzes like that, either.  Just let me pick my focus instead of arbitrarily assigning me one based off vague answers to silly questions.  Or better yet, let me distribute my own stats!

In some cases, recruiting demons is easier than previous SMT game I've played.  Their speech and corresponding answers make more sense than they have (to me) in past games.  However, there are some cases where it is a lot harder.  Demons have alignments.  If they are a similar alignment to your main character, you may be able to recover from a wrong answer, or refuse more demon requests before negotiations break down.  On the flip side, opposing alignments won't even talk to you.  That seems a bit harsh.  Later in the game, there are some ways to get a tiny chance for them to join, but it's still far from ideal.  One step forward, one step back.

As mentioned before, you can fuse demons in your party to create new ones.  This feels very similar to previous SMT games.  You can pass on a skill or two, but the resulting demon has set skills and stats.  You can also pay money to re-summon any demon you have previously recruited. It's expensive, but occasionally worth it.  It's a good system for passing on skills, and filling out your demon book, but the fact that the resulting demon always starts at a set level with their own stats means it doesn't always help you move forward.  If you give up two level 10 demons, and they make a level 7, you are down in both power and numbers.  Choosing when and who to fuse is a skill, and not one I have mastered.

You can choose to pass on certain skills with demon sources, but after the first of each, you have to get lucky to get more.  I'm not a fan of that, nor of having the main character's skills based off his gun, with a few from apps.  Since they were updating features, it seems like there were a few that could have been made to skills and demon fusing to make it more player-friendly.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux was still kind of fun, despite the personal issues I have with the game.  If you really enjoyed the previous release, there is enough new content to bring people back for another helping.  If you were interested before, but didn't play it yet, this seems to be the definitive edition.  Might as well get this release instead.  People more familiar with the later Persona/SMT games should probably stick to those.

The Good:
New content and some good changes likely make this the superior release of the game.

The Bad:
Too much random stuff for my tastes.

The SaHD:
I feel like the plot and early story developments are straight from some low-budget SciFi, sorry, SyFy movie of the week.

(Review code for Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey was received from the publisher)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Dragon's Crown Pro (PS4) Review

Dragon's Crown, the infamous game with beautiful Vanillaware artwork, fun fights, and odd design choices, gets released on the PS4.  It looks and sounds better than ever before...that's what makes it so Pro.  I honestly didn't think the game could look any better, but it does.  It's not a huge difference (I don't have a 4K TV), but it's there.  I enjoyed playing the original release co-op, and later, even my children had fun playing the game together.  Yes, there is some risque stuff, but they are too young to pay attention to it.  The updated music sounds great.  The entire soundtrack was redone with an orchestra, and I prefer this music to the old version.

One awesome feature is that your old save file will work on Pro.  I downloaded my save and jumped right back in...only to realize I don't remember most of the stuff.  So, I started another character and ran through a few stages, shaking off the ring-rust.  A re-release or updated version that allows me to keep my save file from before always gets my appreciation.  Maybe some people want to do everything over again, but letting me keep my work, while still allowing those people their fun, is a very good design choice.  Of course, the flip side of this is that this game shares the trophy list with the previous version.  So no getting new trophies, if that is your thing.

The controls for the game are pretty much the same. Square is used for attacks, X is jump, Circle is for your special attacks, Triangle is for item/pick-up weapon use, and the R1 dodges. The only new feature is the touch pad. This can be used in place of the touch screen (Vita version) or the right stick (either other version) for directing your rogue buddy, grabbing treasures, or cooking. The right stick can still be used, and in most cases feels better to me. The touch pad is faster, but less accurate, especially when clicking the pad down.

The game flows in the exact same way it did before. You go to each new dungeon, kill a boss, then move on to the next. Once you have done all nine, You have to do them again, this time with a slightly different route, and a different boss. While I'm okay with that, I still strongly dislike that at this point your destination is random, unless you want to pay in-game money. Considering how much you are already spending for repairs, items, and resurrecting helpers, there is way too much to take your money already.

Dragon's Crown is still a fun game, and the Pro release on PS4 is no exception to that. If you really want to play it again, or missed out while it was on the PS3/Vita, then this release will suffice. Otherwise, there really isn't anything extra to justify buying it again.  Being brought back nearly 5 years after release, I would have liked to see some new content.

The Good:
A fun and great looking game looks even better.

The Bad:
While the music is nice, I'd rather they changed some other things.  Unfortunately, everything but looks and sound is left the same.

The SaHD:
I saw the steel book in the store, and I totally want it!

(Review code for Dragon's Crown Pro was received from the publisher)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Titan Quest (Xbox One) Review

Nostalgia can be a powerful force, even in small doses.  Years ago, I finally got around to playing a Diablo-style game on the PC called Titan Quest.  I didn't end up playing very long (part because I don't play games on the PC very much, and part because I wanted to do multiplayer with my wife), but I enjoyed the game and wanted to go back to it.  Once the game came to Xbox One and PS4, I was excited to give it a try.

Right off the bat, I was thrown into the character creator.  My excitement quickly dropped when I realized just how limited it is.  You can set gender and tunic color.  Even if most things would be covered by armor, I was hoping for a bit more.  Also, the game disappointingly only has single player and online multiplayer.  I know this won't effect everybody, but no couch co-op is a negative point for me.

Once in the actual game, my excitement started to make a comeback.   You can hold the X button down to auto attack, but it only works when there are enemies around.  That makes logical sense, but sometimes you want to try out a weapon's speed, or a new skill in safety.  Aiming attacks feels strange.  Instead of facing the direction you want to attack, your character will instead lock on to one in range.  To change targets, you hold down the attack button and point the left stick towards the new enemy.  There are plenty of times I tried to change my direction to change where I would attack, only to have it not work.  It's just cumbersome and not intuitive.

From there, the controls don't get any better.  The A Button picks up items and interacts with npcs/items/etc.  While it normally works fine, you can interact with your summoned creature.  It doesn't seem to do anything, but when you inevitably do it while trying to pick up loot, you will just stand there for a second, unable to do anything.  It's...just not good.  Oh, and the A Button will not pick up loot that has fallen through the map.  Sadly, it happened to me over a dozen times.  My son watched me play the game for an hour, and saw it at least three separate times.  That's also not good.

It bugs me that official screenshots usually lack the HUD

Health and magic potions are well labeled, though.  They are set on the bumpers, and are quick and easy to use when you need them.  Skills you learn will be set to the d-pad.  Yes, you read that right.  That's okay for buffs and other similar things, but just awful for attack skills.  But at least you get eight slots.  You can set a skill for the Y Button, but it doesn't feel responsive.  Maybe it's the few skills I tried there, but I had a lot of trouble getting them to activate, even when the target was in range.

The B Button will swap between your two weapon sets.  While this does allow you to set something else on the Y Button for the second set, it's not a function I would use with any regularity.  How often are you switching weapon sets?  Certainly not enough that you would want a face button dedicated to it.  It seems like that should be relegated to the d-pad instead of skills.  Even if they didn't want to copy something like Diablo 3, they could at least take the skill setting idea from the X-Men Legends games.  They did it right, and before Titan Quest originally launched.  Instead, they tried to invent a wheel, but ended up with a rectangle.

Okay, so that doesn't sound so great, but there is something good in the game.  There are nine different skill trees, many of which look fun to me.  Every level gives you three skill points, which can be used to buy or power-up skills, or increase the rank (and stats) of the class itself.  The higher the rank, the more skills you can learn.  It took me a minute to figure out how it worked, but I actually really like the skill trees.  I at first settled on an earth mage, and it was pretty fun.  A few of the skill made me think it would work really well with a melee fighter, but it was a mage set.  However, at level eight, you can choose a second class.  It's entirely optional, which is pretty cool too.  You don't gain any extra skill points, so there is a drawback to doing so.  However, there are several skills that work fine for a class, but much better when paired with another.  It's a great class and skill system that I am eager to play around with.

As for the game's story and quests, they are fairly limited and linear.  There are less quests than I expected.  Also, they are basic "go here and kill these things" types.  Turns out, that's fine by me, as the system for tracking quests and showing information on them is very, very basic.  Actually, it's probably less than basic.  It basically says what you have to do, but not exactly were to go, or have any kind of counters.  Side quest destinations are not far from where you get them, so it's not an issue.  The maps look really nice, but there is no variance in them.  The predictability makes it easier to complete quests, but having some variance in them other than chest contents would be very nice when going through with other characters.  I want to try out multiple classes, but it's a bit of a downer that all the areas will be the same.

Many years ago, Titan Quest was a great game. Since that time, the genre has evolved. Playing the game on a current console really drives home how archaic it is. It might not be fair to compare it to Diablo 3, but that game showed us how great this style of game can be (and play) on a console. Titan Quest, while somewhat fun, just can't compare to that, or other similar games on the same consoles. Instead of just a face lift, this 11+ year old game really needed a full-on remaster to bring it up to current genre standards.

The Good:
Multiple job class combinations to play around with.

The Bad:
Feels dated, controls are awkward.

The SaHD:
I'm really hoping it gets a couch co-op patch, but I may have to settle for getting a second Xbox One to play some co-op with the missus.

(Review code for Titan Quest was received from the publisher)

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly (PS Vita) Review

Aksys kicked off their "Summer of Mystery" with Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, the first of three visual novel games on the Vita coming out this summer.  Readers of my reviews know that I like visual novels, so of course I secured a review code to check it out.  And hey, this time the female protagonist has spoken dialogue!

The story takes place in a mysterious mansion that the heroine suddenly wakes up in.  With the help of some men she meets inside, they will try to survive and ultimately escape the nightmarish house.  While there are some familiar premises to the story, like an mysterious location and lost memories, the story is otherwise unique and interesting.  It moves along at a good pace, not moving too fast nor getting boring, and has some twists that I did not guess.  Toward the end, I was very much into the story, and wanted to see it through to its conclusion.

There are some choices to make while going through the game, but not as many as you might think.  In fact, the game isn't quite structured like most visual novels I have played.  For one, the story is mostly linear, which small branching paths that tend to meet back up where they should.  Character specific routes and endings are present, but they are smaller and shorter than expected, and don't occur in the most common places (ie, near the end).  While I did purposefully pick a bad ending at one point, I was surprised to see the ending I got at the end of the game marked as the "best" ending.  While it does seem the most realistic (as much as it could be), I thought for sure there would be a super happy "best" ending, where everything comes up rainbows.

All of the story scenes are contained on a big flow chart.  It shows when scenes branch off, and even has a mark that tells you when all conversations in that scene have been seen.  It's very easy to jump around and complete the parts you missed.  I very much like that aspect of it, and am enjoying completing as much of it as I can.

However, the game also has some extra scenes called short episodes.  While good in theory, there are several times in the game where you have to view some of these short episodes to progress further in the main story.  In other genres I can be okay with that, but in a story driven game, it feels jarring.  Being forced to stop and go read side stuff really breaks up the flow (and immersion).  I do like them as optional scenes to help unlock character specific routes.  At least, I think they help with that.  Most of the side episodes are locked, and have to either be purchased with points earned from the mini-game, by completing certain other scenes, or both.  It's not explained too well, and there are plenty of stages don't mention the requirements.  You just keep playing and viewing scenes, and eventually it opens them up.

At a few points in the story, there is a shooting mini-game to play.  It partially makes sense because you have to defeat the mansion's monsters to survive.  However, you are locking on and shooting butterflies, which aren't the monster.  Regardless, the mini-game is kind of fun.  You either move the cursor or drag your finger across the butterflies as they move around the screen, then press a button (or the on-screen "shoot" button) to fire.  It's fairly simple, but fun.  It's also not the most accurate, since many times I would drag across a butterfly and it wouldn't lock-on.  Also, it is really easy to miss some of the butterflies, since they only stick around for short, random intervals.  This is the method of getting points used to unlock some of the side episodes, and it was fun to play it enough to get all the points I needed for the side episodes.

Overall, I think Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly is a good visual novel.  There are some text errors, and the side episodes can take you out of the story, but that story is really good, especially near the end.  I'm having fun trying to fill out the whole flow chart.  I'd recommend it for visual novel fans, but it's not the longest complete package.

The Good:
Interesting story with some unexpected turns, fun shooting mini-game.

The Bad:
Side episodes break the flow of the story, and there were some text issues.

The SaHD:
I didn't think they would explain the title so fully.  It was nice that they did, but I admittedly then thought "roll credits".

(Review code for Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly was received from the publisher)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Code: Realize ~Bouquet of Rainbows~ (PS4) Review

Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ was released on the Vita two and a half years ago.  I really enjoyed it, and was eager to try out the sequel, Future Blessings, that was recently released.  The PS4 version of the game, Bouquet of Rainbows, houses both games in the series.  Yes, it is harder than it should be to keep the names straight.  Anyway, for this release, I stuck to the Future Blessings portion of the game, but I'll still have some information from Guardian of Rebirth, mostly re-hashed from my previous review.  If you are interested to dive deeper into that, here's the link for it.

Being a visual novel, all stories in Bouquet of Rainbows are heavy on the reading, but many non-protagonist lines are fully voiced.  It's also an otome game, so you are playing a female, with the option to be romantic with one of a few guys.  Guardian of Rebirth follows the story of Cardia.  After being virtually abandoned in a mansion and little to no memories of her past, she meets the gentleman thief Lupin.  Soon, she meets several other colorful characters and discovers the secrets of her deadly poison.  There are a few choices the player makes throughout the game, which will influence your route and the eligible bachelor you end up with.

Future Blessings, on the other hand, has far less dialogue choices.  There are the "after" stories, which take place after each guy's ending from Guardian of Rebirth.  You will obviously want to do them after completing the first game, otherwise they won't make as much sense.  The stories were interesting enough, and expound on some ideas touched in the previous game.  There's also three side stories.  The first is a non-romantic story where Cardia meets a new friend, and gets mixed up in the mafia.  It's surprisingly good for how silly an extremely brief synopsis makes it sound.  The other two are more what-if tales that allow Cardia to interact with Herlock Sholmes and Finis.  As you complete these stories, you also unlock brief stories with Delly, another character from the first game.

Your first story in Guardians of Rebirth will last the usual VN length of about 8 hours (estimate on my part).  There's good replay value in going through the different routes.  Enough of the story changes that it is worth doing all the routes, even if you skip the parts you have already seen.  The "after" stories in Future Blessings aren't quite as long, taking only a few hours to go through.  Adding in the side stories, there are more "routes" to do.  By contrast, these are a little longer than I would have initially thought.  Overall, doing all the routes and stories adds up to a good amount of play time and some good reading.

The whole package on the PS4 is really nice.  My only gripe is that there were some typos and broken text that I encountered.  It wasn't common, and not in every story I played, but it was noticeable.  While I still prefer to play visual novels on a portable system, Code: Realize ~Bouquet of Rainbows~ was fun to play on the PS4.  It's still an easy recommendation for visual novel and otome fans.

The Good:
Combines both the first and second game into one convenient package, and both have several interesting stories.

The Bad:
There were a few typos in at least one of the stories I played.

The SaHD:
Avido Crudele is a pretty rockin' villain name.

(Review code for Code: Realize ~Bouquet of Rainbows~ was received from the publisher)