Monday, December 31, 2018

Overlord: Fellowship of Evil (Xbox One) Review

The first Overlord arrived on the Xbox 360, and combined action with squad management.  Using your minions for combat and puzzles was a fresh take on a third person action game.  I enjoyed it, but haven't finished it yet.  A sequel, Overlord II, was made, and then years later Fellowship of Evil released on the Xbox One and PS4.  I'd heard unflattering things about the game, but couldn't resist buying it when it had a deep discount.

Instead of the original's closer camera, FoE goes for an isometric view, more akin to Diablo.  Also unlike the original, it's a multi player experience.  Thankfully, you don't have to play it with others.  Because there are multiple people, you aren't playing as an overlord, but rather a resurrected champion of evil.  You have a normal attack, that is fast and weak, a stronger attack that can sometimes be charged, and a special attack.  The special attack requires a meter to fill beforehand, but it seems to charge rather quickly.  I first chose Malady, the dark magician, and she was pretty cool.  Her special attack was a giant laser, but I usually forgot about it since her charged strong attack was so good.

To make the game even more different than its predecessors, you will run across challenges in the various levels.  These are pretty much races, where you have to get from one point to another in a set time frame.  Little white crystals dot the route, which give you extra time if you pick them up.  I say "if" because the hit detection on them is spotty.  It might seem harsh, but these sections are dumb.  There's no other way to accurately describe it.  They aren't useful, they aren't fun, and they don't feel like they belong at all.  A few are fairly easy to win, while others are way too twisty to complete on your first try, even with Malady's teleport.  At least the only drawback to losing is not getting a random bonus to your loot at the end of the level.

In the better Overlord games, the minions were invaluable.  The damage your overlord could output was limited, and minions were expendable.  While that made the ultimate evil feel a little weak, it worked for the game type and style.  FoE goes to the opposite end.  Your chosen champion (remember, they aren't an overlord) far out damages the minions, and is probably a lot less dumb.  The minions really seem to like running into traps and dying.  If you aren't fighting something, it's easier to just recall them all, rather than lose them to their own stupidity.

In fact, the minions can be worse than not helpful, they can be detrimental.  If they touch “the golden”, they turn into enemies. So, they will try to hurt you.  If the golden is present, your minions are almost sure to run into it, meaning this is a problem you will encounter.  They aren't even good at picking up stuff for you when the loot drops.  If you didn't need the minions to solve puzzles or hurt bosses, you could easily play the whole game without them.  That's not good.

Neither is the game's performance.  Every minute or so, everything pauses for a second.  It reminds me of the similar fault in Deadpool, but I don't know if the fix is the same, or even possible.  Usually that isn't too bad, but it will queue up any button presses during that time.  I ended up summoning extra minions because of that.  Plus, that time doesn't register button holds.  Meaning, I would be trying to summon some minions, the game would lag, and I would summon all of my minions, or use my special attack.  Making a menu selection also counts as an attack, since Malady will always shoot her wand after I make one.  For some reason, unless I feather tap the A Button, she will attack twice.  The other champions don't do this.  It's pretty shoddy.

But wait!  There's more.  It's also very rough and glitchy.  I've been stuck in a treasure chest, which required going back to the hub and losing level progress.  Using Malady's blink defensive move has shot me through the ceiling, and dropped me through the floor.  The first made it impossible to finish races on time, and the second would just kill me.  Sometimes minions just die with nothing to kill them.  I've taken damage when there isn't anything around to do so.  There's even an unobtainable achievement in the Xbox One version.  Not fun.

Going through the campaign isn't too hard, or too long, thankfully.  Maxing out your minions or champion will require extra grinding.  There isn't any multiplayer exclusive content, which is good because there aren't any people playing online.  I can't blame them either.  Overlord: Fellowship of Evil isn't a good Overlord game, or even a good game period.  I got it for cheap, but even that might not be worth it.

The Good:
Can be completed in a few days, some lines are funny the first time.

The Bad:
Very rough, several glitches, and overall not good.

The SaHD:
I feel like this game spoiled the ending of the second, but that might be the least of its transgressions.

(Overlord: Fellowship of Evil was purchased by the reviewer)

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Kamiko (Switch) Review

Kamiko is a downloadable game on the Nintendo Switch's Eshop.  At first glance it may look like an isometric action adventure game similar to the Legend of Zelda.  However, that isn't very accurate.  For one, the emphasis is much more on puzzles than combat, though there is some of that, too.

Combat is pretty simple.  Each of the three characters has a unique weapon, which they will use to attack.  I like that they do feel different from each other, as I though at least two would be similar.  This will effect how you deal with some enemies, since the ranges are different.  Enemies tend to die very quickly.  This is good, since they can respawn very quickly too.

The puzzles are the main thing keeping you from progressing.  They are usually either hitting a switch, or bringing an orb or key to a certain spot in order to open a door.  They are not overly complicated, but there is a time or two where I didn't know where to go.  While carrying an orb or key, you cannot attack.  Also, getting hit will have you drop the item, forcing you to go back to its starting location and grab it again.  It can be a bit frustrating.  However it is easier to just not kill everything in a room, which will not trigger the enemy respawn.  That makes it much easier to navigate around them and not get hit.

Boss fights are mostly combat based, but they do have some tricks to them.  Dying just sets you back to the last time it saved.  For boss fights, this means you have to do the whole thing over again.  It's not that bad, since the boss fights aren't hard.  The game tracks how long you have played, but time since the last save doesn't seem to count against you if you die.

Kamiko is a short game.  My first run took me just under an hour.  Using the second girl, I completed it much quicker, since I had a much better idea what I was doing.  It's also a very linear game.  The areas do have a few secrets, which reward you with extra health or magic meter.  It's not really necessary to find them all, but it gives you something to do in a replay.  Even going through with all three girls only sets you back a few hours at best.  The game is made for speed running, which is not my thing.  Still, it was pretty fun, just very short.  I think it's worth trying, but I definitely suggest getting it on sale.

The Good:
A interesting puzzle/action game that is made for speed running.  Each character plays different from each other.

The Bad:
Extremely short.

The SaHD:
There's actually another hidden secret, but it's not really worth doing if you miss it.

(Kamiko was purchased by the reviewer)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

All Good Things, Part 1

With that review, I have come to the end of my current review obligations.  You may have noticed a decline in reviews, and even the regularity of them.  At the beginning of the year, I finished the classes for my accounting certificate.  A few months later, I finally got and entry-level job through a temp agency.  The first place was for 3 months, and they weren't really looking for a permanent employee, despite their claims.  I am tempted to write a story about the place, as there were some interesting things going on.  However, the second place I worked was very interested in a new employee.  So, long story short, I now work there!  They are very appreciative to have me, which is very humbling to a new accounting person with little experience.

So, is this the end of  No.

I do have fun reviewing games, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  I just don't have as much time as I used to, so there will be fewer of them.  I already stopped asking for as many as I used to.  I will still ask for some, but only ones that I'm very interesting in reviewing.  This allows me to focus on games that I already own, but haven't reviewed.  So, I can chip away at the backlog, and still review some (hopefully) cool games.  I've already got a few in the pipeline.

At the very least, I have to stick around until next February, as that will make 7 whole years of  Plus, the site isn't going away any time soon, so rest assured you can read the old content, and any new stuff that pops up.

Thanks to everyone who read a review, you are one of the special few!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk (3DS) Review

Ten years ago, the first Jake Hunter hit the US on the DS.  At that point, I had recently played Phoenix Wright, which started steering me into visual novel territory.  Since I like crime dramas, it seemed like a natural game to play.  I really enjoyed it, but didn't pick up the second release.  Partially because I was indignant that it was just a better version of the one I had already bought, and partially because I had a young child at that time, so I had no money.

Flash forward to 2018, and we are finally seeing another Jake Hunter released.  Ghost of the Dusk collects five different cases, plus an extra.  Each case is a separate story, with only a small handful of characters appearing among them.  Most times you will be playing as the titular character, Jake Hunter, but on a few rare occasions you will take up the mantle of his equally-capable-if-not-moreso assistant Yulia.  They are usually assisted by Jake's cop buddy Scott Kingsley, affectionately called King.

The game is pretty much a visual novel, but without the routes.  There are choices to make, but you can't really make the wrong ones.  This will keep some people from the game, but it shouldn't.  The stories and characters are interesting.  There are many times when you have to move to a different location, talk to various people, and even investigate suspicious scenes.  It works fairly well, but there were a few things that were either strange or rubbed me the wrong way.

First, there are many times when you must talk to people several times in a row.  For some reason, you have to select talk and pick the person again.  I understand doing this when there are multiple people, and Jake switches who he is talking to, but many times it's just the same person.  I guess it's nice if you want to examine something in between lines, but it feels a little strange.  Sometimes instead of speaking to a person, you have to "examine" them to move the story forward.  There are times this makes sense, and times it doesn't.

The examination scenes are the ones that sometimes frustrated me.  You have a small scene, and move the eyeglass around, pressing the button to see what's there.  Some things are obvious, plus the cursor changes to blue, but there were several times when I couldn't proceed.  I was missing the correct pixel to check.  It's not like the game highlights things of interest, so at that point it's just trial and error, clicking around various places on the small screen, hoping it's the slightly different message that allows you to finish and move forward with the story.

Another problem I had was with the text.  The main case had a rash of typos.  Strangely, they weren't anywhere near as prevalent in the other cases.  What they did all share were boxes of text that would be skipped through.  Sometimes, pressing the button to advance the dialogue would quickly dash through the box that was supposed to come up, and move onto the next.  It was easy enough to scroll back and read it, but that's a bad issue to have in a text-heavy game.  I'm pretty sure it's not my system, either.

While I didn't have a problem with this next point, the game is also localized, instead of just translated.  That means Jake and company talk in detective jargon, and the character names are fairly Westernized.  Personally, I like that, since it helps me keep the characters straight.  It will be a turn off to some people, though.

Ghost of the Dusk is the main case, and as such, lasts the longest.  It took me around 9 hours to go through it.  The four sub-cases were shorter, each lasting around 2 hours.  The final, extra case was much shorter, clocking in at about 30 minutes.  That one has a tiny alternate route, but it's little more than text and a riddle.  Still, the total play time clocks in at under 20 hours.  Since the game is linear, there's not much replay value.  Even if you miss the hidden passwords while going through the cases the first time, you can type them in to gain access.  I like that you aren't forced to replay just for some of the game's extras.

While Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of Dusk is short, the cases and characters are interesting.  The game isn't perfect, and it's not the longest investment of time, but it's well worth playing if you are a fan of visual novels, or detective stories.  Then, hopefully someday we will have the other games/cases translated, too.

The Good:
One main and four sub-cases with interesting stories and characters.

The Bad:
The game's linear flow hits a few distracting bumps.

The SaHD:
I know that the art style for each case is a little different, but Yulia's look varies a lot.  I didn't even realize it was her when I started the second case.

(Review code for Jake Hunter: Ghost of the Dusk was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Disgaea 1 Complete (Nintendo Switch) Review

Back in 2003, I saw an ad for the soon-to-release Disgaea: Hour of Darkness.  Since I liked strategy RPGs, and anime art, I decided to buy it when it came out.  Once I played it, my mind was blown.  There was crazy stuff I hadn't seen before in an RPG.  Crazy characters, wild terrain effects, and insane stats.  The levels went to 4 digits!  It was eye-opening to see this stuff after max level 99 and max damage 9999 Final Fantasy games.  It quickly became my favorite game, and its success likely fueled other RPGs increasing their own level and damage caps.

This should have been an easy review to write.  This is a re-release of Disgaea.  The first one.  My number 1 favorite game of all time.  It dethroned Final Fantasy IV for heaven's sake, which was no small feat.  All I should have to do is gush about how much I loved the game.  However, nostalgia can be a cruel mistress.

Is it the updated visuals?  Nope, those look crisp.  With the exception of the graphics and sound, the game is a fairly faithful recreation of its original incarnation.  And therein lies the problem.

The subsequent game added new things, changed some, and fixed things for the better.  Well, most times.  Still, there were plenty of quality of life changes that just made the core experience better.  None of that is present here.  There's no cheat shop, so leveling up takes more time and more grinding.  Money is more of an issue in the early game, as is fully equipping your people.  You don't get experience from healing, so healers fall behind.  High rank weapon types aren't balanced.  Heck, monsters only have the one type of weapon, so "too bad" if they need INT.

The item world is of course present.  Every item contains a random dungeon that allows you to power it up as you descend.  Still a great idea.  Levels aren't as small as they became over the years, and Mr. Gency's exits aren't as easy to come by.  No innocent farm or storage.  I will give the game credit for at least removing the geo panel from the exit square.  Now there should not be any floors that are actually impossible.  Also, the support innocents, like Statistician, seem to be higher starting values.  I don't remember there being so many, especially in values over 5, at the early stages of the game.

Some aspects of the Dark Assembly feel dated, too.  Since the cheat shop (regretfully) wasn't added, you have to use the council to increase or decrease monster levels.  Bribery is a huge pain, since each senator is an individual, not part of a group.  The percent chance of success isn't shown before the vote.  If you want to increase your counter attacks, you'll need the Dark Assembly, since there is no Character World.  No more promotion to increase your class' rank, you have to reincarnate for that.  Mentor and student isn't something that can be switched to benefit people, it's completely set at creation.  Just listing the stuff that should have been added to the "complete" version is kind of depressing.

Now, as much as I want the improvements from future games to be crammed into Disgaea 1, making a formerly great game incredible, I can see reasons why they didn't.  Maybe they wanted a 1:1 copy of the original, just with crisper graphics.  If that was what happened, I would still complain, but understand.  For better or worse, that's not what happened.  Remember the treant golems in the first game?  They were there, but now they're not.  Several enemy types were replaced with later iterations, likely because HD sprites of them already existed.  So I guess they aren't even pretending to faithfully recreate it, just do what ever is cheap and fast, consumer be damned.

But, we get Asagi.  I mean, she's been in other games before, but now she'  And a Prism Ranger!  That's actually cool.  Not totally unique, because there was apparently a way to get one in the PSP version.  Still, it's a shame that those two things are the only things that were added.  Maybe it's my fault.  Maybe I expected too much after how great the re-releases of all the other mainline games have been.  How they get upgrades from new system mechanics, benefiting the player.  However, part of the blame is also adding Complete to the title, which implies something comparable to the last release that carried it.  Adding one and a half new characters doesn't strike me as a "complete" sort of thing, just a tiny gesture.

There is a silver lining through all of these dark clouds.  For all the things that should have changed, there remains one thing that shouldn't.  The story.  Disgaea 1's story is still the best the series has to offer, and it is completely intact.  I still think Laharl is wonderful, Flonne is ditzy, and Etna sucks.  The story for this game is wonderful, and was one of the reasons I kept playing it, despite how painful it could be.

Disgaea 1 Complete should have been a slam dunk.  Take the original characters and story, add the improvements from the past 15 years, slap in some new characters and battles, and rake in the praise and profits.  Sadly, that isn't what happened.  What we did get was a lazy port that tries to keep to everything original, except the things that would require doing work.  Despite the Complete moniker, it's barely different from the current PC offering.  If you have never played the original Disgaea, then it might be worth it to play the amazing story.  Otherwise, leave your nostalgia in the past...having your face shoved in its faults is a painful experience for the soul.  It's not a bad game, but it's a huge missed opportunity.  Just play Disgaea 5 Complete instead.

The Good: looks much better than the PS2 version.  I don't think some random item world levels are impossible anymore.  The plot is still great.

The Bad:
Disappointingly lacks the quality of life improvements from the last 15 years that really should have been added to make this game utterly fantastic.  I'm pretty sure I brought that up at least once or twice.

The SaHD:
Well I had already preordered the special edition from NIS, so it should be very easy to keep it sealed.

(Review code for Disgaea 1 Complete was provided by the publisher)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Metal Max Xeno (PS4) Review

Metal Max Xeno is an RPG set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Humans created robots that turned on their creators, nearly wiping them out.  As one of the last remaining humans, jump aboard your tank and take your revenge!

The setting isn't unique by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not one I can recall in an RPG.  It's like a mix of Terminator and Mad Max, and I really like it.  When looking the game up, I was surprised to find out that there have been several Metal Max games, dating back to the NES.  I didn't think I had heard of the series before, but apparently Metal Saga on PS2 (which I played some of and enjoyed) is under its umbrella.  Thankfully, you don't need any prior knowledge to enjoy this game.

Upon starting, you are given a small tutorial dungeon to learn a few mechanics. I thought it would have started with more story, but it did not.  After gaining your first tank, you find a town, and are quickly thrust into your first quest.  In fact, you can't even enter the building until you finish part of the quest.  You can restore your health and ammo by visiting it though.  This gave me the impression that the game was going to be light on story, and mostly a dungeon crawler.  That isn't really the case.  It does have a lot of dungeon crawling, as you fight in dungeons and in the overworld, but there are times you will be in the home base, and talking to people.

For the overworld, most fights will be your tanks versus the enemies.  Enemy groups show up on the world map, allowing you time to avoid them, or get in the first attack.  When they pop up, you can press the X Button to target them with your weapons.  You can also check the enemy weaknesses, switch attacker, or which weapon you will shoot them with.  Damage done to them before the fight starts will carry over, as does the ammo consumption.  If you manage to defeat them with this first attack, you also get bonus experience.  I was pleasantly surprised at just how often this happened.  It's a nice way to skip battles, or at least make them shorter, while either giving you full experience, or a nice bonus.  Also, it does not make the game a cake walk to kill most enemies you come across.

If your opening salvo doesn't finish them off, you will start combat.  The player chooses which weapon with each character to attack with, or they can use a variety of skills.  Tanks can equip a variety of cannons, machine guns, and special heavy weapons.  Cannons are fairly strong but have limited ammo, while machine guns are weaker but have unlimited ammunition.  The latter are also really nice for opening shots, as they can finish off a group of enemies.  Special weapons are things like missile launchers, or other specialized armaments.  These tend to be stronger than cannons, but the ammo is even more limited.

Once you have selected your choices, the turn plays out.  The game claims that it is in semi-real time, but it waits while you are selecting your moves.  "Semi-real time" seems to mean that multiple people can shoot each other at the same time.  It's fine, just slightly more confusing when trying to follow who hit who.  Tanks don't have HP, but instead have SP.  When they take damage, SP depletes.  When it runs out...well, the tank is still okay.  Since it represents your shield, you don't immediately die when SP is zero.  Instead, it enemy attacks can damage or destroy parts of your tank.  If a weapon is destroyed, it can't be used until repaired.  If the chassis is destroyed, the pilot gets kicked out and will likely meet a grisly end on the next turn.  It's a nice system, as there are fights I would have lost if just running out of SP knocked the character out of battle.  It's also really easy to fix your tank and restore ammo by warping back to the base from any point on the overworld.  You can then warp back to a nearby warp point and quickly pick up where you left off.

When not driving around, exploding wicked machinery and ants, your characters will run around some dungeons on foot.  The combat is still turned based, and is very similar to the tank combat.  The only difference is you can't get a cheap shot on an enemy to start the fight.  In fact, the dungeon enemies don't appear at all, you just get into random fights with them, like old school RPGs.  Humans also have HP instead of SP, and are knocked out when that HP drops to zero.  Inside a dungeon, you can only warp to the entrance.  Nice if you want to leave.

There is some nice customization with your party and their tanks.  The party is made up of three people, each of whom can equip three weapons.  Each character has a job class, which gives certain skills as it levels up.  The job level is independent of the character's level.  Tanks can equip several different weapons, and you have some say in what is possible.  The chassis can be modified to house more weapons, special weapons, or even scaled back to provide more power to the shield.  You can even edit specific weapon slots if you don't want to change the whole thing.  Special chips can also be equipped to the tank, giving them skills.  These can be simple but powerful, like shooting every cannon or machine gun you have in one turn!  It will burn through ammo, but packs the punch you might need on a boss.

Normal enemies, both in the tank and on foot, aren't that hard.  You can beat them without much difficulty, provided you aren't fighting tank enemies on foot (you aren't Grahf).  However, there also exist wanted and named monsters.  Named are special, stronger enemies that tend to appear in dungeons.  They are just random encounters.  Wanted monsters are basically boss enemies, and defeating them helps pad your bank account nicely.  These fights are much tougher, mostly because they get multiple actions in a turn.  It can require a few tries to iron out a usable strategy.  Since you can save anywhere, I'd recommend it, as these fights can spring up on you and can be difficult.

While it is great that you can save anywhere, that's also tied to one of my gripes with the game.  After saving, it always asks if you want to quit to the title screen, or continue playing.  I don't know why they wanted to copy probably the most annoying thing from Dragon Quest, but they did.  And it's annoying here, too.  Since I save a lot, I would much rather the option to quit to title screen in the menu, and not incessantly asked upon my successful save.

I really liked Metal Max Xeno.  The setting and gameplay aren't anything unique, but they are interesting and fun.  That's very important.  The difficulty goes through a few spikes at times.  However, the amount of party and tank customization, the monsters to fight, dungeons to explore, and items to find make it well worth playing for any RPG fans.

The Good:
Fun battles, interesting premise, and lots of customization for your party.

The Bad:
Uneven difficulty at times, being pestered to continue/quit after every save.

The SaHD:
I don't think it will be hard to convince my wife to cosplay as Maria.  She really likes purple!

(Review code for Metal Max Xeno was provided by the publisher)

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Shadows: Awakening (Xbox One) Review

Isometric action RPGs can be very fun experiences on consoles.  For me, most examples of the genre have been entertaining and engrossing.  While usually having multiplayer helps that a lot, there are some that have pulled off being single player, or are entertaining enough to not need a second (or third, or fourth) player with you to keep you awake.

On the surface, Shadows: Awakening looks like other competitors in the isometric action RPG space.  In some ways, it also plays like them.  You run around, kill monsters, get loot and complete quests.  Your characters travel from one area to the next, working toward your goal.  Several town and dungeon areas have teleporters, so you can jump to them for shops, or to turn in quests.  Button layout is what you might expect, with the A Button doing your auto attack, and the other three face buttons using other skills.  Unfortunately, you can only have three other skills equipped at a time.

However, it has a few distinct differences.  One, there is no multiplayer.  Yes, it's a bummer, but you get a party of up to four characters to make up for it.  The central character is the Devourer, a demon who is bound to a hero's soul.  He exists in the shadowrealm, while the puppets exist in the mortal world.  You can switch between them at almost any time.  In fact, you will need to.  Certain paths only exist in one realm or the other, and switching between them allows you to access them all.  Different enemies also exist in each realm, with some that cross over as well.  It's not an unheard of  mechanic, but it's used very well here.

Another difference is the soulstone.  Instead of chugging potions to survive, you use charges of your equipped soulstone.  Getting a refill of health or mana takes one charge, and different types have different max numbers of charges.  Defeating enemies and absorbing their souls slowly refills your charges.  Again, it's pulled off very well.  I always had access to healing, and was able to refill it without any difficulty.  That may change on harder difficulties though.

Thankfully, all characters share the same experience, and level up at the same time, even the ones you aren't using.  Every level increased gives you five stat points to distribute into four different stats.  Effects of each point increase are shown as you put them in and before you confirm them.  Each character also gains a skill point, which can be used to buy a new skill, or saved up to power up an existing one.  Since you can only have on three at a time, I tended to only try out the ones that sounded good, and power up the ones I found most useful.  Talent slots are unlocked every three levels, and allow you to equip a passive ability.  These are decent, but usually not super powerful.  The ones available are based on your main stats, and you don't seem to be able to change them once set.

There is a HUD in the game, I swear!

There are also several slots for different pieces of equipment, but not every character can equip every type.  That's not even limited to weapons, either.  Most make sense, since very large or small characters would need different size boots or gloves, or might not even have feet!  My only gripe with equipment is the reliance on the dreaded random number generator (RNG for short).  Sure, the shops sell some stuff, but enemies don't respawn and money is limited, so you can't buy everything.  Otherwise, you are stuck hoping that good stuff drops.  Unfortunately, the loot is entirely random within a level range.  I got a lot of drops for characters I didn't use, and worse, for characters I didn't even have, nor could have at that point.  That's not unexpected of the genre, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Early on, you must decide who is your first puppet: the fighter, the mage or the hunter.  Me being me, I had to decide between the mage and the hunter, so I went with the hunter first.  As you go through the game, you have opportunities to add more puppets to your party, but only three can go with you at any time.  I was excited to get my second puppet, who was...a hunter.  Yeah, I guess I should have picked one of the other two then.

As I pressed on, I got another puppet after the first boss.  This was a large skeleton fighter that hit like a truck.  Awesome!  He complimented the Devourer and hunter well.  The next puppet I found was unexpected.  Upon being interrogated, I was faced with a choice.  I first accidentally agreed to sell out a town for freedom, but that wasn't what I wanted to do.  So, I loaded my previous save (thankfully there's no silly one-slot-autosave nonsense here), and decided to fight him instead.  Not only was this a better personal choice (I had no reason to sell out the town), but I killed the boss and added a new puppet to my roster.  He ended up being another fighter, which again showed that I should have just picked the mage in the beginning.

On the normal setting, the game isn't very difficult.  Save for a few circumstances, it was just right.  The "few circumstances" are annoying traps and boss fights, but that's mostly from the lack of a dodge or real defensive move.  You can save pretty much anywhere, and getting a game over just forces you to reload your last save.  The story length is really good too, giving you a suitably epic tale to weave through.  Plus, the different characters you can use gives good reasons to go through it at least once more.  While there are a host of sidequests, the game is pretty linear, and the maps are set.  That's not a problem for me, but I know some people won't like that.

If you enjoy isometric action RPGs, then definitely check out Shadows: Awakening.  It looks familiar, but has some unique twists that make it feel fresh and fun.  I recommend trying it out!

The Good:
Fun isometric action RPG.  Switching between characters and worlds is a great concept.

The Bad:
The dungeon traps are way too deadly for how sensitive the hit boxes are.

The SaHD:
I put a belt on my wood elemental, which he's not supposed to be able to equip.  Oops.  You can take the person out of the tester job, but you can't always take the tester out of the person.

(Review code for Shadows: Awakening was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

SNK Heroines ~Tag Team Frenzy~ (PS4) Review

SNK Heroines is a casual fighting game starring only ladies from the rich SNK roster.  Well, except for the one guy that was turned into a female for this game.  And the boss.  And the guest characters.  Anyway, Terry Bogard sells games, so he's now a female, and all of them must battle each other to escape the crazy dream world made by the one guy in the game.

At first glance, the game looks a lot like a King of Fighters.  It has a familiar roster, the boisterous announcer, and is 2-D.  You even have a tag partner, hence the game's subtitle.  Once you spend some time with the game, it probably has more in common with Super Smash Bros., or Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (still a bad title).  It's not just the items, the simplified moveset, or the super finishes, but a combination of all of them that make it feel that way.

Make no mistake: this is a simplified, watered-down fighter.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but be aware of that before jumping in.  There is a light attack button, a heavy attack button, a special attack button, and a throw button.  Block is also a button, which is not usually the best choice in fighting games.  At least super moves get their own button too.  While that sounds like a lot, the moves are very limited.  You can't even duck!  Combo potential is basically a few lights, a heavy or special, and then trying to tag and chain a few more hits.  Since I'm not great at fighting games, there may be more, but I don't think so.

Like Smash Bros., tilting the stick in a direction with a button press changes some moves, notably the specials.  While this could add some depth and ease of use, it just felt too limiting to me.  Especially since some of the light or heavy normal attacks were just bad.  When a character has about six standard attacks, one of them can't be useless.  It just doesn't work.  Even worse, multiple characters have these, and sometimes they are the combo opener.  I've hit with an attack, and the enemy recovers before I do and hits me back.  How is that balanced?

Special moves and the "dream finishers" (super attacks) take meter to preform.  In a strange move, the life meter and special meter are on the same bar.  The cool part is your special cap extends as you take damage, but the bad part is that it's just not a good decision.  It's just too weird for people that have played a fighting game before.  And while you might think that this game is made for them, there are plenty of references to things that only fans would know.  It's not something that is easily pulled off, and SNK Heroines doesn't.

Depleting a character's health is not the end of the fight.  Instead, you have to actually hit your opponent with a dream finish when their health is red.  One one hand, this should be cool, as it ensures the fights have flashing outcomes.  In practice, it's more like Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale: not that exciting.  The super moves themselves can be cool, as maybe a small handful actually are, but most times they just fall flat.  Instead of a flashy finish, the screen quickly fades out when you hit with the move.  They just peter out, and lack impact.  They don't feel like a strong move that ends the fight, they just feel limp and weak.  This in exacerbated by the hit sparks/hit effects.  A lot of special and super attacks send out a plethora of stickers, teddy bears, and rainbows and stuff that just feels goofy.  Did Lisa Frank design this stuff?  Besides being too large and out-of-place, it feels lazy and stereotypical.

SNK Heroines also has a story mode.  It is more involved than I thought it would be, but it's still barely more than an excuse to make the game.  Kukri traps the women in this magical world made from his mind, and makes them fight.  He somehow steals the despair from the losers, and that will make this world permanent.  Yeah, ok, super plausible.  The cutscenes in story mode can be utterly bizarre, but they can also be funny.  The character interactions and endings are enjoyable too.  So strangely enough, it ends up being probably the best part of the game.

Besides the story mode, there is the obligatory (at this point) Versus and Online modes.  What you might not expect is the amount of unlockable things, including costume pieces.  Since the playable character are all females (technically, here Terry is as well), you have to dress them up.  Each heroine has two purchasable costumes, the first of which is their more traditional/normal one.  The third costume is a bit of a mixed bag.  Some are really nice, and I like them, while others feel very random.  What I really would have preferred is getting some costumes on other characters...think of the possibilities!

Then come the accessories.  There are a plethora of options of baubles and doo-dads that you can put on heads, hands, feet, etc.  Some are already unlocked, and some must be purchased.  You can even remove pre-set ones, and make Sylvie look not terrible.  In the vein of Senran Kagura, there are unlockable backgrounds and poses you can put the characters in.  Most are from the ending scenes.  Once you set it up, you can take a picture of them.  I'm sure someone will love that feature, but it's not really one I would get much use out of.

On one hand, SNK Heroines ~Tag Team Frenzy~ is a party-type fighter, easy to pick up and play.  On the other, I think it's a bit too simple at times.  I might sound pretty negative about it, but the story can be pretty fun, and it doesn't take it self too seriously.  I doubt there will be high level competitions of the game, but that's not what it is meant for.  It's a decent thing to play with a group of friends that don't really play fighting games, although they aren't going to get much out of it.  I think there should be a few tweaks to make it better for the audience that would appreciate it.

The Good:
Simplistic fighter that's easy to pick up and play.

The Bad:
Feels a bit content-light, and the core of the game is niche enough to potentially alienate the casual audience that could easily grasp the mechanics.

The SaHD:
While I think female Terry Bogard is a fun idea, there are a lot of female characters not included, but probably should have been.

(Review code for SNK Heroines was provided by the publisher)

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Yakuza Kiwami 2 (PS4) Review

Just as Yakuza Kiwami was a fresh remake of the original, the second Yakuza also gets its due.  Yakuza Kiwami 2 continues Kiryu's tale, and even uses the same engine as Yakuza 6.  It also boasts new mini-games, and some returning or refined ones.

The story continues one year after the previous game, and deals with the fallout of those events.  I like this aspect of the Yakuza story.  It might not always go the places I think it should, but it always moves forward, and lets time pass in a fairly realistic manner.  There are points where it feels like things happen just to make the story longer.  Personally, it can be a bit hard for me to keep a lot of the lore straight.  Having played 5, then Kiwami, then 6, and now Kiwami 2, there are a lot of story developments that I can't always remember the order of.  If I had the time, I'd re-play them in order to better sort out the time line.  This isn't necessarily a problem that others will face, but with the re-releases coming between the ending ones, I'm sure there are others in the same boat.  Thankfully the start of Kiwami 2 does have a memory sequence near the beginning, so you can hit the major points.

If you have played any of the other Yakuza games, the combat will feel familiar, as it is largely unchanged from the core experience.  You attack thugs, build up your heat gauge, which then allows you to unleash really powerful attacks.  It does seem like the developers are continuously refining the combat engine, making minor changes along the way.  This time, it feels like there are far fewer heat moves.  I still get them, but they feel much more situational, and I guess I'm just not in the situation for them.  Extreme Heat returns from chronologically later game Yakuza 6, but you have to buy it after a certain point in the game.  That's a bit of a pain, but I still like and use the mode.  I just wish buying a longer heat bar didn't make it harder to activate Extreme Heat.  Weapons are still very useful, but you have to store them after picking them up in order to actually keep them after a fight.  It's a bit cumbersome.  For better or worse, they give you tons of them in the enemy hideouts, so use them and throw the empty ones away.

While I will miss the plethora of heat moves, my biggest problem in combat is the dodge.  Blocking still only works from the front, ensuring I can't and won't use it.  So, I have to rely on dodging.  Trouble is, by default, it is terrible.  It's more of a timing thing, since Kiryu barely moves anywhere when dodging, which seems to go against the concept.  Trying to dodge for me usually did nothing.  In the skill menu, there is a way to increase the dodge distance.  Buying one level had such a minor effect, I checked to make sure I actually bought it.  That doesn't make me want to invest more points into it.  However, there is also a skill that gives you the ability to string multiple dodges together.  This was a much more effective way to dodge, and I could actually use it.  Too bad I had to go through half the game before finding and being able to buy it.

Kiwami 2 has a few more chapters than other Yakuza games I've played, but the chapters themselves feel shorter.  The only have a few story and battles scenes.  I think you are supposed to use the time between to wander around and do the side stories, which is pretty much what I did.  Of course there are many side stories, quests, and mini-games to fill your time.  Like the other games in the series, expect many hours of beating punks, finding locker keys, and helping out random strangers.

One cool and fun addition is the Majima story line.  No longer content to stay in the background (or attack you at random times), the cyclops now has his own mini-story and game mode.  It's really fun to use him, as he has a knife and lacks Kiryu's aversion to killing people while totally killing them.  Goro Majima just straight up stabs fools, and loves every second of it.  He doesn't gain experience sadly, but you can use items to heal.  He even has his own heat moves.  I like this mode, but unfortunately you are limited in how far you can progress in it until you complete more of Kiryu's story.  Since it takes place between Kiwami and Kiwami 2, this doesn't make sense to me.  Just let me run wild as the Mad Dog of Shimano when I want to!

Yakuza knows you like your mini-games, and Kiwami 2 brings them to you.  The Sega arcade not only packs in Virtua Fighter 2 again, but also adds Virutal On!  You can also help run a club, which is a lot more hectic than I would have thought, or play a crane game.  Yes, the virtual one is rigged too, but I've won it a few times.  The crowing achievement in mini-games has to be Toylets.  It's a mini-game that you play while Kiryu is taking a piss.

No, you didn't misread that, and yes, it's true.  There are two Toylet games, and they seem kind of simple.  Admittedly, I lost the first one I tried, but was unable to try again until I ate and drank to fill my bladder.  It's really weird to think about, weird to write about, and weird to play.  However, it does feel appropriate to the Yakuza universe.  Don't forget that probably every iteration has a sub-story to help some guy in a bathroom stall.

Like me, if you enjoyed the Clan Creator in Yakuza 6, you will be glad to know that it has...sort of returned.  Instead of Kiryu's clan, it is the clan for Majima Construction.  He truly is everywhere.  After the destruction and desertion of Purgatory, Majima moved in and is building his own paradise.  Unfortunately, some real estate big wigs know how "money" it will be, and are moving in to steal the plans.  Instead of being on the offense, you are defending your equipment from the endless thugs these construction moguls throw at you.  No longer will you buy generic units, but instead direct a small group of individuals where to go to either save your equipment, or prevent the enemies from reaching them.  So far it's pretty fun, but I do prefer the original.  Just as before, the enemies are Japanese professional wrestlers.  This time it's some legends instead of the newer guys.  It's still an awesome idea to include that kind of thing, and I'm curious who they will get next time.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 is an easy recommendation if you are following the Yakuza tale.  It looks great and plays pretty well.  Combat is again similar to all the others, but slightly tweaked to ensure it is not the exact same.  One day they will get it perfect.  Like all the others, there is a focus on the story, but includes a lot of side stuff to distract you.

The Good:
More of Kiryu being a badass, lots of things to do and punks to beat up.

The Bad:
Story drags on at times, combat is again tweaked from previous releases.

The SaHD:
My favorite part in any side story is when some dumb punk talks down to Kiryu.  You just smile as he runs his mouth, because you know you are about to whoop his ass.

(Review code for Yakuza Kiwami 2 was provided by the publisher)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Senran Kagura: Reflexions (Switch) Review

Early on in the Switch's life, Kenichiro Takaki, the producer of Senran Kagura, wondered about making a game using the enhanced rumble.  Fans of the series dreamed about what would come next...and then we got Senran Kagura: Reflexions.

If you have ever messed around in the Dressing Room feature in any of the other SK games, then you will have a good idea what this game is all about.  Except now there's dialogue to go with it!  Asuka will talk to you, then you will message a part of her hand.  Depending on which part she responds to, and which part you rub, you are then taken to one of the game's "arcs".  Asuka will be dressed appropriately for the arc, and ready for you to practice your reflexology on her body.  Yes, you read that right.

There are two main actions in the body reflexology, squeezing and touching.  Well, there's also caressing and using the water gun, but they don't seem to do anything.  I take that back.  The water gun mode lets you rotate Asuka around, so you can touch her back.  Not really a function that needs to be tied to it, but it is.

Anyway, you will poke or grab various parts of her body.  When you do, a colored circle will appear.  Getting more and more of any color will be reflected the background effect.  Once you've done that enough, you can use a tool to...message her.  As you go through the arcs, you will eventually earn all 4 different tools.  Once it's time, just select one and go.  Each has its own mini-game that rely on the same principle.  Keep Asuka's happy meter in the right zone, which increases the heart meter.  The trick is to keep it in the right range, as doing something too long or, hard, won't work.  If you get the heart meter to the specified level within the time limit, you win!  And by "win" I mean fill her heart crystal more.  Then back to the hand reflexology and repeat until the crystal is filled.  You will need to do this at least five times to fully fill the crystal.

Both reflexologies can be done with motion controls or the controller buttons.  The motion controls are fairly responsive.  Half of the motions felt appropriate, while the other half didn't feel like they were mimicking the actions they were trying to.  I pretty much stuck to using the controller sticks and buttons, as they were a lot more reliable to succeed in the mini-games.  It was a lot easier for me to find the rhythm when using the sticks.  I would encourage players to try both, as the motion worked better than I would have though, and was fun for some of the mini-games.

The crystal fills with whatever color effects you had when going into the mini-game.  Mixing colors will change the overall crystal, and whatever color it is when it is fully filled, that's the ending you get.  That's good in theory.  In practice, the endings aren't really that different, just different dialogue.  The main reason to end with each of the five colors is to get the "true" ending, which unlocks the second main menu picture.  Other than that, getting all five colors in an arc will unlock that costume.

I'm sure that's not how you use a brush

As for other things to do, there is the mini-reflexology, where you can just squeeze and touch Asuka in the classroom, and it won't go to the mini-game.  It's easiest to dress her up in the various outfits here as well.  If you want a more static experience, Reflexions also has the dressing room option.  This is where you change Asuka's hair, accessories, and outfit, plus it allows you to put her in various poses.  It wasn't something I used very often in the main games, and that hasn't changed here.

Well, Senran Kagura: Reflexions sure is an interesting idea, if not a bit creepy at times.  It does feel more like a tech demo to me, since it relies on the motion controls and vibration for most of the interesting bits.  Otherwise, it's pretty much the stuff you can already do in the dressing room function of the other SK games.  Those also have the added benefits of more (and better) girls and outfits.  While you will be able to buy other girls as DLC at some point, I'm not sure it's enough to make me go back to the game (unless there's Murakumo DLC).  There isn't a whole lot to do, but at least the price reflects that.

The Good:
Interesting use of the motion controls and the vibration function.

The Bad:
Making a stand alone game out of a rarely used menu section of the normal games doesn't automatically make it good.

The SaHD:
The "big brother" arc is of course creepy, but the idol one ("Oh, Mr. Producer!") also feels a little uncomfortable in today's world.

(Review code for Senran Kagura: Reflexions was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Shikhondo: Soul Eater Review

I'm always game to try a new shmup.  Some are good, some are bad, but it's a genre I enjoy.  When Shikhondo was announced, I made sure to ask for a review code.  I figured it would play really well on the Switch, and happily received that version.

Once on the main game menu, you do have a few options.  There is arcade mode, hardcore, novice, and boss rush.  Arcade mode is pretty much the normal game.  As with a lot of the other modes, you can choose one of four difficulty levels.  Boss rush is pretty self-explanatory, as you just fight all of the bosses.  Novice is supposedly easier, but didn't feel that different from the easy setting of the arcade mode.  Hardcore boasts 1 life, no continues, but double the speed of soul charging.  When I tried it, it let me continue.  Once I did, I had the normal amount of lives until the end of the stage.  Starting the next one seemed to put me back to hardcore, as I only had the one life.  I'm not sure if this is intentional, but it did feel weird.  To round it out, there's a customize mode that lets you change a few options, and local co-op.  Sadly, I couldn't find anyone in my house brave enough to try that out with me.

The controls and ideas behind the game are pretty simple.  There is a shot button for your normal attack.  There is an alt-fire button, that you hold with the shot button to do a slightly different attack.  This will also make you move a lot slower, so it's easier to weave between bullets.  When you pass close by an enemy bullet, it will fill a bit of your soul gauge.  When it is full, pressing the soul button will have you enter a powered up state for a few seconds.  Pressing the button again will consume a soul stock, but power you up a second level.  If you press the soul button when you don't have a full soul meter, it acts like a bomb attack, damaging on-screen enemies, and taking away some of the bullets.  The soul system is pretty nice once you get the hang of it, just make sure to look at the meter (or listen for the sound) before you hit the button, so you get the power-up instead of the bomb.  Both are useful, but the power-up is better.  Well, for the most part.

There are two characters to choose from, the Grim Reaper and The Girl.  Really descriptive, I know.  Of course I tried the reaper first, as I figured she was like Botan (assuming anyone else remembers Yu Yu Hakusho).  Both have different shot patterns, so the choice isn't superficial.  The reaper has a normal spread, while holding the alt and shot buttons concentrates her fire.  The girl has two orbs with her.  Her normal shot is fairly concentrated, but the small shots from the orbs will automatically aim toward enemies.  The alt-fire send the orbs next to an enemy, and blasts them at short range.  At first I liked the reaper's shot pattern, but eventually found the girl to be better for me.

I did have some problems using the joy-con's analog stick.  There were times where it wouldn't respond, especially if I was moving it back and forth rapidly (like when dodging bullets).  The d-pad buttons worked fine.  I switched to the pro controller, and the stick worked fine.  It may only be a problem with my joy-con, but it's not something I have encountered in any game I've played with them before.

Just like most shmups, you die in 1 hit.  You will start right where you left off, but will be out any soul charge you had.  Of course, these rules can be changed in the "customize" game type.  Thankfully, the characters have really tight hit boxes.  Coupled with the slower movement during alt-fire, it feels good to dodge the bullet hell.  Even if you do run out of lives, you can continue, and it still places you right where you were.  It's very possible to brute force your way through the game, which is nice at least for completing it, and practicing later stages, since there is no feature to select them.

I will say the game can be hard, but it's mostly because the enemy bullets are sometimes hard to see through your shots.  This problem is magnified when using the soul power-up.  I'd also heartily recommend playing in TV mode, as the small screen of handheld mode plus lots of small bullets is a recipe for disaster.  At least some bullet types disappear when the enemy dies, which saved me more times than I can count.

There are 5 stages, each ending with a giant boss battle.  After the fifth one, the game goes on for a few seconds, leading me to believe there is some kind of hidden final boss.  I don't know if there is, and I don't know what the qualifications are.  I would imagine having to do it on 1CC or something like that, but I don't know for sure.  In another unique feature, after completing a stage, you can choose to get an extra life, or another soul.  It isn't much, but I like it.  Obviously, they don't offer it in hardcore mode.

Shikhondo: Soul Eater may not offer many modes or characters, but it's a very solid and fun shmup.  The soul charge and power-up is a nice and unique gameplay mechanic that I enjoyed.  I'd easily recommend it to fans of the genre.  Just be sure to play in TV mode.

The Good:
Good differences between the two characters, tight hit box, unique soul system for power-ups.

The Bad:
Very much a "no frills" experience.

The SaHD:
I really should have invested in the shmup Switch grip Kickstarter thing.

(Review code for Shikhondo was provided by the publisher)

Friday, August 31, 2018

Conan Exiles (Xbox One) Update

Almost a year ago, I played an early access for Conan Exiles on Xbox One.  Now, the full game has been released, and I figured I would jump back in for a few hours to see what has changed.

Wow.  First off, the game is now third person.  I think it was first person before, but I'm not 100% positive on that.  Third person makes the combat a lot easier to manage.  However, combat is still very clunky.  Aiming doesn't get thrown off by being hit anymore, but still has strict accuracy.  It's a step in the right direction, though.  The equipment wheel is still used to equip things from your inventory, like weapons.  It's still cumbersome, and takes a lot longer than I'd like to equip and un-equip items.  This hurts combat, as it is slower to ready and stow your weapon, and doubly so if you want to use a shield.  It's not a great solution when Minecraft figured a better one several years ago.

So what about building?  Well, there was some improvement in actually getting pieces to snap together.  This means it is much more reliable to make a structure that looks like an actual structure, and not some impossible hodgepodge of parts.  It's not perfect, since I had several instances of not being able to put a piece where I wanted, even when nothing was in the way.  But again, it's still an improvement over what I originally experienced.

Much like combat and building, the UI has improved, but is still more cumbersome than it needs to be.  Moving items to from your inventory to your equipment wheel, to leveling up, all feel like a chore.  Text is either the right size, or way too small to read on a TV.  Stats do have descriptions, and it's easier to see what you will get by spending your skill points.  The game also displays the prerequisite skills needed for higher level ones.  It's just a picture, so you have to manually try to match it up.

It seems as though the developers listened to people like me, and added some basic tutorials.  They are enough to get you started on the right foot, so the game isn't so obtuse.  There's also a neat checklist of things to do in the game.  I like that.  If you want to play but aren't sure what to do, just check the list, and try to do something from that.  Thankfully, there is also a map.  It is glorious.  Certain locations get automatically marked on it, too.

Even so, the game isn't overly fun at first.  You can still only have one save file, which is absurd.  It takes awhile to gather enough resources to build, and food/water to survive.  But tucked away in the pause menu, there is a magic option that makes the game a lot of fun.  You can turn on admin controls.  This allows you to teleport, turn off hunger/thirst, give yourself items, or even be invincible.  It is so much fun to build things when you don't run out of items part way through.  Well, you can still run out, but it's easy to spawn more.  Want some high level torches so you can see?  Poof.  What a strong sword for those pesky monsters?  Poof.  Want 100 walls so you can build a nice big house?  Poof.  The admin controls make it happen.

It might sound silly to some, but it was a game changer for me.  No longer worrying about the mundane stuff like eating, or how cumbersome things are, is a great way to increase my enjoyment.  Being able to check out high level stuff, or build interesting buildings is great.  I could travel all over the map, seeing what is out there.  The hassle-free exploration was enough to satisfy me...the rest is just a bonus.  If you are an achievement hunter, you can even use the admin controls to make all but one a simple affair.  Pretty nice.

Conan Exiles is surely improved from the game preview version available last year.  While still clunky, combat, building, and the UI have improved.  It's still not the most fun experience you can have in a survival game, but the admin controls definitely save the game, giving it a lot of entertainment value.

The Good:
The admin controls are amazing.

The Bad:
UI, combat, and building still feel cumbersome.

The SaHD:
You can build the torture wheel thing from the beginning of the first Conan movie.  I don't even think it does anything.  You can also capture enemies and force them to work in it.  Crazy!

(Review code for Conan Exiles was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia (Mobile Phones) Review

Well, here we are, at a point I never thought we'd reach...a review for a mobile phone game on my site.  If it was just some ordinary game, we wouldn't be here.  But here we are.

Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia is not the first mobile game I've played.  I've played a few.  However, it is the first I've felt compelled to write a review for, simply because I really enjoyed it.  Before we get too far, I should make fun of the name.  The Dissidia portion is a reference to the fighting game, which mixes heroes and villains from various Final Fantasy games together in a barely coherent story.  The Opera Omnia part...I'm not sure.  It's silly, but follows the current trend of weird subtitles for JRPGs that has been going on for the past decade or so.  Maybe even longer.

Unlike its fighting game brethren, Opera Omnia is a turn based RPG.  The turn order is based off a character's speed, and reminds me a lot of the system in Final Fantasy X (another good game).  When your turn comes up, you have the option of doing a Brave attack, HP attack, or using one of your skills.  To tie into the Dissidia games, this one also uses a similar system for damage.  A character's brave value is the damage they will do with an HP attack.  So, you want to use your brave attacks to drain an opponent's value while adding to your own.  When it is sufficiently high, you can use your HP attack to do actual damage.

It might sound strange at first, but I like it.  The system provides more strategy that you would think.  If you take brave damage that exceeds your current value, you become broken (no, not like Matt Hardy).  This shifts your turn back a space or more, while giving the entire opposing side a several-hundred point increase.  Plus, you can't do HP damage until you get enough brave back.  I should also mention that using an HP attack sends your brave to zero.  While you need to do damage, you should be careful when you do that damage.  If an enemy is targeting you right after that character's turn, you might not want to use the HP attack, unless it will finish them off.  Otherwise, you may empower your opponents when they strike back.

It's a pretty fun system once you get down a rhythm.  To mix it up a bit, each character has one or two special skills.  They can be heals, buffs, high brave attacks, multi-target attacks, or my favorite, the brave then HP attack ones.  They have limited uses per battle, so you have to decide when it's worth it.  For shorter fights, it's easy to blow the skills as necessary, while you want to be more discerning in their use during multi-wave boss fights.  While I was dismissive of the buffs at first (as I am wont to do), some of them are incredibly useful.  HP/brave attacks may be my favorite, but some of the others are almost as good, and might be more useful in the long run.

As post-battle rewards, you will occasionally gain colored crystals.  These can be used to further enhance the stats for characters, and get them additional passive skills.  Each character needs a specific crystal color, and only that one.  Maxing out their crystal levels makes them a powerhouse, but it does take a lot of crystals to do so.  Just make sure to set those passives.  Plenty of times I have forgotten to do so.  I tried to find at least one good character per crystal type, since I like to do the daily levels for each color (I could take or leave the money one).  They are great levels for the experience, but once you hit 50, they are still great for the sheer amount of crystals you can get from them.

One last way to make your characters stronger is with their equipment.  Weapons and armor have a rank, from 1 to 5 stars, with more stars equaling stronger equipment.  To level those up, you have to merge them with other weapons or special weapon/armor orbs.  If you merge it with another of the same type, it will "limit break" them, increasing their maximum level.  Hey, it's Final Fantasy, you have to have "limit break" in there somewhere.  Each piece of equipment has extra CP, allowing the equipped character to have more passive skills on.  This limit increases when the limit breaks.  Rank 4 and 5 equipment will also give bonus skills to certain characters.  If you fully max out it out (limit break it three times and hit the level cap), that skill is then unlocked for that character, so they can get it without equipping the associated piece.  It's a pretty cool system, but does take some luck, rare resources, or a chunk of money to max out the 5 star weapons and armor.  It can be worth it though!

The game's story is probably the weakest part.  It very much follows the "take all these characters and shove them into a strange world" trope that seems popular with mash-ups like this.  The story scenes aren't bad, they just don't add much.  The characters in them are usually appropriate, but you will unlock a lot as you go through the game, and they cycle in and out who appears in a scene.  There are a few funny scenes, and the characters act appropriately, but it's just not that memorable.  To make it better, you aren't limited in doing most stages.  There is a "stamina" system for a few levels, and the daily stages are limited, but the story stages are not.  If you want to blow through a chapter or two in one sitting, the game doesn't stop you!  I'm glad that a chunk of the game isn't the "play three stages, wait two hours" nonsense that other games have.  Also, only a very few select and rare stages limit who you can bring.  If you want to constantly use Cecil because he's awesome, you are free to do so.  I'm glad the characters don't have silly cooldown timers.

However, another massive plus Opera Omnia has over similar mobile games?  You get all the characters in the story or special events.  There's no random chance to get your favorite characters (and Lightning), just their weapons.  All in all, I like that.  It means you don't have to throw money at the game to get your favorite characters, just wait until they are available, or get to the part of the story where they are unlocked.  Plus, previous event characters eventually come back with permanent events, so if you miss someone great, just wait a couple of months and you can get them (and their 5* armor) at your leisure.

I do have a few other minor problems with the game.  One, the boss fights can be a slog.  Not only do many of them have a lot of HP (it is a JRPG, after all), but they tend to be the fourth or fifth wave of their levels.  I could deal with one or the other, but both together make them longer and less fun than they could be.  They also hit hard, which I would expect, but bosses seem to get a disproportionately large amount of brave for doing their moves.  One last quibble is how some of the female characters are treated.  I can only remember two so far, but Ashe (FF XII) and Celes (VI) have stumbling in some of their attack animations.  You might be able to get away with Ashe, since she is a princess, but they why does "she" choose to use a big, two-handed sword?  Celes is less forgivable.  She's a powerful general, and swordswoman, and mage, and opera singer.  If she just launched a ground wave at the opponent, she wouldn't stumble to follow that up because she's a girl.  I have yet to see a guy treated like this, and I'm frankly disappointed Squeenix did this.  It's not unexpected for Japan, though.

While it's not a phrase I would have thought I would say, I really like this mobile game.  Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia is a lot of fun, and a solid RPG.  I like playing it, making my characters stronger, participating in the daily events, and getting characters I like from the various games.  I would definitely encourage turn-based RPG and Final Fantasy fans to try it out for a few days.  I have yet to spend any money on the game, but have plenty of strong characters, weapons, and armor.  I actually want to spend money on the game because I enjoy it so much.  It's...a weird feeling.

The Good:
Mobile game with lots of Final Fantasy characters, and not many of the limiting traps of free-to-play games.

The Bad:
Boss fights can be a slot, and of course the curse of RNG.

The SaHD:
I like to refer to Cecil's "darkness" skill as "hitting them with the no parents"...thanks Lego Movie

(Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia was downloaded for free on the Android store)

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.

[UPDATE 8/20/18]
We ended up buying a new TV, and even had an adventure getting it in the car.


We finally saw the movie, and it was really good.

Damn, I was excited to see one of my favorites, Juggernaut, made to look badass.  While I don't like the look of the character, but it made sense, they did the rest of him so well.  I'm amazed I was able to not see spoilers for the movie before I got to see it.

There were a lot of good lines and parts.  "Cleaning up the timelines" probably made me laugh the loudest.  It was so appropriate and so cathartic.  Definitely worth seeing.  I don't know if it was worth the cost of a new TV, though.

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)