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)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Masters of Anima (Nintendo Switch) Review

Masters of Anima is a third-person action adventure game where you control a small army of creatures to fight and solve puzzles.  Your character, Otto, is a newly minted Shaper when he is thrust into a battle to save his fiance.  Along the way, there will be puzzles to solve, collectibles to find, battles to fight, and new guardians to summon.

Otto can attack enemies on his own, and can even learn a few special moves.  Since the game is focused around the guardians, you won't be the primary means to damage enemies, but every little bit helps.  Otto also needs anima (energy shown in the lower right of the screen) to summon.  The controls to do the summoning and directing work well, but I still mix up the buttons at times.  While the level length makes sense for pick up and play, it's much better to play for longer periods.  When I did so, I didn't mess up the controls as often.

Half the time, guardians are used to solve quick puzzles and help you move forward.  They can push things in the way, hit corruption crystals, and activate various mechanisms.  For the most part it works fine, but sometimes the timing on these puzzles is too strict.  One type involves creating a purified area that Otto can take with him.  It will shrink as it wears off, which isn't a problem for Otto, but can be for his guardians.  If you don't run exactly to where you need to go, it will wear off as you near the destination, probably killing a chunk of your minions and wasting anima energy.  Later there are barriers that the commanders can lift to protect you from the wind.  Again, the timing has to be near exact, otherwise you are losing another chunk of your minions.  You might still lose them if you do it correctly, since they will likely stick out further than the walls.  If the timing was less strict, the puzzles would be fine.

Using the guardians in combat is a bit trickier.  The game teaches you effective ways to use each type of guardian, but in reality it isn't so easy.  The soldiers get in the enemy's face, but are easily hit and will eventually get wiped out while you are trying to set other groups up.  Archers can hide in the grass, but are still quickly targeted by enemy golems.  They deal very good damage though.  Basically, you need some of the (supposedly) sturdier guardians  in front of the enemies, while the others stay back and do their thing.  Trouble is, the enemies can easily target them, and will.  So to save them, you move the distance ones away.  This actually works when you fight one enemy, but three or more means you just can't pay attention to everything.

It's a bit of a downer, too.  The combat would work fine if ranged guardians were targeted much less frequently, or if the melee ones kept enemy focus while they hit it.  There's only so much room on the screen, you can't see everything, and will end up losing a lot of guardians while trying to set things up, or fix them.  Instead of setting up guardians to do what they do best, you end up having to move them around a lot.  I found it's better to stick with the basics and only use the more specialized ones for puzzles.  Combat just feels too frantic for what the game gives you.  I'd prefer more planning and less scrambling.

One of the harder fights was versus four enemies at the same time.  Given how hard it is to keep track of everything, it wasn't long before I was down to my last few archers, and no energy to summon anything else.  I found that using my character as a distraction while the archers destroyed the golem was effective at picking them off one by one.  It wasn't fast, though.  After a bit, lightning bolts started to hit the ground, but I was able to dodge them.  Then, as if incensed, the game covered the ground with them.  Left with no way to dodge them, I just died.  So, this childish display teaches you that the game REALLY wants you to use the guardians.  It would be nicer if you could employ effective strategies that aren't "just keep throwing guardians at them".

While going through all the missions will set you back several hours, there is some replay value.  Mostly you will want to replay missions to grab the collectibles you missed and get extra experience.  I know that not everybody would want to grab all the extra stuff, but most of them help increase your health or anima energy storage.  The extra experience also helps with the harder fights because you can have extra skills.  Several of the skills are very useful, too.  It's also easier to get a higher grade on the fights when you replay levels.  Though I'm still not fond of being graded after every encounter.

Overall, Masters of Anima can be a pretty fun game.  Ideally, if combat were tweaked a bit, making it less hectic, and puzzle timing less strict, it would be a really fun and easy to recommend game.  As it stands, if you liked games like Overlord, I'd recommend at least trying Masters of Anima.

The Good:
Bite sized levels are good for portable mode, and there are good reasons to replay them.

The Bad:
Fights against more than two enemies are a bit much to easily handle.

The SaHD:
Playing this reminds me that I need to go back and finish Overlord...and start the sequel.

(Review code for Masters of Anima was received from the publisher)

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 (PS4) Review

The first The Witch and the Hundred Knight came out on PS3 four years ago.  It's also been two years since the PS4 re-release, so I guess it's time for a full-blown sequel.  The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 has a new setting and characters, with similar gameplay and a host of changes.

It's still an action RPG, so combat feels very similar to last time, with a few modifications.  You run around and attack, but the stamina bar is gone.  This makes combat feel more fluid.  Being away from the castle still takes Gigacals (GCs), and they drain faster as they heal your damage over time.  Dodging no longer takes stamina, since that system is gone, but instead takes a tiny amount of GCs.  There is another powered-up state that builds from defeating enemies, now called Third Eye.  It's slightly more useful than its previous incarnation, but I still rarely use it.  Instead of a separate running command, moving uninterrupted for a bit will make Hundred Knight move faster.  This does drain GCs faster than normal, but not near as many as it previously did.  That's good, since running is more automatic than it used to be.  Running out of Gigacals is harder than it was previously, since managlands (more on those later) have a nearby enemy that restores most of them, and gaining a level (no longer only at the base) will fully restore Hundred Knight.

Like before, your combo is determined by what weapons you equip to the five weapon slots.  Further slots get a slight increase in damage, but they no longer have an associated die that you can match for a bonus.  I'm fine with this change as well, since that system felt a little more complicated than it needed to be.  It's streamlined, not dumbed-down.  There's also a new feature called Depletura.  If you land the fifth attack of your combo, "L1" will appear on your screen.  When you press it, Hundred Knight will dash toward an enemy and attack them.  If the hit kills them, you get a brief cinematic kill that restores some AP and GCs.  It's not bad, but feels unreliable after the first two hours of the game.  At least the extra damage is useful.  While the left stick can be used to aim the Depletura attack, I wouldn't do that.  It will auto-aim if you only press L1, and that is much more reliable than trying to do it yourself.

My biggest complaint with combat is the boss fights.  They are very adept at hitting you (read: some cheap attacks), which is compounded by the generous enemy attack hit detection.  Unsurprisingly, they also have a lot of health.  Once I figured out that you are supposed to run around, avoid their attack, run in, hit them 1-3 times, then repeat, I did much better at the fights.  Trouble is, that isn't very fun either.  Once you gain the ability to make enemies weaker, I'd suggest doing that just for the boss fights.  You can still die, but at least the fight is shorter.

The map has also received an overhaul.  Instead of picking a different area on the map, it is now one big, linked map.  Plus, you won't spend GCs to uncover it!  The different areas have different enemies and scenery.  Each "square" of the map is also randomly drawn from a batch, so it won't be the same layout the next time you enter.  Similar to the previous game's pillars, there are many managlands on the map.  Once activated, you can teleport to them, or back to the castle.  It makes moving around the map easy, and it feels much more like an adventure than before.  As far as I've found, witch domination, powering up at a pillar, and the bonus gauge are now gone, and I won't really miss them.  I'm not as fond of the enemies leveling up as you do.  Each area has a limit, but you will usually fight enemies close to your level.  Since it is harder to out-level them, you have to rely on other methods to gain significant strength.  Even so, I really like the map changes.

Items you pick up from enemies or treasure chests are still stored in Hundred Knight's stomach.  The available room expands when you level up, and at a much faster rate than the first game.  Instead of needed a special stone to clear out unwanted inventory, you can now digest an item inside, and gain a tiny amount of GCs from it.  Running out of HP will have you lose a few items (which isn't fun), but I still think the inventory changes are for the better.

The hundred knight will still gain facets as you go through the game.  Each one is like a class, with different damage rates of weapons, defensive ratings from armor, and skills.  Again, this is like the first game.  However, now the facets share the hundred knight's level instead of having their own.  You aren't hindering yourself to switch, which makes them more useful.  The skills they have can be leveled up, and because the skill point pool is based off your level, that is also shared.  You get plenty of points, so it's definitely worth powering up the skills you use.

While you can kind of get by using what you find, you really need to use alchemy to make weapons stronger.  The system is easier to understand than it was previously.  While you can make things stronger by fusing other pieces of equipment into them, there are special items that give bonus experience to the different types of equipment.  These are fairly plentiful, so I'd recommend using most of the ones you get.  Higher ranked weapons start stronger, but it's rarely worth dumping an older, higher level weapon into it.  Stick to leveling up legendary and maybe some epic weapons, and you won't need to replace them for awhile.  After you get farther along in the game, you get special materials that directly give bonuses to a piece of equipment.  You can use one for every level something gains, which can lead to some really big stat boosts.  Because the maximum level determines how many can be used, legendary items, even weak ones, are far better to use than even higher ranked common and rare ones.

So, the gameplay is improved, but what about the other aspect of the game- the story.  Last time the main character was Metallia, a very unlikable, foul-mouthed braggart.  It was probably the low point of that game.  In this game...well, not much has changed.  This time you get Chelka, a very unlikable braggart, and Amalie, a lying and useless witch hunter.  So, not really an upgrade.  Witches go from being overpowered and invincible to completely powerless in the next scene.  It was easily the weakest part of the game, so much so that I wanted to skip most scenes, especially if Chelka was in it.

The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 is improved over its predecessor in the gameplay department, but not in the story.  Even so, it's worth playing for action RPG fans, and anyone who enjoyed the first game.

The Good:
Some great improvements over the first game to combat and map exploration.

The Bad:
The story is still filled with unlikable characters.

The SaHD:
What child would name anything Huninnmuginn?

(Review code for The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 was received from the publisher)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Penny-Punching Princess (Switch) Review

When might no longer makes right, it is money that makes the world go 'round.  Such is the world of Penny-Punching Princess.  When capitalism destroyed her father's kingdom, capitalism will be used to restore it.  Journey along with the princess as she uses money to get her revenge.  Honestly, the game's premise is solid, and I really like it.  However, as we have learned before, and will continue to learn, a great premise does not always equal a great game.

The princess will go on many different missions to get revenge on the evil money lenders that destroyed her father.  You run around the isometric fields, attack enemies, and gather money.  Attacking works pretty well, as there is a normal combo and a charge attack.  There is also a dodge roll.  It does have its uses, but it doesn't work when and where I need it to.  Ideally it would be an animation breaker, so I can use it when I really need to dodge, such as when an enemy is attacking in the middle of my combo.  Unfortunately, it doesn't do that, so it just doesn't work for me.  You can do it when not in an attack animation, but then I could just move, so I don't need it then.

Instead, I think you are supposed to use the push attack.  This does very little damage, but knocks enemies back.  Having to use two buttons, instead of one, makes it less intuitive to use, but it does seems a little more effective than the roll, even if it doesn't always push an enemy away.  Trouble is, I am accustomed to rolling from a lot of other games I play, and I had trouble adjusting.  Plus, there are times in the combo when you can't do the push attack, so it still doesn't fix the major problem of me not being able to escape enemy attacks when I need to.

The only real saving grace is breaking bad...guys.  There are little lines on their health bars that when you drop their HP to below that, they will be stunned for a second or two.  You can get in some free damage during that time, and even tap on them for more money.  Early on I really liked tapping them for more money, but it was just too inconvenient to do the further I went into the game.  The princess also gets an EX skill that depends on what set of armor is equipped.  They have a limited amount of uses before having to refill.  For better or worse, a healing skill is by far the best and most useful.  I just wish I could get it on better armor.  So attacking works fine, but the defense needs to be reliable.

Since money is the focus of the game, the princess can also bribe enemies and traps (Isabella's mechanic is slightly different).  It's a unique mechanic, but has some major downsides.  Again, the idea is great, but the execution needs work.  When your calculator gauge is full, you can press ZL to bring up the calculator.  You type in the amount to bribe, and then tap the enemy to bribe them.  Thankfully, the amount you need to bribe an enemy is shown on them when you pull up the calculator.  On the downside, it can be hard to see the numbers when enemies and traps are crammed next to each other.  The calculator itself also takes up valuable screen space, making avoiding damage even more of a chore.  This might not be as big an issue if played in TV mode, but almost all of my Switch playtime is in handheld mode.  Also, there are both touch screen and button configurations for the calculator.  I briefly tried buttons, but it felt even more cumbersome than just tapping the screen.  That's the other reason I stuck to handheld mode.

We have covered a few of the downsides of the game, and now it is time to go over another.  The game's difficulty comes across as unfair.  After the first two stages, fight areas tend to be crammed with tons of traps, making only tiny areas safe.  You can bribe a trap, but you likely won't have the time to bribe more than one or two, and if you do, you won't be able to bribe an enemy.  The enemies also love to stand in and next to the traps, just to give you a cheap hit while you try to fight back.  While it makes sense in the context of the game, it's not fun.  It's also not fun that several enemy types will rush you, and they can push you around.  It might not be damaging directly, but it very easily shoves you into nearby traps that you have precious little room to avoid.  If this occurrence was rarer, I wouldn't mind near as much.  Dealing with it in 90% of the fights is aggravating.

Is there a way to grind your way through?  Not really.  Replaying levels is a good idea to bribe more enemies and traps, get more money, and grab any Zenigami statues that were missed.  Any extra statues and suits of armor are limited in what enemies are actually available to bribe.  Meaning, you can only get so strong.  There is an expense skill re-spec, but as skills drastically increase in cost as you buy them, it's usefulness is limited.  Since you can't grind your way through tough levels, you are stuck doing your best to learn the tiny safe spaces, which enemies to bribe, and hope you don't die.  If you do, you get nothing from the level, and have to do it all over again.  Well, you can spend some money for the revival mechanic, but I never found it good enough to rely on.

When not in battle, the princess and her subjects reside in her castle.  There are several functions you can perform here, like allocating skill points, making armor, and saving your game.  Skill points are earned from collecting Zenigami statues in the levels, and constructing others.  You can also construct new suits of armor for battle, each of which comes with a special skill.  To make them, you need money.  To unlock them, you need to bribe a certain amount of each enemy.  What I really like is that the bribed citizens aren't used up to craft an item, so it's safe to do so as long as you have the funds.  One last great idea is the Hidden Skill List.  You can try out any unlocked skill to see how it works, and if you might like it.  It's a small thing, but still very useful.  It would be even better if I could somehow try them out before I buy the armor, to see if the cost is worth it.

Penny-Punching Princess is a great concept for a game.  There are some good points, and a lot of promise.  However, the cheap combat and screen cluttering bribery mechanics need a lot of work to make it worth playing through the game.

The Good:
Good idea for a game, being able to bribe enemies and traps to use in battle and as crafting materials.

The Bad:
The imaginative bribery mechanic covers up a lot of the screen, and there are too many cramped fighting spaces with cheap hits.

The SaHD:

(Review code for Penny-Punching Princess was received from the publisher)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Mulaka (PS4) Review

Mulaka is a third-person action adventure game based on the actual mythology of the Tarahumara people in Mexico.  It does cover a few terms, basics, and deities during the course of the game and on the loading screens.  As a person who really likes mythology, I was happy about that.  It's also a good premise for a game.

We will start by looking at the action portion of the game.  Your main character has a spear to attack with, and the range is pretty decent.  The only issue I have with it is how hard it can be to hit the small scorpion enemies.  To compound this issue, they are the first enemy you encounter in the game, which doesn't really give a great impression.  Most enemies are not too hard or annoying to fight, despite their generous attack ranges, but can become a hassle when you have to fight them with other enemies.  It can be hard to dodge while trying to attack vulnerable enemies.  Like the dodge roll, it doesn't always work.  The worst fight I've had was with the frog boss.  It involved a lot of fighting little enemies while watching the big enemy, dodging its attacks, and trying to actually be in a position to make it vulnerable to damage.  Yes, there was a fair amount of swearing at that part.

Besides your melee attack, the spear is able to be thrown.  This works better in theory than in practice.  Aiming doesn't feel quite right to me.  The game wants you to be very exact, which isn't easy to do quickly.  To make matters worse, the camera angle has your character cover up a large portion of the screen, usually where you need to aim.  Throwing the spear to hit switches was okay, since you aren't rushed, but in combat was another matter entirely.  I found it easier to just jump and hit the flying mantises, rather than trying to hit them with the thrown spear.

Now we will move on to the adventure portion.  While combat has its ups and downs, the platforming and adventuring is well done.  I rarely had a problem landing on platforms while jumping around, and the camera is usually well-behaved.  As you go through the game, your character will get animal transformation powers that mostly serve as ways to move around.  The bird allows you to glide forward much longer distances than your jump can cover.  It can also give you a little extra height on a jump, which you will need to use a lot.  The bear can smash certain rocks, the jaguar can leap up special plants to get to higher ground, and the snake can swim across the water.

It takes magic to do these things, so you can't do them for as long as you want.  What I really appreciate is how they can be used in conjunction.  There are several times where you use the jaguar to run up a rock, and then must transform into the bird and glide to another platform, or vice-versa.  The snake can freeze bunches of vines, which the bear can then smash.  It's a cool design element, but I do have one minor gripe.  The jaguar leaps up pretty fast, and if you have to use the bird right after, you won't always know, or have time to react.  You just have to start the sequence again, but it seems like something that could be slightly altered to make it play better.  Otherwise, I really like the transformations, and how they can work together.

One last feature of the game are the four potions the main character can use.  At certain points, you will learn about a new plant that must be harvested to use these potions.  They are assigned to the d-pad, and have various functions.  The healing one is self-explanatory.  There is an explosive one that can break down cracked walls.  Rage makes you stronger for a time, and is obviously best used in combat.  Last is the shield, which will make you immune to damage for a short time, as shown by the shrinking bubble on your character.

It's fine to use them when you need them, since there are several places to grab all the ingredients you need.  You can even jump back to the second area and grab a lot of the aloe needed for the healing potions if and when you use them.  My only complaint with using them is the character must dance when doing so.  I'd be fine with that if the action stopped so he could do that, but it keeps going.  So, like Monster Hunter, you have to be completely safe when using it so you won't get hit.  This is especially bad for the shield potion, since if you get hit while starting, you will lose the potion and not get its effect.  Sarcastic excitement!

Mulaka might not be the most polished action adventure game, as I did hit a few bugs, but it can be really fun.  It's not the longest game, with each area only taking an hour or so, but it has a lot of unique charm.  Learning a bit about another culture's mythology is always a cool thing, and I really liked how the animal transformations were used to explore the environment.  It's worth checking out if you like third-person action adventure games.

The Good:
Fairly solid game.  Has some basic info on Tamahumara mythology, and the animal transformation aspect is well done.

The Bad:
Some enemies are a pain to fight, especially that frog boss.  Ugh.

The SaHD:
It was fun to learn about the Zelda reference trophy by accident.  I totally tried to break the first pot I found.

(Review code for Mulaka was received from the publisher)

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Alliance Alive (3DS) Review

When I first started The Alliance Alive, I wasn't sure what to expect.  It has the same (or very similar) art style to Legend of Legacy, so I thought it was a sequel to that.  While there are some similarities, it definitely is not a sequel.  It is a turn-based RPG with an interesting world, distinct characters, and unique battles.

The backstory is this: one thousand years ago, daemons invaded the world.  They defeated the humans, and separated them into different realms with the Dark Current.  I think it's a very interesting idea for a world.  The story is well told, and there is just the right amount of dialogue.  Cut-scenes can be paused or sped through, which is always a plus for me.  In the beginning, you will switch parties a few times, which introduces the characters.  I really like how these separate stories intertwine for the first few hours.  The story is pretty linear, but it does open up more after 10-15 hours.  There are even a few times where you have more direct control over what part to tackle next.

Battles are turn-based, and you select each character's action at the start of the round.  Characters can equip 2 different weapons/shields, and each has their own set of associated skills.  They can only defend if they have a shield equipped, and can only use an item if it or an item bag is equipped in one of the accessory slots.  Sorcery spells (more attack focused) can only be used by certain characters, while Signimancy (more heal/support focused) can be used by the others if they have special items equipped.  Skills take a certain amount of SP to use.  SP is normally gained back at a rate of 1 per turn, but this can be increased with passive skills.  Combat seems pretty simple at first, but is pretty involved as you dive into the systems.  Once I figured out that using a shield in the front in defensive stance can block for the whole party, I understood a great battle plan, and I like it.

If you take enough damage in battle, you will enter ignition mode.  This makes you a bit stronger, but also allows access to your weapon's ignition attack.  These attacks are powerful, but break the weapon.  Can you guess why I barely use them?  The broken weapons can be repaired at the blacksmith guild, or at an inn after a certain point in the game, but it's still not something I would use except to finish a boss fight.  There is a way to use sorcery for a cheap one, but I still rarely actually used the ignition attacks.  Decent idea, but the downside is too great for me to actually use it more than a scant few times.

Damage your party receives can be pretty high, but that's because HP is usually completely restored after battle.  While this works well for normal enemy fights, it can be a huge detriment if you fight a strong enemy that can hit your whole party.  After 45 hours I still don't have a whole party heal, so one strong attack that hits them all can wipe out one or more characters.  For better or worse, that's the only difficulty I have in combat with my current set-up.  Liberal use of the quick save slot is recommended.

If a character runs out of HP in a fight, their maximum HP is temporarily reduced.  This can be fixed with items, or by staying at an inn.  Getting hit by an attack while you are incapacitated or retreating will also lower your max HP.  If a character's max HP becomes zero, it's another game over.  Even though the lowered max HP is temporary, I don't really like the whole idea.  It's also worth noting that there are no resurrection spells because just a normal heal spell will bring the character back, but with lowered max HP.  Being able to just cast a heal spell to resurrect is nice, so I can put up with the lowered max HP for a bit.

So how do you increase your max HP?  There is no experience system for combat (which may break one of the RPG rules, but I digress), but instead a random chance to increase your max HP or SP at the end of every fight.  It's far from a perfect system, since my front row fighter Galil had less HP than my healer for the first few hours of the game.  It isn't a fixed chance, since there is a skill that increases it, and it seems to increase more often when fighting stronger foes.  Still, there are times that your character choice is more restricted, so it is beneficial to try to cycle in lesser-used characters and hope to increase their HP and SP.

Since there are no levels for characters to gain, there are only two ways to get stronger.  First is your equipment.  The weapons and armor you wear will be the primary way that you deal more damage and reduce what you take.  Past that, all the skills you use in battle have their own level of effect in one of three areas: attack, defense, and support.  Depending on your stance in the formation (I promise that is easier to understand when you are actually playing), you have a chance to increase the corresponding potency of a skill with every use.  Damage dealing skills get stronger as the attack level rises, guarding techniques are better with higher defense levels, and you can heal more with higher support levels.  The game does tell you this, but only randomly, and probably well after you would like to know about it.  For the most part, my characters got stronger as the game progressed, but it was gradual.  I thought I would miss the lack of leveling up, but I really didn't.

For passive skills, there is a robust talent system.  Talent points are earned at the successful completion of a battle.  These points are then used for a myriad of skills, like increasing the chance of increasing HP or SP after battle, or increasing the sale price of items.  The ones I like best reduce the SP cost of weapon skills.  Couple it with the skills that give more SP per turn, and you can use stronger and stronger techniques more often.  The best part is every party member gets the same amount of talent points, even if they aren't used in battle, or even acquired yet.  When a new person joins your party, they have the same total as the rest of your party.  The after battle HP and SP may make it harder to swap in characters you don't use, but at least they don't lose out on talent points.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one other aspect of the game that I enjoyed.  There are five guilds that each perform a certain function, such as blacksmithing or signimancy.  If you are close to one of the towers, they can sometimes help you in battle.  However, their better use comes later in the game.  You will meet many different people who you can recruit to these guilds.  Assigning them to a guild will help increase its level, which will give you different benefits.  Some didn't seem that good to me, but others are invaluable.  For example, the recon guild didn't look too appealing at the start, but each level up increases the amount of talent points you get from battle.  Beyond that, many of the level bonuses were actually very useful.  I loved finding all the people I could to recruit for the guilds, often going back to towns to see if I missed anyone, or if someone new showed up.  While you can find a lot of them, I'm sure a guide would be best to track them all down.

While there are a few aspects of The Alliance Alive that I don't like, overall I enjoyed the game a lot.  I played it when ever I had a few minutes to spare, and had a hard time putting it down.  I would heartily recommend it to all RPG fans.

The Good:
Fun RPG with interesting world/characters, and several unique systems.

The Bad:
HP/SP gain is random, people you don't use can fall behind easily.  Attacks that hit multiple team members can be absurdly over-powered.

The SaHD:
I really could have done without the little "x" on the back of the snow bunny, and...the other things it looks like they put there.  I guess it's a male?

(Review code for The Alliance Alive was received from the publisher)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (PS4) Review

I first dove into the Yakuza franchise at the fifth game.  It quickly proved that it was far from what I assumed it to be, and that it was very good.  The brutal combat and engrossing story won me over as a fan.  Now, it is time to look at Yakuza 6.

If you haven't seen the story trailer that Sega released, basically Kiryu goes to jail following the events of Yakuza 5.  Released three years later, he returns to his orphanage, only to find Haruka missing.  While trying to find her, he discovers she was in a car accident while protecting a baby boy named Haruto.  Seeking answers, Kiryu, with Haruto in his arms, heads to Hiroshima.

I mostly enjoyed the story, as there were many good parts.  One that I'll highlight is Nagumo.  When the game starts out, he is very annoying.  After a bit, you are presented with a development that makes him actually likeable.  The change doesn't feel forced, either.  The situations and dialogue are written in a way that genuinely makes him a better character.  That's rare nowadays, and other writers should take note on how it was done.

On the flip side, there's also some parts that felt drawn out.  Like the movie trope of "this would be over in 5 minutes if these people would talk to each other", there's a similar sense of that in Yakuza 6.  There are several parts where we wouldn't even have this story if people had just talked to each other, or made much smarter decisions.  Towards the end of the game, the story also feels a bit drawn out.  It's a bit of a mixed bag, but the story is still enjoyable.

The game flows much like the other two entries I've played.  The story is broken up into chapters, each with several main quests.  You walk around the various places, talk to people, and get into fights.  There are side quests and mini-games to distract people like me that wander around and do all of the side stuff.  Most are pretty fun or simple.  There's of course the Sega arcade, and even a full, 2 player version of Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown!  However, one mini-game that I didn't like was having to calm baby Haruto.  I wasn't really sure which of the three options he wanted, and I think it changed each time you got it right or wrong.  So I was stuck guessing what would make the baby stop crying...just like real life.  Also, the few times you have to run around the town while holding him limits what activities you can do...just like real life.  Ugh, I'm getting flashbacks from a few years ago.

Anyway, one mini-game that I really enjoyed was the Kiryu Clan.  It's like a very bare bones version of a real-time strategy game.  In the fights, you have a meter that builds up over time, and the points accumulated on it are used to summon your forces to fight the enemy.  Normal troops cost a lot less than the leaders, as their stats are lower and they don't have special skills.  Instead, they have types, like the fast strikers, or the gunman who attack from a distance.  Which of these normal troops you can use, and the point cost of each, is determined by the leaders that you take into battle.  It's a really fun diversion from the main game, and I also appreciated the New Japan Pro Wrestling cameos in it, even if I only knew two of them.

For the most part, combat is still really fun.  There is one big change with combat that I haven't decided if I like.  Before, the Triangle Button was used for a stronger attack, but also was used for Heat moves when your meter was full.  While it still is used that way, Heat moves are now contextual, meaning you can only do them when certain criteria are met.  There are several different criteria, like grabbing them near a wall, at the end of a combo, or holding an object, but there aren't really any that you can just do.  This makes them a lot more uncommon than they used to be.  On one hand, I like this, so I can use the stronger attack while saving my Heat for stronger opponents.  On the other, combat is much less brutal-looking than before.  Sure, the Heat moves still look painful, but it is much harder to get the ones that make you say "Oooooh!"  There is also an extreme Heat mode, where you use your Heat orbs to enter a more powerful state for a bit.  This I really like, since it makes you feel like more of a badass while it's up.  It also makes tough fights much more manageable.

Experience has been reworked again, and I really like this system.  Fighting, eating, and finishing quests gives experience in one or more of five different types.  These points are then used to purchase skills and stat upgrades.  There are a lot of them to buy, so  unless you are very diligent, you will still have some left to purchase at the end of the game.  I really like this system, since even little bits of stat experience can be helpful.  My only gripe is that you need the green technique experience for just about everything, but it isn't the most plentiful.  A little more balance would make it near perfect.

While there are some hits and misses in the latest Yakuza, it is a game that I enjoyed playing, and should definitely be played by fans of the franchise.  It's a fun game in its own right, so new players can jump in here if they want to.  Still, I'd recommend starting with Yakuza 0 or Kiwami to get more out of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life.

The Good:
Nicely reworked experience system, combat is still fun.

The Bad:
Combat lost a bit of its "oomph" factor, and the story can feel drawn out at parts.

The SaHD:
The physics engine does try to help with the less brutal combat.  One of my highlights is throwing a guy that hit the side of a moving car.

(Review code for Yakuza 6 was received from the publisher)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms (PS Vita) Review

Almost a year ago, the otome visual novel Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds blew on to the PS Vita, bringing with it the first half of Chizuru's tale.  Edo Blossoms picks up right after the events of the previous game.  I was a bit caught off guard that you just pick a route to start the game.  I expected it to read the save file, and would maybe put me on one that I would have been on.

Thinking about it, what actually happens does make sense.  It would be strange to only allow people to play the routes they had started, especially if they didn't even own the first game.  Yes, the routes would make more sense, but since this is an expanded re-release of a previous version with new routes, there are probably some people that are more interested in seeing the endings to the new routes.  Since there was no real reason to limit their customer base, I'm glad they did it this way.  It would have been nice to know that before, since I was keeping Kyoto Winds on my cramped Vita memory card, ready for Edo Blossoms to use the save file.  It turns out I didn't need to do that.  D'oh.

Once starting a route, you get a very concise recap of the previous game, which also covers the start of whichever route you picked.  Like most visual novels, the game is very dialogue heavy.  The protagonist's lines are not voiced, but most of the other lines and characters are.  There are still images to accompany people talking, and special CG pictures at certain points in the story.  These can be viewed later in the gallery.  At several points in each route, there are choices to make, which affects the ending.

Hard to believe he is single...
While I was going through my first route, some of the characters and developments didn't feel quite right.  It kind of felt like an actual sequel, and one that was made by a different person.  Toward the end, I realized that some of these were supposed to feel like that.  Others were probably just me not remembering things from the Kyoto Winds.

After playing through two routes, I realized that I really liked Edo Blossoms, even more than Kyoto Winds.  While that one had a more unified story for the first four chapters, each route here felt different.  Not much was repeated, which makes it more interesting to go through many or all of the routes.  I even have the urge to play at least the final chapter of every route in the first game, so I can more logically finish all of the routes in Edo Blossoms.  Like the first game, each route is only a few hours, but with 12 different ones, it will take you awhile to go through them all.  Visual novel fans should definitely check out the enjoyable conclusion to Hakuoki with Edo Blossoms.

The Good:
Finishes off the story started in the previous game, and the routes vary much more than that release.

The Bad:
Easiest way to follow the routes is jumping back and forth between this and Kyoto Winds.

The SaHD:
Looking at the file sizes on the Vita's memory card, I can see why it was split into two games.  Even with less redundant data, the game would be massive, and wouldn't fit on a cartridge.

(Review code for Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms was received from the publisher)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online (PC) Review

As is the case with Idea Factory's other PC releases, I sat down and played a few hours of Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online for review.  It plays pretty much the same as the PS4 version I reviewed, so I'll reiterate a few of those details for anyone that hasn't read my review of that version.  I was surprised to see that was just in November, then I realized that November was five months ago.  It feels like not that long, but was almost half a year.  WHAT EVEN IS TIME ANYMORE?!

Ok, that was weird, but we're back in the club.  4 Goddesses Online is an online MMO that the Neptunia CPUs and CPU candidates are playing.  As such, craziness happens in the game and threatens to destroy reality...or maybe just the game itself.  Not ones to let a game they enjoy be ruined, the girls band together and set it right.

The town looks much like the towns in many other Neptunia games.  There's the picture of the town, with several different places you can select, like shops and the quest guild.  Besides housing cameos from characters not participating in the fighting this time, these places also serve vital functions, such as buying items, fortifying equipment, or taking on quests for extra money.  Main scenario and extra skits are clearly labeled which I always appreciate.  Sometimes you have to do random quests to further the story, which feels aimless.

Battles are real-time action, and much more akin to the Tagmension spin-offs than the main series RPGs.  You can attack, jump, dodge, block, use healing items, lock-on to enemies, use special moves, and after a certain point, power up.  Since I played the PS4 version, I was quicker to acclimate to the controls, which take some getting used to.  Locking on to an enemy and attacking them works fine, it's the movement that feels a little off to me.  Moving in a different direction isn't just a straight switch.  Instead, you turn toward that direction.  For large moves, it doesn't bother me, but is a pain when trying to make minute movements, such as when you are trying to grab a chest or gathering point.  Like most minor gripes, it's not a deal breaker, but bears mentioning.

Combat is fast-paced, but it does remind me of a lot of MMOs, for better or worse.  A lot of the smaller enemies die off pretty quickly with your four party members hitting them, but larger ones can take quite a beating.  You and your party will hit it for a few seconds, then dodge or block its attack, rinse and repeat, sprinkling in some special moves, until it dies, then move on to the next threat.  Dodging is still inferior to blocking.  Blocking at the right time not only nullifies damage, but gives you a counter attack.  The timing on it is lenient, which offsets the strict timing of when you can block.  Holding it before you can block (like in the middle of an attack, for example) won't put you in the block stance immediately when you can.  You have to actually press the button when you can block, or it won't work.  Knowing this from last time, I can watch out for it, but it's something new players will want to learn.

I'm still using my i7-4790 PC with 16GB of RAM and Windows 10.  The game looked good, maybe a bit better than the PS4 version.  I didn't view them side by side to see for sure, though.  The only real strange thing was the in-game cut-scenes.  Not the still pictures with the dialogue, but the ones that use the battle graphics for scenes.  The ones I saw early on looked like a slightly lower frame rate.  It may be a setting, as I didn't really mess with those.  Overall, the game has some small issues, but is still enjoyable.  I would recommend Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online for Neptunia fans that like the action games in the series.

The Good:
The story is pretty good, and the MMO qualities of the game feel accurate.

The Bad:
Small issues with movement and blocking.  Plus the dodge isn't very useful.

The SaHD:
Did I use this opportunity to run a different party, or even play as a different character?  Nope, I stuck with Noire.  She's really good in this game.

(Review code for Cyberdimension Neptunia was received from the publisher)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Defenders of Ekron (PS4) Review

Defenders of Ekron is touted as a shmup game mashed together with an adventure game.  I could see the possibility of how that could turn out well, and was interested in trying it out for review.  As it turns out, it's more of a twin-stick shooter than a shmup, but that's the least of its problems.

The opening level went fine.  It scrolls automatically, enemies appear, and you shoot them.  Aim with the right stick, shoot with R2.  L2 and R2 together made a shield  You also have an AI character helping you out.  At this point, I was okay.  I'm not very good at aiming in twin-stick shooters, but I could deal with it, and made it through the level without incident.

Then came the tutorial level.  Framed as some sort of VR mission, each part is probably meant to teach the different functions of your ship.  It works better if you explain what to do, instead of listing the button to press, and leave it at that.  You also can only do the thing they want you to learn.  Each section will then add other uses for each function on top of the obvious, but not explain it.  The shield can reflect some shots.  Fine, that's a nice feature.  Oh, but the game requires you to aim the reflected shot back.  Ok...I could see that being a cool thing to master, but seems beyond the scope of a beginning tutorial.  Ever more so that they want you to reflect multiple shots back at multiple targets that won't be at the original point once you reflect it.  So, I was left trying to bounce them back haphazardly, hoping they would connect.

It didn't end there.  The normal shot can bounce off special beam walls.  I don't really see much use of this, nor want it, in a decent shmup (or, in reality, a twin-stick shooter).  However, you have to bounce shots to hit switches.  To make matters worse, there are beam walls in the way that you have to shoot a switch to change...while the first shot is bouncing around.  It's not just one and done, either.  The beam walls in the middle must be changed back and forth a few times, with pin-point precision, to hit one of the switches on the other side.  Again, this is ridiculous to put in a beginning tutorial...I wouldn't even want to have to do that at any point in the game.  I ended up just spamming shots while quickly switching sides to shoot down the bouncy corridor while changing the switch until the shots hit where they needed to on the other side.  I think the game wanted you to master a complex thing, but spamming worked in the end.  Neither of those should have to happen.

I should also mention that shooting either the normal shot (R2), the (hard to) aim shot (L2), and the shield all require your mech's energy.  The shield makes sense, but having your normal shot take energy feels like a bad idea.  Every so often you have to stop and wait for it to refill, which isn't near as quick as I'd like.  I'm not a fan of letting go of the shot button for a second to collect medals and such, let alone having to do it for 5+ seconds to fill up my energy.  Having to take my eyes off the action to check the lower corners of the screen for my health or energy is not what I want to do while trying to dodge tons of shots from random angles.

The story takes place over several different levels.  There are different sections to these levels, such as auto-scrolling parts, exploring parts, and boss fights.  You only have the one life, so it's game over if you run out of health.  Thankfully there are checkpoints, but there really needs to be more of them.  Unfortunately, they also record your current health, so crossing a checkpoint with little to no health isn't going to help you much.  Story-wise the length of levels makes sense, but some go on a bit too long for my taste.  I also don't like being shot so much from off-screen.  You can't directly repeat the story missions, only do them again in the simulator.  This is only for scanning the enemies, since you don't earn any Oxus to upgrade your mech from doing them again.

Besides the story levels, there are drills that are like challenge stages, tasking you with (somehow further) mastering your various vehicle functions.  You get a small amount of Oxus for completing the drill, but can obtain more by fulfilling extra goals in each one.  There are three possible challenges that each grant extra Oxus upon successful completion of the drill.  If you somehow manage to do all three in a single try, you get a gold star.  Some of the challenges, like the "ammo" ones, I was able to complete.  Others, like the dodging ones are just not possible for me.  Unfortunately, you can only get so far like that.  I did appreciate the extra Oxus so I could actually upgrade my mech and complete the first stage though.

The base's hangar is where you spend your collected Oxus to buy upgrades.  Effects from some upgrades, like the attack power and speed, are hard to notice.  Upgrading the health seems to be the best, as it has a big effect on your survivability.  The Oxus can also be used during missions to heal your ship, or go into a berserk mode, with stronger and faster shots.  While an interesting idea, I don't like having to sacrifice my long term viability (upgrades) for temporary benefits.  Since you won't get any from replaying any stages, there is a finite amount you can gather.  I've needed to use the heal, but was always very reluctant to do so.  There should be a better way to use the capabilities of the vehicle without hurting yourself in the long run.

When it comes down to it, there are three possibilities.  One, the game isn't very good.  Two, I'm not good at the game.  Or three, a combination of the first two.  I'm going with the latter as the most likely.  If you like mastering a game before you can do anything, unforgiving and cheesy difficulty, and twin-stick shooters, then Defenders of Ekron might be for you.  Anyone else should stay far away.  Eastasiasoft has stated that there are some improvements with the physical release, including an 'easy' mode, which may alleviate some of the issues I have with the game.  I don't think that would affect the drills, which is one part where I would want an easy mode.  Still, I can update this review when and if the patch hits the digital version, and see if my opinion changes.

The Good:
I appreciate that they tried to meld two genres together.

The Bad:
Slams you with a massive skill wall in the first 10 minutes.

The SaHD:
The shield is supposed to be good against energy attacks...but not fire?  Do they not know what fire is?

(Review code for Defenders of Ekron was received from the publisher)