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)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

ReCore ReVisit ReView (Xbox One)

What a difference an update makes.  In very late 2016, I reviewed ReCore, and found it fun but ultimately unfinished and unpolished.  The game has finally had its big update, which adds the missing content and then some.  It also gains a Definitive Edition to its title.

New to this update is  an entire zone (Starving Sea), the infamous tank core frame, three shot types, some dungeons, and changes to the Shifting Sands area.  The new area has some of the new dungeons, and you will need the new frame to race around the area for the keys.  It's also perpetually dark, which they explain in the glossary.  That doesn't make it easier to see, though.  The level cap has increased to level 40, and the enemies in the new area and its dungeons skew toward the higher end of that.  It's a real pain to get through since I had previously completed the game and extra stuff when the level cap was 30.  I did gain two levels when I loaded my save, but it wasn't enough.  To top it off, I encountered some bugs while trying out this new content.

The new tank (T8-NK) frame is a mixed bag.  Its mobility and utility use are good, but otherwise it's unremarkable.  It didn't feel that useful in combat.  The little face is cute, though.  Joule's new shots are notably less of a mixed bag.  In fact, I didn't like them.  They just aren't fun to use, nor more useful than the normal charge shot.  Outside of the few times you are required to use them, I had no need to, nor did I want to.  It's also not good to just cram them all together in such a small span, since you do a vast majority of the game without them.  I'd just as easily not use them at all, as they feel superfluous.

Shifting Sands now lives up to its name, as storms can appear and change the zone.  After a storm, new areas appear, leaving previous ones inaccessible for a time.  It's a cool idea, but is unfortunately bogged down by a bad timer.  It's not very long, which is good when you want to go to a certain dungeon, but bad when you just want to explore the newly opened areas and grab some collectibles.  If I was starting the game over from the beginning, this change would have been more apparent.  Until I finished the new stuff, I had no idea that the storms are what let you access the other new dungeons.  They are level-appropriate for the area, so I should have done them before the other new content.  The new traversal dungeons can be pretty frustrating, and sadly the timer glitch has been fixed.  I knew it would be, but it is still sad to see it go.

One last change was reducing the number of prismatic cores needed to get through the final area.  Now it only takes 30, where that only got you into the lowest level before.  This change doesn't affect me, since I already had 80 of them, but it is nice for newer players.  They also seem to give out more of them.  The new dungeons have more orbs as the easier prizes, and some new ones are just lying around in the openings of old ones.  I'm not sure why they bothered to add more, and make them so easy to get, since you barely need them anymore.  Just doing content you came across in the original got me over 30, the rest just feel useless.

While the price was right for the "definitive" upgrade, most of the rest doesn't seem worth it.  The game feels more finished, content-wise, but that's about it.  A few additions were nice, but most just didn't feel balanced or needed, and the game still needs polish.  I feel it all could have been done better.  Overall, the Definitive Edition soured me on the game.  If you really want to play all that ReCore has to offer, or get a few (as of now) rare achievements, then by all means dive back in.  If not, there's really nothing added that would make me recommend coming back.

The Good:
Well, the update is free, and finishes the game.

The Bad:
Sadly, the update doesn't add any polish.  The game somehow now needs even more than it previously did.

The SaHD:
One of the new story dungeons froze on me.  When attempting it again, I beat the boss but died immediately afterwards because of his annoying minion.  The minion would then not stop spawning so I could actually finish the dungeon and get my prizes.  However, I got story completion for the dungeon, and was able to move on.  It also didn't pop the achievement, so in theory I completed the story after this mandatory dungeon without completing it.  Sigh.

(ReCore was previously purchased by reviewer)

Friday, February 23, 2018

Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology (3DS) Review

I love good time travel in stories, but most don't do it justice.  So when I heard about Radiant Historia, I was anxious to try it.  It came out at a time when I could reliably play my DS at work on breaks and lunch (at a well-known first-party video game compaNy), and I was hooked.  I spent 50 hours on it, and finished all the history nodes.  The Perfect Chronology release on the 3DS will let others experience the game, but also adds some new content to entice previous players.  Among the changes are new character portraits, art CGs for certain scenes, and voice acting.

As the continent's desert spreads and arable land becomes scarce, the fighting has intensified.  Stocke must travel between two divergent timelines to end the conflict between two warring nations.  The time lines are separate, but do influence each other, so changes and progress in one can help with the other.  The time travel mechanic is very well done here, as you are allowed to jump around to many points in order to compete a quest, or advance the game.  This release sees more nodes to jump to, and a very handy "skip" function for previously viewed story scenes.  Some of these are less noticeable, especially if you played the game 6 years ago, but they are very welcome improvements.

Battles are turn-based, but based on a character's speed stat.  Your party is on the right side, and the enemies are distributed on a 3x3 grid on the left.  The bottom screen shows the battle's turn order, and where enemies are on the grid.  While this is usually obvious, this is to tell similar enemies apart, and to better spot how much space an enemy takes up.

Enemies can move on their side, but your characters have tools to move the enemies as well.  If your party members take their moves immediately after each other, it creates a combo.  If you push one enemy into another, then hit them, they will both take the damage from the attack or spell.  This is the depth of the system.  Shove the enemies around the field to stack them together, unleash stronger attacks, and conserve your MP by hitting multiple targets with fewer moves.  You can even change where in the line your character acts by trading places with an ally or enemy.  However, doing so means you will take more damage until your turn.  It's a really cool and unique system once you get the hang of it.  It makes many fights much easier.  I really like the tactical aspects of the battles in Radiant Historia.

The bulk of the new story additions (as opposed to just changes) are the Vault of Time, and Nemesia's quests.  At the start of the game, you can choose to play the game how it was originally presented, with the new stuff added at the end, or with the new content strewn throughout.  I chose to have them integrated, which I think is the better choice.  That way you can jump in and out of the extra stuff when you want some extra experience and items.  Nemesia's quests are very much like side quests in the main game.  The Vault of Time is basically there to make grinding easier, and it has some nice equipment that can save you some money.  Just remember to spend your mementos before you leave.  I like both of these additions, since I do enjoy "what if" scenarios, but they ultimately feel superfluous.

The original release took about 50 hours for full completion, and the newer release definitely adds at least a few more hours.  Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is still a great RPG with a great story and interesting combat mechanics.  There is no 3D for the game, possibly because it is a remake.  I would heartily recommend it to RPG fans that missed it the first time.  The new content is great for returning players that really liked the original and want to play it again.  If you already played it and don't want to revisit it, the new content isn't enough of a reason to.

The Good:
Solid and entertaining story, fun battle mechanics.  Time travel is done very well.

The Bad:
Money is still hard to come by in the first half of the game, and the new stuff doesn't feel that important overall.

The SaHD:
When filling out all of the bad endings, Lippti and Teo sure like to chide you for "poor" choices.  It's not bad decision making, it's completion, fools!

(Review code for Radiant Historia was received from the publisher)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Longest Five Minutes (NS) Review

An old-school RPG with a twist?  While that vague description is commonplace today, The Longest Five Minutes definitely has an interesting idea for a game.  You begin at the end, specifically the final boss fight, and learn that Flash, the main hero, has forgotten everything.  Faced with the final five minutes of the fight, Flash must remember everything that led him to this point if they have any hope of defeating the demon king.

As a premise, it's a cool idea.  There's a very basic RPG here, but broken up into small chunks that you play as the main character remembers them.  Plus, I chuckle that the hero gets amnesia at the end of the game, where the trope is he/she starts with it.  As you approach the end, the story pulls together into a coherent narrative.  While a lot of it is pretty standard stuff, there's a few twists for good measure.  Some felt a little random, though.

The RPG portion of the game is mostly small sections that are a part of the overall story.  If you have played any RPG, take one dungeon and the plot surrounding it.  That is one memory in The Longest Five Minutes.  I like that it cuts out a lot of grinding, traveling, and superfluous other things, making the game feel more concise.  It's like a game without a lot of fluff.  Because they are only connected through the final battle story, equipment, items, and money earned are not shared between these RPG sections.  You will have appropriate equipment, but can buy some things and find some others in chests.  Strangely, some chest items aren't as good as things you start with.  Selling them for money wouldn't matter, so I don't know why they are even there.  While initially I wanted more things to carry over, it does let you focus more on completing the dungeon than exploring every nook and cranny to find all of the stuff laying around.  Plus, you aren't always going in the same direction since the story is out of order.

The party's level is set based off where the RPG section takes place, but you do still get experience and money from fights.  After all, it wouldn't be an RPG without that.  However, since this isn't the first time you have done it, it is dubbed "re-experience".  This is basically another set of levels that actually does carry through the whole game, and adds extra stat points.  Many memories also have bonus missions that will give more re-experience at the end of that section.  Most are things I would do anyway, but there are a few that are a pain.  These involve the three mini-games during certain sections of the game.  The mini-games are okay at best, but you have to get way too high of a score for the bonus.  I still bothered to get them all, but it was definitely the low point of the game for me.

Battles are probably the least interesting part of the game, but they aren't bad by any means.  They are just very standard old-school turn-based RPG battles.  You pick what action your four party members will do, then the turn plays out in order of speed.  Thankfully there are little graphics for your party, and they will do some animations, so it's a definite step above something like Dragon Quest.  Enemy designs are really good, too.  Battles are over pretty quickly, as most take less than 3 turns.  Most boss fights don't take very long, either.

While the dungeons for each section look different from each other, they aren't always the best at each floor/etc. looking different.  As you go through the game, the dungeons get longer, and you travel up and down floors repeatedly.  When each floor looks similar to the last, it was easy for me to get disoriented and lost.  I still made it through, but it could have been a little less confusing.  Maybe a dungeon map would help.

The non-RPG sections of the game is basically the final boss fight, and all the story that surrounds it.  There are several choices you can make during it, some of which will affect the subsequent narrative.  Some of these give extra or different RPG memories, while some will give you a "game over".  You can save during much of the final boss story, which I didn't realize until very late in the game.  It's also possible to jump back to re-do choices, and then skip forward close to where you left off.  Once you have finished all of the non-ending RPG sections, you can freely jump back into those as well.  It took me a bit to get it all down, but it's a very nice function that's pulled off well.

The Longest Five Minutes is an enjoyable RPG.  The idea behind the game, the re-experience system, and being able to jump around the timeline are done very well, and give the game its unique flavor.  Battles and dungeons were not the most interesting, thought.  Still, I'd recommend the game to old-school RPG fans, as this is an interesting take on a classic motif.

The Good:
I'm a sucker for those nice retro graphics.  The game is pretty fun, and the premise is somehow unique while feeling like a trope.

The Bad:
Battles offer nothing new, not much incentive to grab treasure chests.  Cool and unique enemy designs.

The SaHD:
Looking at the trophy list for the Vita version, it would have been another platinum if I had reviewed it instead of the Switch version.

(Review code for The Longest Five Minutes was received from the publisher)

Friday, February 9, 2018

Iconoclasts (PS4) Review

Iconoclasts is an action/adventure game in the vein of Metroid. Robin, a mechanic, just wants to fix things and make life better for people.  As the game progresses, she gets caught up in a giant battle between classes and ideologies.  However, much like the triangle motif prominently displayed in the game, the first half is a climb toward greatness, while the second half is a slide to rock bottom.

First off, though, the game looks great.  It's very colorful, enemy designs are solid, and the animations are awesome.  Some of the music is pretty good, too.

Exploring starts off fairly basic, but you learn a few new tricks along the way, and gain new abilities to make it much more intense.  Sadly there is no double jump, but Robin can use her charge shot to get a little more height on a jump.  This is a useful maneuver that is easily forgotten.  Robin's trusty wrench (spanner for those of you across the pond) will also be used many times throughout the game to open doors, hang from things, bop enemies on the head, and swing across gaps.  It took me a bit to get the timing/range for this, but after an hour or so I was traversing with it like a pro.

You will also be fighting enemies as you make your way around the world.  Robin's gun gets a few different shots, each of which can be charged, and are used for exploration as well as combat.  The basic shot also has one of the best functions I've seen in a game like this.  The shots will automatically angle at opponents that are close, but not in, one of the four cardinal directions.  This is super useful, and a great addition to the genre.

Further in the game, there are plenty of enemies that have to be taken out in specific ways.  For instance, maybe only a certain shot will work, or having to stomp on them first.  While it does add complexity, it gets annoying more than it is inventive.  Using the wrench to reflect back the occasional shot can be fun, but having to use it to parry a boss' sword attack is not.  Things like this make some boss and enemy fights too gimmicky, which readers may remember is one of my gaming dislikes.  The difficult parts are often annoying, not "challenging".

This is also true of the puzzles the game throws at you.  Some are easy to figure out, as they are simple, or look more complex than they end up being.  Some are able to be worked through, as a little trial and error will have most people figure them out.  The rest just had me stumped for minutes at a time.  There are unfortunately boss fights that are like that, too.  The game gives you a bit of information, but has no help if you are stuck.  I know that some old school gamers love that kind of thing, but I'm against too much or too little instruction.  If it isn't built in a way that someone can figure it out quickly enough, then it needs to be more clear.

All of the game's main power-ups are story-based, but there are treasures to find.  These all contain materials that are used for the game's crafting.  I'll admit that I have no idea how to get some of the treasures.  Robin can craft several different bonus skills that do things like allow an extra hit, or make the wrench attack stronger.  Up to three can be equipped at a time, and there are multiples for stacking purposes.  These bonus effects will quickly disappear when you take damage, but can be repaired as you destroy enemies and small statues.  It's a fairly nice skill system overall, even if they are overly fragile.

The story of Iconoclasts is actually pretty good.  It's a tale of oppressive religions and how cultures clash, which may lead to everyone's demise.  This story is much more of a focal point than I thought it would be.  However, it feels a little sporadic at times.  It's a lot heavier and gorier than I would have suspected, and at times a little too realistic.  Most of the characters are huge jerks that just don't learn their lesson or change their ways, much in the way many people refuse to improve themselves.  I'll give the game bonus points for letting you control other characters at a few points in the game, even if it forces you to re-learn a few basics.

Going through the game without much backtracking (or getting stuck) takes about 10 hours.  It will be a few more than that if you track down every treasure chest.  As strange as this is to say, I think the game could have been a bit shorter.  There are several times, especially near the end, where the game just throws out-of-place things at you to pad its length.  It's not The Return of the King's many endings, but more like moving the goal posts.  The first half of the game wasn't that hard, as you had time to learn boss patterns.  The second half got devilishly difficult, filled with inescapable damage, multiple hard enemies at the same time, and gimmicky boss fights.  Again, it was more annoying than hard.

I'm torn on Iconoclasts.  On one hand, the game looks awesome, and I really liked the game for awhile.  On the other, it got very annoying and the fun just disappeared.  It has some really good ideas, but also flounders on others.  If you are one of those people that still has fun while getting smacked around trying to figure out what to do, then you should play Iconoclasts.  While the game is impressive for its eight year development, I think it needs a few more tweaks to be as great as it could be.

The Good:
The art and animations of the game are wonderful, and the first half of the game is really fun.

The Bad:
The second half is loaded with annoying "difficulty", and stretched out a bit too much.

The SaHD:
Each culture having its own save statues was a nice touch.

(Review code for Iconoclasts was received from the publisher)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

VESTA (Switch) Review

VESTA (the game) stars Vesta (the character) and her robot friend Droid as they make their way from the bottom of the facility to the surface.  Along they way they will both use their unique abilities to make it through each stage, carrying enough energy to power their way to the next.

Both characters have different functions to get through the levels.  Vesta can drain energy from generators and robots, and then give that energy to other generators.  This allows doors to open, platforms to move, and conveyor belts to turn on.  She is also small enough to fit in tunnels strewn about the various levels.  Droid, being much bigger and stronger, can move boxes, block some environmental traps, and throw Vesta across gaps.  It can also shoot out missiles, which can incapacitate enemy robots, allowing Vesta to drain their energy.

As mentioned before, both characters have to reach the end area to complete the stage.  For most of the stages, Vesta will also need to have full energy in her pack.  This is usually the trickiest part of the game, but once you realize that, it is much easier to plan for.  Levels don't have a time limit, so it's not an issue to backtrack for the energy, or look around when you don't know where to go.  The story is separated into 4 chapters, each with 8 levels and 1 boss fight.  Several stages have a checkpoint that you will start over at if one of your characters dies.  Droid can take 3 hits, but Vesta can only take one...and can't fall down very far.  Also, later stages have floor panels that fall after you walk on them, which can strand you.  Thankfully, you will always be able to complete the stage from the checkpoint state if and when you die or have to restart a stage.

While the game is mostly charming and fun, there are some drawbacks.  The puzzles aren't overly difficult, but occasionally it can be hard to tell where you are supposed to go.  I had a major obstruction on a level in chapter 2, where I needed to have both characters go through a door at the same time.  I had tried to have them both go in the door separately, and the level didn't end.  For some reason, this is also one of maybe two stages that doesn't end with both characters reaching an elevator.  I've also missed a platform or two if it is from the bottom of the screen.

Hit detection isn't always that accurate, either.  When trying to hit an enemy with one of Droid's missiles, they sometimes brush the target, leaving it unaffected.  However, environmental obstructions must be given a wide berth, or your missile will hit it and explode.  If you pass by an enemy with Vesta, they will sometimes attack a different direction completely, and still hit and kill her.  If hit detection were consistent, I could at least plan for it better.  Lastly, I did run into some bugs when falling into pits.  Most times it is just being stuck below the ledge, but not fully in the pit.  One time I was able to run around under the stage.

VESTA isn't a very long game, only lasting a few hours, but it is pretty fun.  There isn't much replay value, though.  Each non-boss stage has secret items to find, but as far as I can tell, they don't actually do anything.  Maybe the PS4 version has trophies for them?  Anyway, the game has some problems, but they are relatively minor.  It's an interesting puzzle game that is worth trying for even casual puzzle fans.

The Good:
An interesting puzzle game that doesn't overstay its welcome.

The Bad:
Enemy hit detection feels off.

The SaHD:
The story is pretty interesting, but easy to miss.  I think I've got it down for the most part, but it would have been nice to unlock the back story messages in the menu so I would know if I was missing anything.

(Review code for VESTA was received from the publisher)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Blaster Master Zero (NS) Review

Blaster Master, one of the classic games on the NES.  I remember it for its two distinct styles, having both side-scrolling and isometric views, plus the old pause trick.  I'm sure more people remember that from Mega Man 2, though.  Anyway, I remember not being very good at the game, and seeing people go through the game years later, it could easily benefit from a remake.  Inti creates brings us that remake, with some very good additions.

After one of the nice new story scenes, the game starts in a side-scrolling section, where Jason is piloting the Sophia vehicle.  You can roll around, jump, and shoot in 5 directions.  The R Button helps lock you in to shooting diagonal or upward while moving side to side, and is a very helpful function to get down.  As you go through the maps, there are several upgrades you get, giving you different charge shots, sub-weapons, and even letting you climb on walls.  The Switch's d-pad buttons make controlling the action feel good.  My only real complaint with movement is that the car has some momentum to it.  This can make it hard to precisely jump and land on platforms, which you do need to do at times.  I did eventually get used to it, but it's not something I like in games.

Jason can and has to jump out of the vehicle at various times to progress.  While doing so, you can enter one of several dungeon areas, where the game switches to an old-school Zelda-like isometric view.  I prefer the analog stick for these sections, since it was easier to hit the diagonals with them.  The R Button is used to strafe, and it might even be more useful here than the side-scrolling sections.  Jason's blaster can also power-up by collecting the right item, but powers down when taking damage.  It's a very old-school concept that I'm not too fond of.  However, once I figured out that I could change shots, and how to do so, I saw the ridiculous power it holds.  The final shot is amazing.  The ones leading up to it are less so, but one or two of them have solid uses.  Many of the dungeon segments (and boss fights) were a lot easier with the final blaster shot, as long as I could hold on to it.

I got the normal ending and credits at just under 6 hours.  I then went back, grabbed the two or three things I missed, and got the true ending 3 hours later.  It would have been shorter, but I really don't like that last area.  After getting the true ending, you unlock two more modes.  Shortly after release, there were additional DLC characters that were free, but now are paid extras.  As free additions, they can be fun to mess around with.  Personally, I didn't feel like playing the whole game over after completion, but will likely use the DLC characters after some time has passed.

The difficulty of the game felt right.  There were parts and boss fights that were hard, but they didn't feel too hard.  The game does get noticeably easier once you have (and use) the highest level of Jason's blaster.  It's a nice reward for going (mostly) unscathed.  It was really easy to get hit, both in and out of Sophia, and I'd personally like a tad more invincibility time after taking damage.  It was a little too short for my tastes.

Overall, Blaster Master Zero is superior to the original.  Adding save points was a huge plus, and giving directions in some of the more questionable decisions (after area 3, go all the way back to the beginning for area 4...what?) makes a huge difference.  I always wanted to like the original more than I did, and Blaster Master Zero proved that there was a good game hiding inside.  It also proved that remaking the right game in the right way can make it a fun experience.

The Good:
Great update/remake of the original.

The Bad:
Sophia momentum took getting used to, easy to get hit at times.  Oh, and slippery ice areas are never fun.

The SaHD:
Having to have your transponder on for the final area is a strange requirement.

(Blaster Master Zero was purchased from the E-shop on sale)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Agents of Mayhem (Xbox One) Review

As a fan of Saints Row IV and Gat Out of Hell, I was eager to try out Agents of Mayhem, since it's essentially a spin off game based off one of the Gat endings.  I was fully sold on playing it once I saw the achievement art.  Eighties greatness!

Like Saints Row, this game is a third person shooter.  Instead of one agent, your team consists of three that you can switch between as the need arises.  Each agent has a different weapon and special moves.  There are machine guns, chain guns, shotguns...you get the picture.  All of the agents were unique and stood out as characters.  The specials were sometimes like grenades, sometimes debuffs, or even an alt-fire for their weapon.  To round out their abilities, agents also can use a mayhem move when the meter is filled (this meter isn't shared among them, either).  Most of these were a joy to use.  I'll admit Hollywood, while not my favorite agent, has a great mayhem move.  Just like a Michael Bay-esque action hero, he gets dramatic music and lots of explosions.  It's useful and appropriate.

Movement is...okay at best.  Sure, it has some nice stuff, like a triple jump and a dash/air dash (for some agents).  The dash has a cooldown that isn't shown, but I eventually got the timing down.  The triple jump is serviceable, although it doesn't really seem to cover enough ground considering how high some of the buildings are.  There are lifts and other things to help you get to the top, but being able to scale buildings was something done much better in an older, similar style game.  If the agent doesn't have an air dash, they can usually grab a wall and pull themselves up a bit higher.  While it has its uses, I feel the air dash is better and more useful.

Aiming is also an aspect I had some issues with.  The longer you hold the stick in a direction, the faster it will move.  That's...great for some people, but it almost always messed me up.  I constantly overshot targets while trying to aim at them.  I really wish there was an option to change or reduce this.  There is a sensitivity option, but it doesn't seem to affect that.  After a few hours, I got used to it.  The aiming is also pretty generous, so you don't have to be dead on to get a hit.  You do still have to be pretty accurate for a critical hit, though.

As you kill enemies and complete missions, you will gain experience and level up.  Each level grants a point that can increase one of your passive skills.  Being a team player (and having read some sage advice), I put all my points into the squad skills first, since they would benefit all members of my team.  Each agent also has three core abilities that you must use an upgrade core to buy.  These can either be obtained from mission rewards, or by collecting 10 core fragments around the world.

Oh, and there's still more.  There are three modifiers agents can equip to customize their skills and weapon.  You also purchase base upgrades that effect the whole team as the agency levels up.  Gremlin tech is basically consumables that are special attacks, buffs, or debuffs.  Finally, there is Legion tech, which are extra modifiers that you equip to your modifiers.  It might sound complicated, but it makes sense once you start playing the game.

The game flows like most typical third person open world games.  Go to a place, do the thing, get rewards.  There's some collectibles around the map, but they are basically the core fragments.  I like that you need to do two part missions to unlock new agents.  The second part is basically using them, so you learn what they are capable of.  Since you should switch your teams around a lot, this is useful knowledge.  Story missions are made up of multiple parts, and not many opportunities for a break.  While there is also a mission replay feature, you have to beat the game to get it.

For the open-world aspect, there are many other things to do around the map.  They are all pretty much random, which is good and bad.  Good because you can always have more to do, but bad because they tend to be generic, and you can never be "done" with them all.  That ties into the random contracts that you can do.  Legion also has secret bases that have hidden entrances that can appear out of the environment.  It's something that I would have thought about as a kid, and it's cool to see it here.  It feels legit.  Unfortunately, these bases start to feel very generic because they are randomly assembled from a few different room types.  Completing a base, or taking back and outpost can spawn one of Legion's doomsday weapons.  Doing these wasn't fun for me.  I kept doing them because I wanted to at least try them all.  Getting a golem to spawn took me 22 attempts...which is sad because there are only 3 possibilities!

I liked Agents of Mayhem, but the aiming and movement could use a little work.  It reminded me a lot of Crackdown, a game I love, but wasn't as good as that sadly.  The world is built like Crackdown, but is definitely covered with a Saints Row IV skin...just look at all those purple lights!  I liked my rental enough to eventually purchase and complete the game.

The Good:
Lots of things to do, and characters to do it with.  Some funny jokes and the achievement pictures are awesome!

The Bad:
The movement and aiming could use little work.  Enemy lairs feel very generic.

The SaHD:
At various points, the game was definitely getting harder.  Then I noticed the game kept upping my difficulty setting as I played.  Don't do that!

(Agents of Mayhem was rented and later purchased from Redbox)