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)