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)