Thursday, April 26, 2018

Code: Realize ~Bouquet of Rainbows~ (PS4) Review

Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ was released on the Vita two and a half years ago.  I really enjoyed it, and was eager to try out the sequel, Future Blessings, that was recently released.  The PS4 version of the game, Bouquet of Rainbows, houses both games in the series.  Yes, it is harder than it should be to keep the names straight.  Anyway, for this release, I stuck to the Future Blessings portion of the game, but I'll still have some information from Guardian of Rebirth, mostly re-hashed from my previous review.  If you are interested to dive deeper into that, here's the link for it.

Being a visual novel, all stories in Bouquet of Rainbows are heavy on the reading, but many non-protagonist lines are fully voiced.  It's also an otome game, so you are playing a female, with the option to be romantic with one of a few guys.  Guardian of Rebirth follows the story of Cardia.  After being virtually abandoned in a mansion and little to no memories of her past, she meets the gentleman thief Lupin.  Soon, she meets several other colorful characters and discovers the secrets of her deadly poison.  There are a few choices the player makes throughout the game, which will influence your route and the eligible bachelor you end up with.

Future Blessings, on the other hand, has far less dialogue choices.  There are the "after" stories, which take place after each guy's ending from Guardian of Rebirth.  You will obviously want to do them after completing the first game, otherwise they won't make as much sense.  The stories were interesting enough, and expound on some ideas touched in the previous game.  There's also three side stories.  The first is a non-romantic story where Cardia meets a new friend, and gets mixed up in the mafia.  It's surprisingly good for how silly an extremely brief synopsis makes it sound.  The other two are more what-if tales that allow Cardia to interact with Herlock Sholmes and Finis.  As you complete these stories, you also unlock brief stories with Delly, another character from the first game.

Your first story in Guardians of Rebirth will last the usual VN length of about 8 hours (estimate on my part).  There's good replay value in going through the different routes.  Enough of the story changes that it is worth doing all the routes, even if you skip the parts you have already seen.  The "after" stories in Future Blessings aren't quite as long, taking only a few hours to go through.  Adding in the side stories, there are more "routes" to do.  By contrast, these are a little longer than I would have initially thought.  Overall, doing all the routes and stories adds up to a good amount of play time and some good reading.

The whole package on the PS4 is really nice.  My only gripe is that there were some typos and broken text that I encountered.  It wasn't common, and not in every story I played, but it was noticeable.  While I still prefer to play visual novels on a portable system, Code: Realize ~Bouquet of Rainbows~ was fun to play on the PS4.  It's still an easy recommendation for visual novel and otome fans.

The Good:
Combines both the first and second game into one convenient package, and both have several interesting stories.

The Bad:
There were a few typos in at least one of the stories I played.

The SaHD:
Avido Crudele is a pretty rockin' villain name.

(Review code for Code: Realize ~Bouquet of Rainbows~ was received from the publisher)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Masters of Anima (Nintendo Switch) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 (PS4) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The SaHD:
What child would name anything Huninnmuginn?

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

Friday, April 6, 2018

Penny-Punching Princess (Switch) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The SaHD:

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Mulaka (PS4) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Review code for Mulaka was received from the publisher)