Sunday, May 13, 2018

Titan Quest (Xbox One) Review


Nostalgia can be a powerful force, even in small doses.  Years ago, I finally got around to playing a Diablo-style game on the PC called Titan Quest.  I didn't end up playing very long (part because I don't play games on the PC very much, and part because I wanted to do multiplayer with my wife), but I enjoyed the game and wanted to go back to it.  Once the game came to Xbox One and PS4, I was excited to give it a try.

Right off the bat, I was thrown into the character creator.  My excitement quickly dropped when I realized just how limited it is.  You can set gender and tunic color.  Even if most things would be covered by armor, I was hoping for a bit more.  Also, the game disappointingly only has single player and online multiplayer.  I know this won't effect everybody, but no couch co-op is a negative point for me.

Once in the actual game, my excitement started to make a comeback.   You can hold the X button down to auto attack, but it only works when there are enemies around.  That makes logical sense, but sometimes you want to try out a weapon's speed, or a new skill in safety.  Aiming attacks feels strange.  Instead of facing the direction you want to attack, your character will instead lock on to one in range.  To change targets, you hold down the attack button and point the left stick towards the new enemy.  There are plenty of times I tried to change my direction to change where I would attack, only to have it not work.  It's just cumbersome and not intuitive.

From there, the controls don't get any better.  The A Button picks up items and interacts with npcs/items/etc.  While it normally works fine, you can interact with your summoned creature.  It doesn't seem to do anything, but when you inevitably do it while trying to pick up loot, you will just stand there for a second, unable to do anything.  It's...just not good.  Oh, and the A Button will not pick up loot that has fallen through the map.  Sadly, it happened to me over a dozen times.  My son watched me play the game for an hour, and saw it at least three separate times.  That's also not good.

It bugs me that official screenshots usually lack the HUD

Health and magic potions are well labeled, though.  They are set on the bumpers, and are quick and easy to use when you need them.  Skills you learn will be set to the d-pad.  Yes, you read that right.  That's okay for buffs and other similar things, but just awful for attack skills.  But at least you get eight slots.  You can set a skill for the Y Button, but it doesn't feel responsive.  Maybe it's the few skills I tried there, but I had a lot of trouble getting them to activate, even when the target was in range.

The B Button will swap between your two weapon sets.  While this does allow you to set something else on the Y Button for the second set, it's not a function I would use with any regularity.  How often are you switching weapon sets?  Certainly not enough that you would want a face button dedicated to it.  It seems like that should be relegated to the d-pad instead of skills.  Even if they didn't want to copy something like Diablo 3, they could at least take the skill setting idea from the X-Men Legends games.  They did it right, and before Titan Quest originally launched.  Instead, they tried to invent a wheel, but ended up with a rectangle.

Okay, so that doesn't sound so great, but there is something good in the game.  There are nine different skill trees, many of which look fun to me.  Every level gives you three skill points, which can be used to buy or power-up skills, or increase the rank (and stats) of the class itself.  The higher the rank, the more skills you can learn.  It took me a minute to figure out how it worked, but I actually really like the skill trees.  I at first settled on an earth mage, and it was pretty fun.  A few of the skill made me think it would work really well with a melee fighter, but it was a mage set.  However, at level eight, you can choose a second class.  It's entirely optional, which is pretty cool too.  You don't gain any extra skill points, so there is a drawback to doing so.  However, there are several skills that work fine for a class, but much better when paired with another.  It's a great class and skill system that I am eager to play around with.

As for the game's story and quests, they are fairly limited and linear.  There are less quests than I expected.  Also, they are basic "go here and kill these things" types.  Turns out, that's fine by me, as the system for tracking quests and showing information on them is very, very basic.  Actually, it's probably less than basic.  It basically says what you have to do, but not exactly were to go, or have any kind of counters.  Side quest destinations are not far from where you get them, so it's not an issue.  The maps look really nice, but there is no variance in them.  The predictability makes it easier to complete quests, but having some variance in them other than chest contents would be very nice when going through with other characters.  I want to try out multiple classes, but it's a bit of a downer that all the areas will be the same.

Many years ago, Titan Quest was a great game. Since that time, the genre has evolved. Playing the game on a current console really drives home how archaic it is. It might not be fair to compare it to Diablo 3, but that game showed us how great this style of game can be (and play) on a console. Titan Quest, while somewhat fun, just can't compare to that, or other similar games on the same consoles. Instead of just a face lift, this 11+ year old game really needed a full-on remaster to bring it up to current genre standards.


The Good:
Multiple job class combinations to play around with.

The Bad:
Feels dated, controls are awkward.

The SaHD:
I'm really hoping it gets a couch co-op patch, but I may have to settle for getting a second Xbox One to play some co-op with the missus.

(Review code for Titan Quest was received from the publisher)

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly (PS Vita) Review


Aksys kicked off their "Summer of Mystery" with Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, the first of three visual novel games on the Vita coming out this summer.  Readers of my reviews know that I like visual novels, so of course I secured a review code to check it out.  And hey, this time the female protagonist has spoken dialogue!

The story takes place in a mysterious mansion that the heroine suddenly wakes up in.  With the help of some men she meets inside, they will try to survive and ultimately escape the nightmarish house.  While there are some familiar premises to the story, like an mysterious location and lost memories, the story is otherwise unique and interesting.  It moves along at a good pace, not moving too fast nor getting boring, and has some twists that I did not guess.  Toward the end, I was very much into the story, and wanted to see it through to its conclusion.


There are some choices to make while going through the game, but not as many as you might think.  In fact, the game isn't quite structured like most visual novels I have played.  For one, the story is mostly linear, which small branching paths that tend to meet back up where they should.  Character specific routes and endings are present, but they are smaller and shorter than expected, and don't occur in the most common places (ie, near the end).  While I did purposefully pick a bad ending at one point, I was surprised to see the ending I got at the end of the game marked as the "best" ending.  While it does seem the most realistic (as much as it could be), I thought for sure there would be a super happy "best" ending, where everything comes up rainbows.

All of the story scenes are contained on a big flow chart.  It shows when scenes branch off, and even has a mark that tells you when all conversations in that scene have been seen.  It's very easy to jump around and complete the parts you missed.  I very much like that aspect of it, and am enjoying completing as much of it as I can.

However, the game also has some extra scenes called short episodes.  While good in theory, there are several times in the game where you have to view some of these short episodes to progress further in the main story.  In other genres I can be okay with that, but in a story driven game, it feels jarring.  Being forced to stop and go read side stuff really breaks up the flow (and immersion).  I do like them as optional scenes to help unlock character specific routes.  At least, I think they help with that.  Most of the side episodes are locked, and have to either be purchased with points earned from the mini-game, by completing certain other scenes, or both.  It's not explained too well, and there are plenty of stages don't mention the requirements.  You just keep playing and viewing scenes, and eventually it opens them up.


At a few points in the story, there is a shooting mini-game to play.  It partially makes sense because you have to defeat the mansion's monsters to survive.  However, you are locking on and shooting butterflies, which aren't the monster.  Regardless, the mini-game is kind of fun.  You either move the cursor or drag your finger across the butterflies as they move around the screen, then press a button (or the on-screen "shoot" button) to fire.  It's fairly simple, but fun.  It's also not the most accurate, since many times I would drag across a butterfly and it wouldn't lock-on.  Also, it is really easy to miss some of the butterflies, since they only stick around for short, random intervals.  This is the method of getting points used to unlock some of the side episodes, and it was fun to play it enough to get all the points I needed for the side episodes.

Overall, I think Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly is a good visual novel.  There are some text errors, and the side episodes can take you out of the story, but that story is really good, especially near the end.  I'm having fun trying to fill out the whole flow chart.  I'd recommend it for visual novel fans, but it's not the longest complete package.


The Good:
Interesting story with some unexpected turns, fun shooting mini-game.

The Bad:
Side episodes break the flow of the story, and there were some text issues.

The SaHD:
I didn't think they would explain the title so fully.  It was nice that they did, but I admittedly then thought "roll credits".

(Review code for Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly was received from the publisher)