Sunday, July 15, 2018

Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk (PS Vita) Review

Finishing off Aksys' "Summer of Mystery" is the third Vita visual novel, Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk.  Like the others, it is an otome game, so you play as a female protagonist.  She is a witch, which the townspeople fear.  To avoid suspicion, she was raised as a boy alongside her two "brothers", her secret known only to a select few.  As the story progresses, she will learn to dress and act like a girl to help her locate the mysterious Kaleido-Via, all while trying to keep her secrets from being exposed.

I will definitely give the game credit for a unique premise.  I was interested to see where it would go, and what exactly they would do with it.  At first, though, I wasn't that impressed.  You quickly meet most of the characters, and most of them annoyed me instantly.  Not the best way to start a game.  However, as the story continued, the characters either changed, or the annoying elements were pushed into the background, ensuring I would enjoy it.  There are some twists that I did not see coming, and they were pulled off very well.  My opinions on at least two characters completely flipped.  That's not something I expected.  Some of the endings felt a little too random for my tastes, so it's not perfect.  While I won't spoil anything, there are some connections to the previous title, Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly.  After I started, I didn't think there would be, but fans of that game should appreciate what's in Ashen Hawk.

At a few points in the game, you will have a simplified map of the town.  From here, you can select short stories, comments from townspeople, and the next main story section.  I would have liked a quick explanation as to what the icons meant, but there isn't one.  Thankfully it isn't too hard to figure it out.  The pink eyeglass icons are comments from townspeople, which will give you a point.  These points are used to purchase special items from the antique store, which will unlock short stories, other side story scenes, and some gallery pictures.  To unlock them all, you have to talk to everybody.  It's not the most interesting way to unlock the additional scenes, but it's much less intense than Black Butterfly's shooting mini-game.

Once you have the necessary items purchased, it is very easy to go back and view any scenes you have missed.  All because of the glorious flow chart!  It was my favorite thing about Black Butterfly, and I was overjoyed to see it back in Ashen Hawk.  It allows you to see where all the scenes and branches are, so you can quickly move back to grab them.  This makes it easier to get all the endings and explore the story.  It's also much easier to actually get on to the branches than it was in the previous game.

Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk was a fun visual novel.  After a rough beginning, the story and characters got a lot better.  Factoring in all the townspeople conversations and side stories, the main game is longer than most visual novels I have played.  The flip side is the "routes" tend to just be the endings.  Thankfully the awesome flow chart is back to make jumping to the relevant scenes quick and easy.  I definitely recommend this otome game to fans of visual novels, and especially fans of Black Butterfly.

The Good:
An interesting and unique story that pulled off some difficult plot twists very well.

The Bad:
The story is largely linear.  There are branches, but they are pretty much just the endings.

The SaHD:
I'm not a fan of the "character is abysmal at cooking" cliche.  It's not funny, and doesn't make sense.  It did have some small relevance in this game, but that doesn't really make it much better.

(Review code for Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk was received from the publisher)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Space Hulk: Deathwing - Enhanced Edition (PS4) Review

When I first started playing Space Hulk: Deathwing - Enhanced Edition, I was excited.  I've been a fan of Warhammer 40k for years now, and always hope that an amazing game capable of capturing that universe comes along.  While the real time strategy ones are very good and accurate, I know there’s a great action or RPG game just waiting to be made (preferably featuring the wonderful Eldar).

The game starts off with the tutorial, even if you already did it from the main menu (like me).  Afterwards, you are put into the space hulk with your mission.  The scenery looks really nice, and appropriate.   It's also pretty dark.  I didn't find any enemies for the first few minutes, so I figured the game was going for a more atmospheric approach, rather than an action oriented one.  This could work, since you are in heavy Terminator armor.  You are big and bulky, so going for the scare factor would play off the resistance and fire power you should have.

Once closer to the first major objective, there was a group of enemies that ran in.  Since it was from a more enclosed location, they were fairly easily dispatched.  So, maybe they weren’t going with a fewer-but-scarier enemy layout, but instead some small waves of them.   I pressed on, and reached the first objective.  It was time for my third assessment.

There were a lot of enemies.  Not like Left 4 Dead horde amounts, but a steady stream.  I stayed with my two squadmates, fighting them off.  I figured there would be an end to them, and I could move on.  There wasn't.  They just kept coming.  Eventually, I realized this, and had to run back to the beginning area of the level, with occasional stops to shoot a few foes in my way.  I eventually got toward the end, and received a brief reprieve.

Then, I had to defend my position.  I figured it wouldn’t be too bad, since I’m on easy, and my squadmates are fairly helpful.  I was wrong.  After a few minutes of valiant fighting, I went down.  It was a bit of a shock, since I’m not terrible at FPS games.   I’m not great, but should be able to beat the first level of one on the easy setting.  So, I reloaded and tried again.  This time, I hit up the warp portal to fully heal everyone, and tried again.

Another failure.  I slightly revise my strategy and tried again.  Yet another failure.  Revise, die, repeat.  I started to question myself, my abilities, reality, and the existentialism of the universe.  I eventually hid in a nearby tube with my squad, which limited where the enemies could come from.  I lost one member (thanks suicide exploder enemies!), but managed to get through.  Great, only several more levels to go.

Besides the story mode, there are Special Missions and Multiplayer.  Sadly, these both just recycle the story mode maps.  Special Missions are just playing the same maps with random objectives each time you load in.  It’s not the most interesting idea, but it gives you some decent replayability.  Multiplayer is either a story mode or special mission map that you play with other people.  It’s more enjoyable than playing with the AI, and probably a lot more fun with actual friends.  I really would have preferred some kind of horde mode too, as I really like those, and it would fit with the theme.  The game still has the same problems, but with four people, it’s a little easier.  Plus, when not in story mode, you can pick your class.

Since you are stuck as a terminator, the class selection isn’t near as varied as it could be for a 40K game.  Each class gets a melee weapon on one hand, while the other has a ranged or another melee weapon.  There are only so many weapons, so there is plenty of overlap between the classes.  Skills, on the other hand, are unique.  Once you find the skills you like (if you can navigate through the terrible menus to actually see what they are), you stand a decent chance of also finding weapons you like on that class.  Killing enemies and completing objectives will give your multiplayer classes experience.  When you level up, you get a random unlock and some in-game currency to buy upgrades and skins.  Pretty basic stuff.

Death in Space Hulk feels off.  Your final hit just kind of kills you.  I rarely saw where it came from, you just…fall over.  It's very lackluster and made me feel like I wasn't even hit, but that my guy just gave up.   It also likes to happen very suddenly.  I’ve been killed in one hit by some enemies, and even died immediately upon loading into a map.  If you fail a map, you get some experience, but don’t seem to get any currency.  With how much you money you need to unlock stuff, the game somehow makes a long grind even longer and more grind-y.  Plus, you have to sit through several long load times, making it even worse.

It would be easier to not die if the visuals were tweaked.  Scenery, while detailed and appropriate, shares the pallet with the enemies.  It is much harder than it should be to pick up the off-white and grey enemies from the grey and dark grey backgrounds.  To make matters worse, your HUD and weapon effects take up a ton of screen real estate.  The information on the HUD can be useful, but it could also be presented in a better way.  Plus, sometimes your character will put his shoulder up into the frame which blocks more of the screen than anyone should be okay with.  The flamer and plasma cannons are useful weapons, but also disguise what is going on behind their fancy effects.   Is the enemy dead?  Should I stop shooting?  Are they more enemies behind them?  Having all of these things interfere with your sense of sight is not good design.

Choosing a class and playing with other people is a better experience than single player, which sadly, isn’t really saying much.  I was looking forward to playing Space Hulk: Deathwing - Enhanced Edition, but was left feeling disappointed.  Muddled visuals, repeating stages, cheesy enemies, cumbersome menus, and long load times really bring the game down.  Looks like I'm not the only one to bring shame to my chapter.

The Good:
Player models look really good.  Classes are a nice touch, and you can always have a varied experience in the special missions.

The Bad:
It's way too hard to see anything, since it is very dark, there are lots of effects everywhere, and the enemies are the same colors as the scenery.  Back in my day, Tyrannids were blue and purple!

The SaHD:
How does the power fist not kill the genestealers in 1 hit?  It's a strength of 8!  If it hits them, they die.  Have they not played 40K or read the codex?

(Review code for Space Hulk: Deathwing -EE was received from the publisher)