Monday, February 18, 2019

Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception (PS Vita) Review


Utawarerumono and its sequel are two games I've had my eye on for awhile, and when they hit my buy price, I snatched them up.  Mask of Deception is the first part of the story, and the game is a mixture of visual novel and strategy RPG.  Two of my favorite genres in one!

I'll start with the SRPG portion of the game.  There aren't that many stages, but I do like these fights.  At first it seems like a standard grid-based SRPG.  Characters can move and attack, while speed sort of dictates how fast and how often their turn comes up.  Once you get a few levels, it starts feeling more unique.  Your attacks are basically combos, with one of two different timing mini-games for criticals.  While there are only a few different strings, they become much more powerful as you level up.  Each added attack makes the combo do a lot more damage, or adds some other type of effect.  Even healing skills get extra moves, with either more healing, or some kind of buff.

The first timing mini-game is hitting the button at the right time.  A circle closes toward the button, and you must press it when very close, but not too far.  While it is pretty simple, there are some that are very fast, making them hard to hit.  There is not much of a penalty for failing, as you either get standard damage, or may cut your combo short and miss a bit of damage.  The second one is holding the button down, and releasing it at the right time.  This tends to be the mini-game used for magic skills, and feels a lot less strict than the first type.

It is a cool and unique system, but there is a downside.  Each attack has a different range, and it can be a problem trying to remember which attacks have which range, and what point of the combo they are at.  It will display the largest area and approximate damage when selecting one.  It's a bit misleading since not all attacks in your combo hit that range.  Plus, it doesn't account for enemy defensive moves.  This is really only a problem in the dream battles, where the enemies have the best and most annoying defensive and passive skills, while you don't get very many of them.

The visual novel portion is the bulk of the game.  You follow the story of Haku and the multitude of other characters he meets, befriends, and is generally pushed around by.  While I normally like visual novels, it does entirely depend on the story told.  For better or worse, Mask of Deception reminds me of Ranma 1/2.  Haku generally gets abused (physically and verbally) throughout the whole game, and that kind of thing really bothers me.  I can let a bit of it go, but as it goes on and on and on...I get tired of it.  Most of the characters come off as selfish ***holes.

It's a shame, since the rest of the story is actually really good.  The sections that move the plot forward, and aren't just character interaction pieces, are very interesting.  Also, I'd really appreciate it if tapping the touch screen would advance the dialogue.  I understand that because it's also a PS4 game, such a function may not be feasible, but it's silly that a standard of visual novels isn't in the Vita version.

The only other related thing that bothers me is the authentic terminology.  I get that they want to keep the terms that might be harder to translate, but it makes it all more confusing.  Many of the terms and combo attacks could and should be translated to something close.  At the very least, they need to use the spacebar when typing them out.  Look at the title of the game, you get an idea of what I'm talking about.  For the combo attacks especially, I can't tell which is which until I pick them.  If one gets another link when a character levels up, I again don't know which attack it is.  I'm sure there are some silly purists who insist on it, but it makes me more annoyed than the game has to.  So I suppose more than being authentic, it's senseless pandering.

Doing all of the story battles and scenes runs about 20 hours.  A series of dream battles opens up after completion of the main story, which gives you another few hours.  The trophies aren't bad, but a few would require hours of grinding.  The game's battles start out easy, and get harder as the game progresses.  The curve is decent, but there are some notably hard (and sometimes cheap) stages, like the final fight and most of the dream battles.  If you are stuck, you can usually re-play earlier battles for more experience and BP.  Experience scales with level difference, meaning you have to play later stages to actually get experience for actions.  This would be less of an issue, but higher level enemies excel at dropping you with 1 or 2 attacks.  That's a bit extreme in my opinion.  At least at that point you are through the actual game story, so you can safely move on to the sequel.

Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception was worth playing.  The story flip-flopped from being obnoxious to really interesting, but the battles kept me coming back to play more.  While I don't agree with some of the story choices, the gameplay and ending have me looking forward to starting up the sequel.


The Good:
Battles are fun, interesting combo system.

The Bad:
The story has some really annoying parts (think Ranma 1/2).

The SaHD:
So, technically, the experiment worked, right?

(Physical copy of Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception was purchased by the reviewer)

Monday, January 28, 2019

2018: The Good, The Bad, The SaHD

So 2018 has come to a close.  It was a very unique year, especially for myself.  Again, ignoring the continued devolution of the United States, we will look to toys, video games, TV and movies for the good, the bad, and the SaHD.

Let us jump into the good first.  I played some really fun games this year, whether or not they actually released this year.  I finally bought Blaster Master Zero, and enjoyed it a lot.  Getting to the final dungeon was kind of dumb and easy to miss, but I still think the game is good.  Radiant Historia was re-released for the 3DS.  I loved the original release, so getting a slightly updated version was welcome.  It's still good, even if the added content feels superfluous.  Still, more content is more content.  Alliance Alive was another fun game I played and reviewed this year.  In a surprise development, Dissidia: Final Fantasy Opera Omnia is a mobile game that I actually really enjoy, and still currently play.  And yes, the name is total JRPG silliness.

So what was my favorite game of the year?  This year it was really easy to pick one: Octopath Traveler.  The gameplay is extraordinarily good for old school gamers, and the graphics are top-notch sprite goodness.  The character interactions are nice, but I would have loved to have a lot more of them.  The story structure reminds me a lot of Saga Frontier, which in this case is pretty good (the second Saga Frontier was terrible though).  It's not perfect, but was easily my favorite game purchased and played last year.  A very high recommendation for anyone that enjoys old school RPGs.

Now for the bad.  I previously enjoyed Recore, but the Definitive Edition upgrade was not good at all.  It was unpolished, and added things that the game just didn't need, except for maybe Violet, the tank.  She was only needed because they put in those mud areas.  Defenders of Ekron was not fun, and Iconoclasts looked great, but was very disappointing.  Disgaea, my favorite game, received a re-release, and showed just how far the series has come.  Unfortunately, it received none of those upgrades, and is just a heartbreaking, effortless, cash-grab release.  Sadly, even Monster Hunter World was a massive let-down.  I'm glad a lot of people like it, so the franchise can sell more, but it was not at all what I wanted from the series.  A few small steps forward, and a few big leaps back.

To top it off, one of the "best reviewed games of the year", Spider-man, Spiderman, how ever it is spelled, was not a fun game for me.  Traversal did not feel good at all, since you have to actually swing from objects and buildings to move.  Realistic, but not fun.  Prototype did this much better, and years ago.  Fighting is somehow worse.  It's very Batman: Arkham counter heavy, but leans way too hard on the timing.  It's just too unforgiving to be fun.  Again, this was done better by other games, notably the Assassin's Creed series, years ago.  Plus, the game is very front-loaded.  "Do this, now this, now this, here's how to do this, and this, and this!  Now, go do whatever."  It just wore on me after a few minutes.  So of course I end up winning a code for the deluxe edition...

The SaHD category is whatever kind of catch-all I want it to be.  This year I'll talk about a few toys.  The new Transformers line, Siege, is a lot of fun.  Nice new molds, lots of areas to plug in accessories/weapons, and special guys that you can pull apart to make into battle armor.  They've even made action effects that can plug into the various weapons.  The toys are great, but Hasbro's distribution is still awful.  While it should be a good thing that the new toys can't stay on the shelves, it's more from stores getting older waves way too late to properly sell them to collectors and fans, and not having the room for new things.  Well, and not getting more than one box of the new stuff.  I am still convinced they need to emulate the video game market to bring back toys to the mainstream, or at least turn some good profits.

Another toy that had a tumultuous first year was Mayhem Mekanics Unrustables.  I backed the kickstarter back in 2017, and received my figure last year.  It's really well designed and built.  It transforms from a robot to a rider and motorcycle, and boosts a good amount of weapons to play with.  Unfortunately, the makers had some problems with the factory producing their toys.  Outsiders might not know all that is going on, but it's surely a financial blow to a small start up company that had a lot of promise.

I was also extremely excited to finally be able to afford another 3rd party Devastator.  Well, in design, if not in name.  Fate and a cosmic event (having money and a 20% eBay flash sale), provided me with a decently-priced Constructor.  It is big, and looks awesome.  It does have faults, such as some scarily tight joints that shy me away from transforming it very often.  I really don't want to break such an expensive toy!  Even so, I am very glad I purchased it.

So that was a brief look at the ups and downs from 2018.  With a new job, I'm not sure how 2019 is going to shape up, but hopefully we will see you back here in another year to see what made 2019 good, bad...and SaHD.