Thursday, October 10, 2019

Habroxia (Switch) Review



Since I'm always in the mood to try a new space shoot-em-up (aka shmup), I jumped at the chance to review Habroxia.  Its old school, charming visuals are very reminiscent of classics like Gradius, but with some new twists to make it a unique experience.

At the start, you can only do Story Mode.  This presents the stages in a linear fashion.   Each is fairly short, and most end with a boss fight.  There are 15 in all, which is more than I would expect, but compliments the shorter stages rather well.  The bosses themselves feel different from each other, but aren't the most visually distinct.  They do fit with the game's aesthetic, however I'd be hard pressed to name them, or tell you what stage they are from, if just shown a picture.

Most of the stages are side-scrolling, but sometimes one of the game's unique features kicks in.  The "perspective" will shift, and the game briefly becomes a top-down scrolling shooter.   It's done really well, as you are usually safe when it happens.   The choice to include it is interesting, for sure, and breathes some fresh air into the genre.  Some bosses are even top-down, as opposed to side-scrolling.  I don't always advocate games outright copying each other, but this idea could easily be done in some other shmups, and it would be neat to experience again.

The game is not overly hard, even though there was a stage or two that I failed a few times.  This is thanks the game's rogue-lite system of upgrades.  Some enemies drop credits when defeated, which can be used between stages to buy permanent upgrades to the ship.  These are persistent through story mode.  Costs increase for each as their level rises, and they are very useful.  It's not necessary to fully max out the ship to complete the game, either.  I went for shot power, speed, and spread, but never ended up getting the health upgrades.  That might explain why I failed a couple of stages.  Even so, I made it through with only a few rough spots.

However, credits are not the only way to upgrade your ship.  Power-ups are also occasionally dropped by enemies.  There are even two flavors: ship power-ups, and items.  Ship power-ups are similar to the upgrades.  You can get stronger shots, missiles, and health.  It seems redundant at first, but these can temporarily be used instead of upgrading your ship.  By temporary, I mean they only last on the current stage.  They are also vital for the other modes discussed later.

Items are things that should be familiar to shmup fans.  Bombs that damage everything on the screen, a shield to take a hit for you, and a few others.  One is a powerful but short laser beam in front of your ship.  It penetrates, and does a lot of damage to bosses.  Very useful. There's another one, with a wave-looking icon that I couldn't figure out what it does.  I didn't see any kind of tutorial, or explanation, and there was no visible effect.  I tried to avoid that one in lieu of one that was actually useful.  If someone finds out what it does, let me know!  The ship can only hold one item at a time, and once you use it, it's gone.

Habroxia's controls work well, but took me a few minutes to get used to.  Instead of using a face button to fire, players use the shoulder buttons.  The R Button shoots in a straight line in front of the ship, while the L Button fires shots above and below you.  This would be great, but shots are not very quick, even when maxed out, so switching to the top and bottom shot was never useful to me.  Plus, it only fires in both directions when you aren't moving.  If you move, it only shots in that direction.  So, even less useful than it already was.  I'm sure there are some players would can use it effectively, but it's not me.  Also, I rarely needed it.  Luckily, using both triggers to shoot will give you a small spread shot.  This is what I used most of the time, while occasionally switching to the front shot for a few parts.

As for the other modes, they are unlocked after beating the story.  First is Invasion Mode.  Ever play Space Invaders?  For this mode, it is vertical, and you must destroy random waves of enemies before they reach the bottom and get past you.  This mode also contains bosses, power-ups, and items.  It's easily the most interesting of the extra modes to me, but still not as exciting or fun as Story Mode.  Second is Rescue Mode, which tasks you with rescuing astronauts.  It's an okay mode, but gets a little boring after awhile.  The levels are random for this mode, and repeat fairly often.  Killing an astronaut ends the mode, so you have to be careful with your attacks.  The third and final unlocked mode is Shield Maiden Mode.  Your ship only has 1 bar of health, so you have to rely on the plentiful shield items to keep yourself alive.  Shields tend to be very useful in games like this, but I don't like the ones in Habroxia.  They seem to disappear on me.  I'm not sure if they have a timer, or the hitbox is the shield and not the ship, or maybe both of these.  If it's not reliable, I'm not really a fan.  So, a good concept for an extra mode, but not one I would play very much.

Habroxia is a fairly simple game that harkens back to early shmups, while adding modern features to the mix.  It's pulled off really well, and is definitely a neat little game that I recommend shmup fans try out.


The Good:
Fun retro-inspired space shooter with modern, unique elements.

The Bad:
Extra modes are not that exciting.

The SaHD:
The credits mini-game is fun.

(Review code for Habroxia was received from the publisher.)

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Utawarerumono: Zan (PS4) Review


If you have seen any of my earlier reviews, you may have run across the one I did for Utawarerumono: The Mask of Deception on the Vita.  I liked its mix of strategy RPG and visual novel, even if some parts of the story fell flat.  I was cautiously optimistic about Utawarerumono: Zan, since it takes a game I like, changing it from one genre I enjoy, to another that I also enjoy.  Instead of being an SRPG/visual novel, it's now a hack and slash action RPG.

With such a genre shift, there are plenty of ways to make it work, and just as many to ruin it.  The first issue would be paring down the story.  It's a generalization, but I think a chunk of people that really enjoy action games don't want to sit and watch hours of story.  A lot of the plot is handled with text over a still image, or a brief scene of characters talking.  As much as I like the CG images, it would have been nice to have more scenes acted out between the character models, and made a lot more visually interesting.  I don't think it would be too much of a stretch, since there are already battle models for most of the characters.

The story is definitely missing large chunks from the original.  Most of the basics are covered, but there are still things that I thought were important that were left on the cutting room floor.  A lot of the everyday life sections are gone as well.  On one hand, these sections annoyed me more often than not, as they tended to be "pile crap on Haku".  On the other, it helped flesh out the characters, and gave voice to their uniqueness.  At least Anju is much more tolerable when they cut out 95% of her interactions.

However, I'm still on the fence about is how much of the story is covered.  When the game was first announced, I was hoping it would cover both Utawarerumono: Mask games, as I didn't think there would be enough battles from the first game to handle the genre shift from SRPG to Action RPG.  That would be the second issue.  While most of the battles from the original did make it over, there are a chunk that are wholly original.  Framed as missions given to Haku's group from their employer, they do fit in with the story without feeling tacked-on.  Still, I think it would have been better from a gameplay perspective to have both games, but I understand why that didn't happen.

But, the story isn't likely why you are here.  If you were more interested in that aspect, you should just play the original.  This game is mostly action. Each stage is set in a small location, with enemies that appear.  Square is your normal attack string, while Triangle is a different attack, many times something with range, or some other special property.  Triangle can also be used for a combo ending attack if used in the string, but it's nowhere as complex as something like Dynasty Warriors, despite sounding similar.  To add some unique moves to combat, holding either Square or Triangle will do another attack.  The Square version can be thrown into combos, while the Triangle cannot.  Still, some of the held Triangle moves are very useful.  Haku's with the pierce damage scroll is particularly effective.

If you played the originals, you might be wondering where the chain attacks are.  Well, those are also present.  These are mapped to circle, and require some of your spirit gauge to use.  As you attack foes, the spirit gauge under the health bar begins to fill.  Pressing circle will start a stronger, unique attack.  As the attack proceeds, a ring appears on the screen.  When the glowing ring reaches the edge, pressing the button again is a perfect chain.  Hitting it correctly refunds some of the spirit spent, so it's worth trying for.  Up to two different chains can be equipped, with a shoulder button switching between them.

The combat system is entirely functional, if not super smooth.  Normal combos are pretty good, but lack variety with so few ender options.  The chain attacks are nice, but can't be worked into combos, and can also be hard to aim at your intended target.  Maybe that's just me, though.  In the original game, the chains were ever present in your techniques, where they are used much more sparingly here.  Thus, it's harder to learn the timing, or knowing how many chains there will be before you use the skill.  Useful, but they take way too much practice and luck to be reliable.

There are a few modes offered.  First is story, which, predictably, covers the parts of the story retained from the original.  Some chapters are battles, while others are just story.  Next up is Battle Recollections, which is pretty much the story stages, but with two secondary mission objectives thrown in.  There is an unlockable hard difficulty version of these stages, for more content and challenge.  Next is Free Battles, which recycle the story locations, but with different enemies, objectives and secondary objectives.  These are broken up into five different tiers, each harder than the last.  Higher ranks are gated behind story levels and previous free mission completion.  However, they can reward you with higher tiers of equipment creation, so they are worth doing.  Lastly, there is the Battle Arena, which are individual challenges for each of the characters that reward them a new chain skill.  Some of these modes can also be played in online co-op.  My PS+ has sadly lapsed, so I was unable to try the online.

Gaining experience is fairly straightforward.  You do a mission, defeat some enemies, and get some experience.  Gaining a certain amount will get your character a level.  The stat increases from only gaining character levels are okay, but you really need to acquire bonus points to get the best bonuses.  These points, called BP, are usually only be gained from secondary objectives.  Sadly, completing the objective the first time gets you the biggest bonus, as the amount gained is reduced for any subsequent completions.  Add in that only participating characters gain the BP, and you can see where the grind comes in.  Doing every mission once with the same character (where possible) likely still wouldn't max them out, so you will be doing some missions over and over again.  I don't think it's necessary to max a character, but it's a long grind if you are inclined to do so.

Equipment is handled very much like the original game. Instead of things like armor and weapons, the characters equip skill scrolls.  These tend to increase a stat, like extra attack power, or add something else, like a health regen.  The total number of scrolls that each character can equip is different, and can sometimes be increased by their Specialty stat.  You won't get many scrolls going through the game.  Instead, you need to create them by spending the in-game money.  You pick a tier, and either create one item, or a group of 10 for a discount.  After that, what you get is a random selection from the list.  Gaining a scroll again will increase its level up to 10.  You can also get special elemental tomes and new costumes.  This isn't the only way to get costumes, because there are some in-game achievements that also grant them.  It's worth checking the Military Medals, and work toward completing it for those bonuses.  It's nice that it's not hard to get new and stronger scrolls, but the random aspect can be a pain when you just need that one last item in a tier.

Overall, Utawarerumono: Zan is pretty fun. It's not the best representation of the story, and not the best hack and slash, but it is enjoyable. If you want to experience most of the important parts of the story, but don't want to sit through the visual novel or SRPG battles, then this is the way to go. Even if you prefer the original, it's worth playing for Utawarerumono fans looking for something a little new.


The Good:
Quick and fun fights, get most of the important story bits without spending 40+ hours reading.

The Bad:
Powerful enemies can be cheap, story feels way too cut down.

The SaHD:
Why is any creature bigger than a person ungodly powerful?  How does anything survive in this world?

(Review code for Utawarerumono: Zan was received from the publisher.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Rambo (The Movie): The Video Game: The Experience: The Review (The PS3)

The Logo: The Picture

As I've mentioned before, I finally broke down and got a subscription to Gamefly several months ago.  One of the games on my radar was Rambo: The Video Game.  I had not heard good things about it.  Still, I was determined to try it.  It's an on-rail shooter, and there was a similar one I had played in the arcade that was pretty decent.  How bad could this be?

Sadly, it was de-listed from the US PSN store before I could purchase it.  Well, it was there for awhile, even having a sale, but never low enough for me to take the plunge.  I would have, if I had known that it would be gone soon after that last sale.  When I signed up for Gamefly, it was one of the first games I put in my queue.  It spent a few months staying "unavailable", with brief moments of availability, but didn't coincide with when new games were shipped to me.  Then, fate and a cosmic event aligned, and it was delivered to me in all its disc-ed glory.

Or something like that.  Thankfully my PS3 had enough room left to install the game, and I was eventually on my quest.  The opening cut scene is...not good.  It's hard to knock the graphics, as it is a PS3 game from several years ago, but you can definitely tell it is a budget game.  Still, that's not the important point, the gameplay is.

However, we had to get to that.  Making my way through the menus, I discover that the only thing I can actually do at this point is start the story.  There are no levels to select (not even the first one), no open challenges to complete, and no weapons to switch.  Just starting the story, and assigning a controller.

Wait, what?  I then remembered that, as an on-rail shooter, it could also use the Playstation Move controller.  It was too late for that, so in I jumped.

It was...quite the experience.  Using the controller was a huge pain in the butt.  The actual act of pushing the button to shoot was fine.  So was using the stick to hide (think Time Crisis).  Reloading was not that great, though.  Unlike other, superior light gun games, you can't just pull the trigger again or shoot off the screen to reload.  Instead, you need to push a separate button.  The only reason for this is because the developers wanted to take an idea from Gears of War, and add active reloads.

For the uninitiated, reloading during active reload puts some kind of meter on the screen.  If you time the button press correctly, you get a bonus, hit the "normal" zone to get nothing extra, and hit the bad zone to mess up even further.  Rambo doesn't give bonus damage for correct timing.  Instead you get twice as many bullets.  It's a nice idea, but is then saddled with the bad timing penalty for half ammo.  This might be easier to deal with, as I rarely hit the bad zone, but the meter is really small and hard to see.  It's on the cursor.  While it's where your eyes may naturally rest, it also moves around a lot, and makes seeing a tiny, precise meter on it much harder to learn.  They get a point for trying something, but I found it better to just ignore it completely.

That just leaves one thing left: the aiming.  Aiming with the analog stick was the main reason using a normal controller is such a bad idea.  The sensitivity on the thing is through the roof.  It's very hard to aim precisely, let alone quickly, which is not a good thing in an on-rails shooter.  Shooting is kind of its main thing, and it just wasn't done well.

So, I dug out my PS Move controller and started charging it.  I also found my nunchuck Playstation Navigation controller to pair with it, and charged that too.  Well, attempted to.  I only had the one cable, and charging through the computer didn't do a whole lot.  I switched them when I thought one was done, but it really wasn't.  So, the next night I jumped in again, swapping the charger cord as needed.

Everything was fine until I had to pair the controller.  I paired the Move, and all it would let me do is start the game.  I was worried that the Navigation controller wasn't paired as well, but couldn't figure out how to move the cursor without it.  Plus, since the Move was paired, I couldn't use the regular controller to select anything.  Despite my better judgement, I pressed on.

Using the Move by itself was almost worse than the controller.  In fact, I'm just going to say it is.  Aiming is better, for sure, but that's about it.  It needs to face the screen to work best, and luckily I had a cheap gun attachment.  Advancing through menus required pressing the X Button, which is now on the top, and awkward to hit quickly.  Reloading was done with Square, I think.  That was awful, considering how much you will be doing it.  To get into cover, you had to hold the Playstation Move Button, and flick the controller in that direction.  Truly awful.

I quit out and reloaded the game, since I couldn't find a way to try to pair the Navigation controller with the Move.  When I got to that point again, I tried pairing the Navigation controller first.  No dice. So, I had to pair the Move, and figure out how to actually move the cursor.  Eventually, holding the Move Button and swinging the controller moved the cursor. It's a horrible design.  Why not just put the cursor on the screen and let me use that to highlight and access things?  The implemented way was not only unintuitive, it was unresponsive.  It luckily worked the last time I did it, otherwise I would never have figured it out.

So, I had to select "pair another" to actually sync both controllers to finally play the game the way it was hopefully intended.  By this point, I had started the opening movie/long "hidden" loading screen three times, and sat through too much of it before I could skip to the game.  Now you see why's it's more than a review of the game, but a review of the experience.  So little of my "play" time was actually game play!

As it stands, the game isn't that good anyway.   Aiming was still too sensitive, but the other controls were passable.   Reload was a button on the Navigation controller, and moving to cover used the stick.  You can even throw a grenade, but like the rest of the experience, it's not the most intuitive or accurate thing.

The game claims to go through the whole trilogy, but I wasn't really looking forward to finishing the first stage, let alone several more.   Like similar game ideas, you move from scene to scene, shooting enemies and taking cover.  Reloading feels like a chore.   It just takes too long, and isn't as seamless as shooting off screen or something similar.  There's a rage mechanic thrown in for good measure, which will give you back health when you kill enemies during it.   It's fine, but not enough to save the game.  If you get further than I could stand, you theoretically unlock challenges and different weapons.

It may be more fun with another player, but I can think of much better ways to spend time together.  There could have been a good game from the premise, but it's not Rambo: The Video Game.  If you are so inclined, try it for the sheer novelty, but don't expect anything good.  I'd recommend sticking to the far superior light gun game offerings.


The Good:
Uh...it's a good use for the Playstation Move controller?

The Bad:
Controls are not good and the game just isn't fun.

The SaHD:
It might not seem it based off my reviews, but I've actually rented good games from Gamefly, too.

(Rambo: The Video Game was rented from Gamefly's service.)

Monday, July 29, 2019

DS Game Impressions - Bleach, Dragonball Z, Infinite Space, Lufia

While going through and deleting a few half-baked reviews, I ran across this one that I had completely forgotten about from a few years ago, so here it is!

My friend lent me a few DS games that I wanted to play but didn't have, so I tried them out and have collected a few impressions of them here.

Bleach: The 3rd Phantom
I know very little about Bleach, but that isn't a big issue for this game.  It is set before the events of the anime/manga so it's more of a prequel.  It's a strategy RPG like Disgaea, so I was happy to dive in and give it a try.  You move on a grid, but thankfully can attack in a square around your characters, instead of the usual "plus" pattern.  When you choose to attack an enemy, the game will show this confrontation from a different viewpoint.  It switches to a side view, and the animations for the attacks are really cool and fun to watch.  Sometimes the attacks will include a special attack, adding to the damage done.

The only thing I don't like are the skills you can use in battle.  Most cannot be used after you move, making healers almost useless.  Also, you need to equip your items to use ahead of time, which I didn't catch on to at first.  The stat and skill upgrades are nice, though.  Upgrading your weapon can give you more skills, extra power for ones you have, or other bonuses.  You need to unlock one before the next in the line can be used, so planning is essential, since I don't think you can have all of them.  The game was so fun that I bought my own copy.  Now if only they made it so it didn't write "Bleach" somewhere on every screen in the game...

Dragonball Z: Attack of the Saiyans
Brought to my attention by Mole during one of the recent podcasts [recent at the time of original writing -editor], I decided to check it out, since I am a fan of Dragonball Z and turn-based RPGs.  First off, the game looks good.  The map sprites are cool little super deformed version of the characters and the battle animations are nice to look at.  The battles themselves are turn-based (as mentioned previously), where you can attack, defend or use a skill.  Skills are powerful, but costly.  They can be upgraded with points obtained from victories and new skill can be revealed when certain skills level up.  There don't seem to be many skills to learn, and it takes awhile to get enough points to buy anything.  There's also a "sparking" meter, which is presumably used for super moves.  Until you get those (I haven't yet), the meter is pretty useless.

Story-wise, the game starts just before the martial arts tournament when the Z fighters first see Picollo Jr. (the young one).  Along the way, you take control of different characters and do various unimportant tasks.  It takes over an hour to get Goku in the part, and then fight Picollo.  After that, you resume doing unimportant things that presumably lead to the fight with Napa and Vegita.  While it's nice that they don't just rehash the show/manga plot verbatim, the things you do just don't feel special or interesting.  Also, story bits in the game seem to take longer than they should, since there is a small pause after a text bubble goes away and before characters do their emoticons.  They also do them frequently, which just made the uninteresting story bits take that much longer.  So while the game looks good and the battles are fun, the story makes the game actually kind of boring.  I don't know if I'll play it much more.

Infinite Space
This is a game that's been on my radar for awhile.  Space exploration and battles with grid-based equipping.  It sounded really fun, but the price and availability has always been a drawback.  When I started, the first thing I noticed was the graphics.  It reminded me of the Transformers DS games which kind of looked like crap.  Ugh.  Well, I can look past that, especially for an RPG, so I dove further.

It was a letdown.  The space battles are interesting, but get annoying pretty quickly.  Most things in the game are not explained well at all, adding to the frustration.  The more I played the game, the less I liked it.  Some are small gripes, like your initial target in space battles is not the ship in the front, which you actually NEED to attack first.  There are plenty of big gripes too, like the computer AI being almost perfect.  I didn't even get the melee battles, but I read about them, and it seems I dodged a bullet by not getting that far.  As sad as it is, I'm going to pass on it and save that chunk of change.  I'll happily give my friend back his copy.

Lufia
Last but not least is Lufia.  This is a series I really need to get into, since I enjoyed the original on SNES back in the day (and I still need to get my own copy of that).  I have the GBA one, and should really play more, but I wanted to give this one a try since I've seen it for pretty cheap.  First off, it is an action RPG, not a turn based, but that wouldn't be enough to deter me.  The combat is ok, but not that great.  You don't get many moves so it's not as fun as it could be.  You get a pretty effect on your attacks midway through the combo, but all they seem to do is obscure parts of the screen for no benefit.

The combat can be a bit wonky, mostly from using the d-pad to move in the 3D space (it would be perfect for the 3DS circle pad).  It's easy to get hit, and you take more damage than you might think.  This is offset by the "retry with level boost" option on the continue screen.  There's also a lot more platforming than I would have guessed, and it's about as bad as you'd suspect.  While the game is funny and doesn't really take itself seriously, it's not as fun as the old Lufias.  A bit disappointing, and fans are better off skipping this one.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Chaos:Child (PS Vita) Review


I wasn't able to secure a review code for Chaos;Child when it was released in the west, since it was from a notably stingy company.  So once I finally tried out Gamefly's rental service, it went to the top of my list.  It's a visual novel with a scientific twist, and I was eager to play it.

The beginning of the game put a dent in that hope.  It was setting the scene, but I understood what was going on long before they made it apparent.  The scene dragged on, and lead into another that threatened to be just as bad.  Thankfully it wasn't.  It was a good analogy for what the rest of the game would be: some interesting ideas, but far too drawn out.

Don't get me wrong, there is good stuff here.  The characters are pretty good and fleshed out, and some scenes and twists in the story are very interesting.  The kind of interesting that's "stay up way too late to finish this scene."  Unfortunately, the rest of it is a let down.  Many scenes drag on far too long, or take too long to get to the point the player was at 10 minutes ago.  It will even build up to a point, then dilly-dally at the precipice rather than get to that point.  The final boss "fight" in the first ending takes over an hour of reading!  It's annoying and silly.

I won't go into spoilers, in case you do want to play the game, but some of the twists just felt random, or didn't make sense in the grand scheme of things.  Like Indigo Prophecy, it starts of with a strong crime premise, but loses itself when it turns to magical powers.  It's apparently set in the same universe as Steins;Gate (the semicolon universe), but I only knew that from reading outside material after completing the game.

There are a few different routes through the game, but you must complete the "common" route first.  It's not a bad idea, since a lot of the other plot points stem from those events.  There's even a true ending, which maybe-kinda-sorta ties the rest together and tries to explain stuff.  The game is not a fan of happy endings, either.  The biggest problem with the routes is how and when they are activated.

At various points in the story, Takuru's healthy imagination will flare up and he will experience a delusion.  It can be positive or negative, or even skipped if you want.  These are what will affect your route, but they are not obvious how or why.  The worst part is how far out your route is determined.  In good visual novels, the choices are fairly obvious, and once you start a route, you actually start the route.

Not so in Chaos;Child.  You get put onto a route, and much later will see the effects.  At least one route is determined 4(!) chapters before you actually get different content.  So, you have to either read or skip all that extra stuff just to see the new.  That's ridiculous.  Plus, there is no good function to jump around the story, so you have to either sit through the time it takes to skip through the bloat, or know when to have a separate save file.  This just makes an already too-long game even longer.

One last gripe I have with the game is the touch screen sensitivity.  Thankfully, you can tap the screen to advance the text (as all visual novels should do), but it's pretty flawed.  You are supposed to be able to "swipe" to set auto advance for the text, but it reads pretty much every time I touch the screen as a swipe.  95% of my taps are swipes, and set it to auto.  It's annoying and entirely preventable, since this is the only game I've had that problem in.

Overall, Chaos;Child is a visual novel you can easily skip.  You would get your money's worth, as the game is too long, but is too much of a mixed bag for me to recommend.  Let an editor have a run through the script, trimming it down, reducing some of the random twists, and it would be great.  Since that's not going to happen, it's just mediocre.


The Good:
The characters are fairly well fleshed out.

The Bad:
Story is too bloated.  Routes are way to subtle and far out.  Too many random twists.

The SaHD:
It starts off on a good note, like Indigo Prophecy, but unfortunately also ends up like Indigo Prophecy.

(Chaos;Child was rented from Gamefly's service.)

Friday, May 24, 2019

Lococycle (Xbox One) Review


Remember Lococycle?  Originally announced as an Xbox 360 arcade title, it first debuted on the Xbox One during the launch window.  I remember it being pushed by Microsoft for a bit, until it released to less than stellar reviews.

Fast forward a few years, and the game was given away with the Games with Gold program.  I finally decided to sit down and play it, mostly because I remember it not being a very long game.  Or maybe it would be bad enough that I wouldn't care to play it ever again.  One way or another, I was going to knock it off of my list of games to play.

Lococycle stars sentient weapon-slash-motorcycle IRIS.  After being given life like Johnny 5, she takes her unwitting mechanic Pablo on a trip to Scottsburg, Indiana.  A top level and expensive weapon escaping from a billion-dollar arms dealer?  What could possibly go wrong on their route?  Obviously, it is a lot.  The game and story are over the top, but I sure didn't expect it to begin with, and feature, live-action cut scenes.  The acting, locations, situations and voice acting are all really good.  In fact, they are likely the high point of the game.

IRIS and Pablo go racing toward their destination, but the game isn't really a racing game.  It's pretty much on rails, with you fighting various bad guy troops.  You will need to steer clear of attacks and other vehicles.  This is much harder than it should be, because the steering sensitivity is way too high.  Trying to make a minor correction frequently resulted in me over-steering, hitting something or other in the process.

IRIS is far from defenseless, using her machine guns, grenade launcher, and even martial arts training to fight back.  Yes, you read that right.  There is plenty of melee combat in the game.  While silly, it's my preferred way to fight.  She has a normal attack, and a stronger attack where she throws Pablo out like a boomerang.  She can also dash to other enemies as she flies through the air attacking them, and even counter many of their assaults.  IRIS' health isn't great for many parts of the game, so countering correctly is crucial to survival.  Thankfully the game is usually generous about the timing.

As mentioned before, there will be shooting sections.  Very few sections will have you use her side-mounted grenade launcher, but there will be plenty of times when you shoot her front-mounted machine guns.  These are fairly effective at taking out bad guys, especially when upgraded.  It can be very hard to aim at some cars because the road isn't always straight.  Trying to aim while winding back and forth is annoying.  This is the time the overly sensitive steering would be welcome, but that is toned down a lot while you are actively shooting.  It just feels backwards.

To mix things up, there are also some sections and boss fights that take the game in new directions.  One may be a third person shooter, another may be a mini-game to fix IRIS before a train hits you.  There are also a lot of QTE bits thrown in.  These tend to be fairly inoffensive, but I suspect they are there to pad out the gameplay and length.  The worst of these sections is the Street Fighter-like boss fight.  I would give them a bonus point for the background, but that fight is so bad that I won't.  First off, the two characters have actual Street Fighter special moves.  Trouble is, there isn't a move list, and I only found two of IRIS'.  The opponent has Blanka's Electricity, Dhalsim's stretchy limbs, the psycho crusher, a fireball, and the spinning lariat.  IRIS can throw a fireball, but the computer reads the input, and uses the spinning lariat to pass through it.  Every.  Time.  It's not only annoying, it's outright cheap.  You'd think they were emulating an SNK boss instead.

The levels were longer than I thought they would be, but they didn't feel too long until towards the end.  Even so, it takes less than 10 hours to beat the game.  This counts the times you will die in a level, since I found several annoying parts that were a struggle for me to beat.  There are not too many of these, provided you are using the points at the end of the stages to level up your attacks.  You can't do a lot of grinding, since beating your high score on a level will only award you points past your lower score, since you already earned those.  Therefore, the only way past those speed bumps is to get better.

After beating the game, you will have a plethora of extra points.  These can then be used to unlock a bevy of concept art, behind the scenes pictures, and videos.  There are a lot, but some of them are really interesting.  I had no idea it was that James Gunn when I saw the name, as I assumed it was a person with the same name.

Lococycle is fairly short, and offers some interesting experiences.  It's sometimes okay, and sometimes annoying, but I'd say it's worth trying a few levels if you got the game for free or cheap.


The Good:
The over the top story and mostly top-notch voice acting are entertaining.

The Bad:
Feels clunky, and some of the fights are annoying.

The SaHD:
So Pablo can detach, and there are times when IRIS isn't moving, but he decides not to escape at those times?  The story is enjoyable at times, and dumb at others.

(Lococycle was received free from the Games with Gold program on Xbox)

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Fate/EXTELLA LINK (PS4) Review


I'll admit I didn't really follow much of the news on Fate/EXTELLA LINK, since I initially thought it was an expanded re-release of The Umbral Star.  Instead, it's a full-blown sequel (with a lot of capitol letters).  Well, for the most part.  The sequel bit, not the letters.

Anyway, the game picks up a bit after the events of the previous one.  Altera is still small, Nero and Tamamo are still fighting over you, and you defeated the Umbral Star.  However, the main character claims to have never met Archimedes.  I guess I'm not the only one to forget stuff from the last game.  Unlike last time, the story is a more "good versus evil" type, instead of the much more intimate arcs from before.  It may feel a little bit less Fate-like, but it feels more accessible to the laymen.

Of course a new threat arises, requiring your heroes to band together and defeat it.  Also of course, some of your friends have been turned against you by this new foe.  Besides a new plot, there is a new structure to the game, and for the most part, I think it's better.  After the first two fights, you can pick your next stage.  The stage you pick can lead to one of the alternate paths.  Plus, you aren't locked into your route, as you can do another stage to unlock the other route.  Once those are both finished, a third route opens up.  The game is nice enough to tell you what you need to do to get it, and you don't even have to repeat the stage the choice is tied to, just skip to the dialogue at the end of it.  The 27 story stages are laid out very clearly once available, which is always a plus.

For your first run through a story, you are limited to the characters you actually have at that point.  So if you do an earlier stage, you might not have all of your friends.  Once you get an ending, that restriction is lifted.  You can turn that feature off if you want to, but I wouldn't dream of doing that.  Half the fun of unlocking characters is using them to see if they are any good.  As you beat each stage, you can unlock even more characters, and also new extra battles.  There are over 40 extra battles.  It's really nice, but the early level suggestions aren't the most friendly to using newly unlocked and non-used characters.  So, you will probably be grinding the first one or some story stages a few times.  Or just pay money to level up your units.

Battle basics are very similar to before.  The game is a hack and slash, so you take on hordes of faceless grunts, some stronger captain units, and named heroes.  The Square Button is your normal attack, and the Triangle Button your stronger one.  Pressing Triangle at different points of the combo will result in different ending moves, allowing you to vary up your attacks based on preference or the situation.  Each character can also equip up to four special moves that are either attacks or even buffs.  They are on a cooldown timer, so use them as much as you can for some easy damage.

The field is divided up into several key rooms, with a few tiny hubs between them.  When you reach a door, pressing the X Button (jump) will launch you to the next.  It cuts down on unnecessary traveling, keeping the game more focused on the action.  The goal is to take over key areas, defeat key personnel, and prevent your main base (or other important target) from running out of health.  Taking over a room is the same as last time, just kill some grunts until the key aggressors show up, and then defeat them.

The Moon Drive is back and slightly reworked.  As you attack enemies, your gauge will fill.  When full, you can press the Circle Button to enter a powered up state.  Attacking enemies during Moon Drive will fill the Noble Phantasm gauge.  When that is full, pressing R2 will unleash your weapon's true name.  While that aspect is more important in the show, what it does here is a lot of damage.  So much so that it will instantly take over whatever room you use it in!  Very useful when used strategically.

Install skills also return.  As you deepen your friendship with the various characters, they can equip more passive skills.  These range from stat increases, to more damage during Moon Drive, and even more experience per kill.  Most drops during battles are more install skills, which will increase the strength of them when multiple are acquired.  Mystic Codes, like last time, let you cast temporary buffs or heals.  The cost of making the lower level Mystic Codes feels much more reasonable, and therefore much easier to try new ones, or get a better version of the one you are using.

While I enjoyed the previous game a lot, I think Fate/EXTELLA LINK is even better.  It adds new characters and nice new features.  The story is not nearly as in-depth, which is both good and bad, but the branching storyline is interesting.  I sort of miss the character arcs, but I think the extra stages are a good substitute.  At least that way you aren't stuck using a character you don't like for several battles.  If you enjoyed the gameplay in the first game, it is an easy recommendation.  If you like Dynasty Warriors-like hack and slash, it is still an easy recommendation.  I like it!


The Good:
Fights are fun and I like the branching story.  There are several systems in play, but it's easy to grasp the concepts of them.

The Bad:
Not much depth on the characters, have to check the menus for information on them.

The SaHD:
I'm surprised "Charlie" wasn't used as a character before this.

(Review copy of Fate/EXTELLA LINK was provided by the publisher)

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Caligula Effect: Overdose (Switch) Review


The Caligula Effect is an RPG on the Vita that I played nearly two years ago and enjoyed.   I was surprised that it was not only getting an updated release, but also being ported to other systems.  I've played my fair share of remakes and re-releases, and what The Caligula Effect: Overdose adds is one of the best ways to do it.

First off, I don't think the combat has changed much.   This will be a deterrent to some people, but not me.  I mostly enjoyed the fights.  When you come in contact with an enemy in the dungeon maps, a fight will start right where you are.  Since it's a virtual world, it will also remove things like walls.  This is good and bad.  Good, because you won't be cramped, but bad because an enemy in another room might be close enough to be an unexpected part of the encounter.

The battle UI and menu have changed, making it easier to navigate.  It isn't as unique as it was, but overall it is a good change.  In fact, pretty much all of the menus had an overhaul, making them cleaning and more user friendly.  Skills have received an overhaul as well. For better or worse, it feels like there are less of them.  Plus, some don't feel as useful as they once did.  The main character's rapid fire, a favorite for juggling enemies, is slower and less accurate.  Kotaro's launch isn't as reliable, and his rapid punch is too slow to start.  I used to love hitting them into the air, then punching them on the way down.  Now, Kotaro can't even do the one thing I liked him for.  I didn't think they could make me use him less, but here we are.

However, the "super" attacks no longer have to be purchased with skill points and are available at the start.  You have to build up a bar to use them, but this bar is persistent, so I just save them for bosses and other hard fights.   Plus, they don't cost any SP!  Skill points can now be used to increase the level of the skill, from 1 to 3, as well as purchase new skills.  Increasing the level makes them stronger, and secondary effects (like launching, etc.) more likely to happen.  While it does make them stronger, I didn't notice a remarkable increase in the secondary effects.  It wasn't something I extensively tested though.

You will choose your action from a list separated into three categories.  Basically your attacks, support skills (buffs, debuffs, heals), and misc skills (moving and recharging your SP).   Each skill has an activation time and SP cost.  After selecting what you will do, the game plays out a shadow version of what may happen, called an "imaginary chain".  This allows you to tentatively see how much damage you may do, and coordinate attacks with your teammates.  You can set up to three skills in a row.  While useful for piling on the damage, be aware that your next turn will come up slower, since you have committed to a few attacks already.   In the previous release, the default setting of the confirm button was to end the chain.  Now it is to select another attack.  This makes it faster to use several attacks in a row, but slightly slower to smash through a selection when the enemy is really weak, or about to be finished by your friend's attack.

In a strange choice, defeated enemies can no longer be juggled.  Sure, it served no logical purpose, but it was fun to do on the last or lone enemy.  My guess is that since a defeated enemy would still be in the way, they disappear so as not to inconvenience targeting another enemy.  Of course, you will still attack the air where they were, so maybe not.  The extra experience for defeating an enemy in one turn is also gone.  Experience gain overall feels faster, so I don't actually miss this as much as I thought I would.

What is new is being able to get a preemptive strike.   If you attack an unaware enemy on the dungeon map, you will start the fight with the enemy's risk level elevated.  This in turn makes it much, much easier to risk break them, which allows for greater damage.  Mifue makes this incredibly easy, as one of her basic attacks increases risk by 1, guaranteeing a break on hit.   Before, the only similar function was to get the attention of an enemy.   In theory, you could separate one from a group, making the fights easier.   While I did use that occasionally, it wasn't nearly as useful as the current system.

The dungeons in the game make sense.  There's a school, the mall, the library, and other places that feel natural in an imaginary city.   Yes, even the hot springs.  The new bosses each bring a new location with them.  Each dungeon is fairly sprawling, taking awhile to navigate.  It does feel a lot quicker to go through them than the first release.  I attribute it partially to my previous playing, but mostly to faster fights and easier to avoid enemies.  Also, boss fights are much faster easier.

My main complaint with the dungeons is how each floor or area inside is largely identical to the others.  Sure, the library has a section with marionettes, but that doesn't help as much as it should.  I could rarely tell you what section I was in, and I couldn't get a grasp on their layouts.  I can follow the quest dots, but had trouble trying to locate the student request side quests.  Maybe if I had a better grasp of Japanese school layouts, but as it stands I could rarely tell one area or floor from another, or even how they fit together.

Speaking of the other students, befriending them has been streamlined.  Part of the UI redesign made the affinity gain much bigger.  It's also a lot faster, meaning you don't have to talk to people quite so much.  You will still need to invite them to your party to fulfill their side missions, which is something I kind of gave up on in the original.  Sadly, I wasn't too keen to try it again.

Now, on to the biggest changes.  Two new characters join the Go Home Club, and each bring a Musician counterpart.  Even better, you can go all Yojimbo and join the Musicians to work against the Go Home Club.  Both of these are very well woven into the existing story, and do not feel superfluous.  I was very eager to try out the new story line, but had to wait until after the second boss to start it.  Disappointingly, there isn't really anything you can even do at that point.  Once you beat the next boss, however, you will gain two Musician party members, and have a bit of story with them, setting up what you will be doing.  You can jump between the two, but as far as I can tell, you have to unlock a place with the Go Home Club before you can venture there as a Musician.  Even so, it's an interesting addition that I like.

Overall, I still enjoy The Caligula Effect.  The Overdose release has some significant additions, which are well integrated into the story.  That's the key thing that makes it worthwhile.  I'd recommend it to fans of the first release, and further to any RPG fans that skipped or missed it the first time.


The Good:
New characters and story line make a fun game even better.

The Bad:
Doing side quests is a chore.

The SaHD:
So your friends don't even notice the mysterious new Musician uses the same dual guns as you?

(Review copy of The Caligula Effect: Overdose was provided by the publisher)

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.