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)