Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dragon's Crown (PS3/Vita) Review

Dragon's Crown is the new action RPG/ side scrolling beat em up from Vanillaware, the makers of the always beautiful games like Odin Sphere and Grand Knights History (well, at least in Japan), and brought over to the U.S. thanks to Atlus.  To get the full effect, I dived into the single player and co-op after enlisting my wife.

First off, the game looks amazing.  If you are familiar with the normal look of Vanillaware games, you know what to expect.  The character graphics look wonderful, both the larger pictures and the in-game models.  The scenery and enemies are just as good.  There's plenty of pretty spell and attack effects, and the whole thing looks great.  The animations for all of the characters is just as fluid and good looking as everything else.  A personal favorite of mine is the Dwarf's animation for riding a mount (he's such a BOSS).

The only real drawback to the overall look of the game is that there is too much going on the screen at times, and I lose track of my character.  It takes me a few crucial seconds to figure it all out and by then I've already taken damage.  It's not limited to me either, as my wife had the same problem, especially when trying to locate her weapon after an enemy knocked her down.

The controls are pretty much spot on.  Square will do your normal attack/combo, Triangle will pick up or drop items/weapons, Circle will do your special move, X will jump (and double jump) and R1 (R on the Vita) will dodge.  The d-pad is used to select and use equipment (heal potions and special abilities) while the right analog stick is used to move a cursor around the screen, which will be mentioned more in a bit.  It's really cool that the Up and Down directions with the attack will do different attacks and magic spells, although I sometimes do these when I don't intend to because of how I play side scrolling beat em ups.  One thing control wise that bothers me is the lack of a pause.  I figure that because you can play online, there is no pause, but when I'm playing solo or couch co-op, I really, really want to be able to pause.  Kids can't always wait for enemies to be cleared out or a boss to die.  The vertical range of some attacks seems limited too, and I sometimes had trouble hitting guys because they were a hair above what I thought I could hit.

These screenshots are so pretty I just uploaded the large version.
Back to the cursor mentioned earlier.  There are treasure chest and doors that can be unlocked by the rogue that follows you around so you can get weapons, gold and access to secret areas.  You can tell the rogue to unlock them by putting the cursor over them and clicking it down or pressing the L Button.  In addition to the chests and doors, there are quest items to click on and little sparkles that will reveal more treasure when clicked.  There's also runes carved into the background that can give various effects when you complete certain groups of three.  All of these are far easier on the Vita, where you can just click the touch screen.  The cursor works well enough, but sometimes hangs up on the runes and other things when you are trying to move past them.  It's also easy to lose the place of your cursor, so it's not easy to use in a fight, where some of the runes are actually useful ("petrify the flesh", I'm looking at you).

There are six different characters to choose from: Fighter, Amazon, Dwarf, Sorceress, Wizard and Elf.  The Fighter and Amazon can block attacks, and are best up close.  They are fun but standard characters and can do lots of damage consistently.  The Dwarf is also good up close, and can pick up enemies and throw them.  The AI Dwarf does this with abandon, so beware (it is a lot of fun to do, though).  The Sorceress and Wizard can use several different magic attacks that are dependent on the element of their weapon.  They also get several skills that require you to carry items in their inventory, so you'll want to decide which to take so you can still equip things.  The Elf has lots of close range kicks, but can stay at a distance and use her bow.

They are all fun in their own way and I like that the similar ones have skills that make them play different enough from each other.  Each character has several different colors to choose from, most of which are pretty cool.  I first started out with the Sorceress (gee, I wonder why?), but found the Elf and Dwarf to be the most fun after awhile.  Also, while the drawback of the ranged characters is limited arrows or recharge-able MP, the close range fighters can drop their weapon.  Sometimes it's from doing your strong attack and most times it's the enemies knocking it out of your hand.  I'm guessing it's a balance thing, but it is pretty annoying to have to track your sword down after taking a huge hit.  I'd easily recommend trying them all and see what skills you can buy with each before committing to one.

Throughout the story of Dragon's Crown, you will take on a variety of quests and travel to 9 different dungeons.  There is actually a story to the game.  It's not very long, but I like that it's concise.  Really, though, it's a great excuse to go and kill some monsters (and look at cool pictures of the different characters).  A few characters are obviously inspired by other famous fantasy series, and there's even a Monty Python reference or two for good measure.  No, I won't spoil it for you, but it is pretty funny.  There are lots of quests that will send you back into the dungeons, which helps get you more money and experience.  You can get some more exp, money and even skill points for doing these quests, but the best rewards are the artworks.  Each quest has an unlockable piece of art.  There's a few that I want to use as new Vita backgrounds!

"Wipe them out, all of them!"
After conquering the 9 dungeons, something interesting happens.  Online co-op becomes available!  However, that's not all that changes.  If you don't want to know, just skip past this paragraph now.  Anyway, you must then get 9 talismans from alternate paths through the dungeons that have opened up.  These include new bosses that must be beaten fairly quickly to actually get the talisman.  I do like that there are alternate paths and new bosses to fight, as it adds some good replayability and choice when going through them several times.  I'm not too crazy that they jump up in level and can require some grinding to be able to beat in the time required.  The previous bosses all get a level increase too, so you aren't just slaughtering the first few.  The other change I'm not too fond of is that you have to pay to be able to choose which dungeon you go to.  You can go to a random one for free, but have to front up some gold to choose.  Yes, they actually put a reason in the game as to why you can no longer choose for free, but it still feels like a very unnecessary change to have in the game.

Since this is primarily a multiplayer game, you can enlist AI characters to help you while playing solo.  If you recover bones in the dungeons, you can have them revived for a fee and they become available to join in your adventures.  This is a neat function and can make some of the dungeons and bosses a little easier.  If you don't choose to take some along, they can randomly join midway through a dungeon, which is kind of nice.  This can be turned off though, so you aren't stuck with them.  The biggest drawback to this is the AI itself.  They routinely walk though traps and don't try to avoid taking attacks that can outright kill them.  Sometimes they just stare at the boss while waiting for you to come back after losing a life.  If they run out of lives and you don't pay to bring them back, they are gone for good.  They don't level up, and are in plentiful supply, so it's not that big of a deal.  They are ok, but definitely no substitute for another person.

As mentioned before, I played a lot of the game in couch co-op multiplayer.  Thankfully you do not have to beat the 9 dungeons to open that up.  It works really well.  You share the same bank (with an awesome 500 slots!) and can take the same quests offered.  The biggest downside is that only player 1 gets credit for doing the story quests.  You still get all the exp, so you can breeze through the story mode with that character for completion.  The other downside is player 2 cannot activate any runes, since they won't have them in their inventory.  This may change if that character is far enough in their story, though.  Lastly, I didn't have a chance to try online, since no one joined my games (and I didn't seem to join anyone else's), which isn't surprising considering the game isn't out yet.  I'll update accordingly once I get in a few games.

Ice staff = ice and wind magic.
Atlus claims that it will take about 20 hours to go through the game with one character.  This fell in line with my own experience.  My clock was higher, but I also tried all of the classes at least a bit, and the clock is for the whole file, so naturally it had more time.  I imagine it is much quicker once you know the tricks to the bosses for subsequent characters.  The length seems a bit forced because you travel to each dungeon a few times for quests and whatnot, but the different routes is at least a nice change of pace.  There's also three difficulties, and completing one will open the higher one.  There's also six characters to try out.  I like the amount of content in the game and think it's a great value.  If you have someone to play with, it's even more so.

Unfortunately, the game is not cross-buy, but thankfully you can easily transfer your save file between the PS3 and Vita versions if you have them both.  It's actually a main menu option, so use it often.  Heck, you could even use it as an easy cloud storage option if you only own one version of the game.  The game auto-saves, so it can be used as a nice backup save, or just use it to copy the save file into the other save slots.

The trophy list is shared between the Vita and PS3 version, so no double dipping.  There's a few standard trophies, like completing each dungeon, beating the game with each character and getting all the awesome artworks from completing quests.  There's some for doing various things like burying bones, donating coins to the goddess and the like.  Lastly, there's a few 'mastery' ones, like getting a high score, maxing out the level and beating the final boss really quickly.  It's a nice list that is spread out so you can get trophies along the way, not like some games that give you a lot in the beginning and at the end.

Overall, did I have fun while playing Dragon's Crown?  Yes.  Was it even better to play with my wife for some couch co-op?  Indeed.  She was looking forward to coming home each day to play some more, so it wasn't just me having lots of fun.  There were a few frustrating parts, like the jump in difficulty halfway through the game, some of the bosses, and the AI.  There's a little bit of grinding, but the combat is really fun.  It's a little disappointing that you have to beat the 9 dungeons before you can play online, but if you have a buddy that can come over to play, that won't matter as much.  The Vita version has the advantage of touching the screen instead of using the cursor to activate things and order the rogue around, but the PS3 version has the advantage of couch co-op.  If you like action RPGs or side scrolling beat em ups like the Dungeons and Dragons arcade game or the old Double Dragon games, Dragon's Crown is one to try out.  Wow, that's a lot of dragons, huh?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mamorukun Curse! (PSN) Review

Mamorukun Curse! is a downloadable bullet hell shoot-em-up recently released on the PSN.  The US release is a complete package, which includes the DLC bundled in it.  In the game, a group of people are trapped in the netherworld and must make their way out by defeating the demons that stand in their way.

The characters in the game are all drawn in a manga style for the menus and story, but all of the in-game graphics are 3D.  The 3D graphics are fine, not too great but allow for lots of things on the screen with no slowdown (except when intentional).  I like the manga style artwork, and it's really nice that you can unlock a lot of the images in the gallery.  You can also view some nice pictures of the bosses and even some of the arcade cabinet artwork.  Most of the gallery is unlocked through normal play, but there are no requirements on the ones you have yet to unlock so it can be harder to track down the ones you are missing.

There are 7 different characters to use, and each one has a different shot type.  The shot can be powered up in Arcade and Netherworld Adventures mode, but not in Story where it starts powered up.  It also powers up really quickly from collecting capsules from enemies.  Collecting Power ups does slightly change your shot, but it mostly just makes it stronger.

When this game was released in Japan a couple of years ago, there was DLC for it in the form of costumes.  Thankfully, the PSN release in the US has all of that included.  Each character has two costumes to choose from, which will affect their in-game model and the picture of them when conversing in story mode (but not the unlockable gallery images from story mode).

Start shooting!

Since Mamorukun Curse! is a "bullet hell" shoot em up game, you will pilot your chosen character around the screen and shoot lots of enemies and dodge tons of bullets.  The shots themselves have patterns, so learning where to stay and when to weave is the key to victory, especially in the sometimes cramped areas.  The characters themselves look larger than their hit boxes, which is normal (and very good when narrowly skirting bullets).  Shooting can be mapped to the right stick instead of a button.  If you choose not to use the dual stick shooting, you will have to move without shooting to change your firing angle.  I much prefer dual stick style, since it's easier and more intuitive.  You also can't shoot behind you, which while normal, is annoying in a few instances.

There are no "bomb" items like other bullet hell games, but what sets it apart the most is the unique "curse" mechanic.  Holding the button will charge a curse meter and releasing it will fire the shot off.  If the curse shot hits a medium or large size enemy, they will take continuous damage but fire more bullets and any enemy that enters the radius will also be cursed.  When a cursed enemy is destroyed, they drop candies that increase your score.  They can be collected by moving over them, or if you stop shooting, even briefly, they will all be drawn to you.

However, that is not all the curse can do.  If you tap the button, the curse will hit the ground in front of your character.  If you move through this field, it will curse your character which powers you up for a brief time.  It's really nice on bosses, so you can get more damage without having more bullets to dodge.  It's an interesting mechanic and certainly something to use effectively if you want to do really well at the game.  When you start to charge the curse it will destroy some of the enemy's bullets, so it at least half-functions like a bomb item.  There is a cooldown on the curse shot, but used correctly the curse is a very powerful tool.

Another unique and cool thing is how lives are handled.  Some shoot em ups will have a few hits before you die but no lives and others have 1 hit kills but a few lives.  In Mamorukun Curse!, you have multiple characters instead of multiple lives.  Each hit will kill a character, but then the next takes their place.  It's a pretty cool mechanic that encourages you to try out all of the characters and get decent with them.  I will mention that this is not present in Arcade mode, where you just pick one and they can survive a few hits before you have to continue.  If you pick up an extra life, it will resurrect the first defeated character and put them back in line.

Thankfully, those red bats are yours.

There are three main game types:  Netherworld Adventures, Arcade and Story Mode.  Story Mode will follow the characters as they attempt to escape the Netherworld and reveal the reason they are there.  You pick the order of the characters, but once you run out it is game over and you have to attempt the stage again with the same number of characters that started it, so it is possible to get stuck and have to run through part of it again.  Arcade gives you a time limit and allows you to choose what stages you complete and in what order.  Once you beat a boss, you can opt to do a more powerful version of them for more points and time.  This mode is interesting since it gives you a little freedom in what stages you can do (or avoid).  It also has unlimited continues, so you can get through it even if you aren't the most skilled dodger of bullets.  Since you can only pick one character in this mode, it is also a good way to practice using a single person.

Netherworld Adventures is like a mix of arcade and training modes.  You can choose a course, which presents you with one or more stages that you must complete with a limited number of characters.  They have a broad range of difficulty levels, so it's actually a very helpful training mode, since it eases the difficulty up and helps you improve.  It starts with a few different courses to try, but more open up after completing them.  They can get pretty challenging (especially when you have kids running around and being loud while trying to reflexively dodge a hail of bullets).  If there are multiple stages in a course, losing on one means you have to do them all over again.  One strange thing with the three modes - even in the menu, to back out you have to press start and choose "exit game".  I would expect this while actually in the game, so it was odd to have to do that in the menus.

In the game, there are many standard trophies and a few unique ones thrown in for good measure.  Several trophies are for completing the stages and missions in arcade mode, plus ones for story mode and doing the different challenges in Netherworld Adventures.  The most unique ones are defeating certain bosses with certain characters and a few other feats in Story mode.  The longest would be acquiring a million pieces of candy and the hardest would be beating the game without continuing for the different characters and difficulties.  I appreciate that there are a good amount for different levels of skill.  I rarely get a 1cc (credit clear), but I can usually pull it off in two.

I'm a fan of bullet hell and shoot em up games, so I'm always glad to see another one brought over to the US.  Mamorukun Curse! is a fun game if you enjoy the genre.  There's good replay with (of course) getting high scores and getting the various Story mode trophies, but no multiplayer.  Three similar yet unique modes offer lots to do just going through them the first time.  The characters all have different shooting patterns, but learning to use them all will allow you to smash your way through the various stages.  If you are a fan of shmups (I still don't like using that word), Mamorukun Curse! is worth the price.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Time and Eternity (PS3) Review

Time and Eternity is an RPG where you play as a young woman who has two souls living inside of her, Toki (red hair) and Towa (blonde hair).  After nearly being assassinated on her wedding day, she travels back in time to find out who almost killed her fiance and stop them from ruining her wedding (and life).

A lot of this game is animated, and I don't mean in the usual sense.  I mean all of the characters and monsters are animated like an anime (Japanese cartoon) show.  It looks amazing, and is smooth most of the time.  There are several scenes where the characters have lots of movement, and the look really reminds me of those point and click/choose your own adventure games from the 90s that have animated characters (think Disc World or Willy Beamish).  The enemies and all of their attacks and the attacks of your characters are fully animated as well, with Toki/ Towa's spell casting animation being a personal favorite.  Visually, the game is very eye-catching.  My wife remarked when seeing it for the first time, "Wow, it really does look like you are playing an anime."

Of course, the awesome visuals are not without downsides.  There are many palette swaps in the game, from the townspeople you talk to to the enemies you fight.  While playing, you will see many similar people giving you quests as well as dispatching lots of recolored and resized golems, birds and zombies.  However, there is a good variety of enemies, even if their are many of each type.  Besides the aforementioned golems, birds and zombies, there are vampires, succubi, ninjas, robots and even flying eye...things.  The other problem with the visuals is sometimes the animation appears choppy.  I was playing the downloaded version, so I'm not sure if it was the game or maybe the hard drive.

The game is dubbed and many of the lines are voiced.  The voices for the characters are fitting for the most part, and everything sounds fine.  I didn't see any option to switch to Japanese audio for those of you that prefer that.  The music is pretty good, but not the most memorable.  One of the dungeon tracks keeps reminding me of Chrono Trigger music, though.

Run up to my face, meet my knife.
Moving around the towns and world map is done by selecting your destination from a point on the map.  You can shop, pick up quests and go home to save your game.  Some of these areas do have a 3D model that you can walk around in, but that only occurs during a few quests.  However, it is actually nice to just pick the place on the map, since it cuts out a lot of walking (which you will be doing lots of in the dungeons).  I wish you could save on the town or world map, but you can only save in your house or at a save point in a dungeon.

The dungeon environments in are 3D areas that allow you to run around freely.  They look pretty nice, but of course not as nice as the animated characters and monsters.  Many locations are distinct from each other, from island to haunted woods to floating ruins.  Some of them are deceptively large and it will take awhile to run through them.  The map for each area is very good, since it marks all of the important points when you enter, so you don't need to run around finding all of the waypoints and treasure chests, since you can see where they all are whenever you check the map.  Very nice and very handy.  The only complaint I have with the areas are some of the waypoints are too far apart from each other, and are not really close to something you would need (a warp point, save point or quest giver/objective).

Fights in Time and Eternity have lots of action, and are all one on one fights.  You can fight multiple enemies, but it's just a series of linked one on one fights.  The circle button is your default attack, which is a rifle at distance and a knife when up close.  You can buy "gifts" which will give you different skills when you level up, both passive and active.  Active skills are activated with the other buttons (X, Square and Triangle) and require SP.  Most skills and spells are really useful, from powerful spells and healing to skills that break the opponent's guard or knock them back.  Spells take some cast time, and both spells and skills can be interrupted by some attacks.  Learning when to dodge, block and attack will make fights much easier.  If you don't learn the different opponents, expect to chug lots of healing items.  All of the pattern recognition and learning when to dodge and attack was reminiscent of Punch-Out! to me.

It wasn't too hard to make my way through most of the game.  As long as you pay attention to the patterns of enemies, you can get through without much damage, and when you are low Drake can heal you.  If you do lose a fight, you can retry it, so there isn't really a penalty for losing.  However, there are a few really aggressive enemies, and they are really annoying.  Most enemies have gaps in their patterns for you to counter attack.  The few aggressive enemies just keep hitting, requiring you to just take damage while dealing your own (the vampires are the biggest offenders of this).  Since they are constantly assaulting you, magic and skills are rarely an option for those particular foes.  Knocking them back only buys you a few seconds, since they will just run back to you and continue the onslaught.  The best option is to use skills that dizzy them, but it can take several levels before you have access to them.

Spells are useful and I love the animation on them.
A powerful ability that Toki and Towa get is time manipulation.  Yes, this is part of the story, but at certain points you get abilities that can be used in battle.  The first spell reverses part of the current turn, and can be used as a "do over" button.  This wasn't very useful to me.  The next time spell speeds you up incredibly.  The enemy still moves at normal speed, but you are super speedy, attacking and casting spells with enough speed that it's hard to be interrupted.  Personally, I'd rather it slow the enemy, but it is very useful and very powerful.  You can bombard a tough enemy very quickly, making hard fights much easier.  The third ability is Time Hold, which will stop an enemy from moving for a brief time.  It's moderately useful, and would be more so if it lasted longer.  The only drawback is you have a limited number of times to use these spells, and that limit can only be recharged by using an item, going home or leveling up.

Sometimes the combat feels unresponsive though.  After dodging an attack, it seemed to take longer to actually counter-attack than it should.  Hitting the button repeatedly would work, but it was very easy to then attack too many times and get hit.  It never got me killed, but sometimes I would get hit with a big attack, or get knocked down and lose all of my SP.

The game is very quest heavy.  The main story is basically a long series of quests, and there are numerous side quests to complete, many of which are not required.  Since I'm a completionist, I would get every quest I could and complete them all.  They reward you with money and Gift Points, which is another good reason to complete as many as you can.  All of the quests are either talk to a certain person, go get an item, or kill some monster.  They aren't too original, but many of near each other, so you can work on several at a time.

About halfway through the third chapter, the enemies' levels were suddenly about five higher than mine.  This stuck me as odd, since I don't run from fights and had done every sidequest up to that point.  I probably wouldn't have noticed, but I stared taking more damage that I thought I should and then noticed the level difference.  I had to resort to a little grinding to catch up.

Yeah, sure 10 year old kid, just borrow my gun.

I don't really feel it needed to have grinding in it.  As mentioned before, I did every sidequest, and I had about 23 hours of playtime at that point.  You could ignore most of the sidequests, but you would have to be insanely good at combat or use lots of healing items to try and blast through the game.  One playthrough would run about 30 hours, and there are three different endings and a new game plus (yay!) to give you more things to do if you so choose.

There's a decent mix of trophies in Time and Eternity.  You get some for finishing every subquest in each chapter, getting the endings, having lots of money, getting combos and chemistry.  The longest ones are likely getting all of the 'gifts', which are the skill sets you unlock with Gift Points and the trophy for maxing out your level.  Most of them aren't very hard (just require some more grinding), but some, like getting all the meals from the two girls, can be missed.

All in all, I had fun playing Time and Eternity.  The animation looks great, and is the game's best selling point, even if sometimes choppy and marred by many palette swaps.  The fights were fast paced, one on one fights, and I had lots of fun destroying enemies with spells and unloading the rifle on them.  The Groundhog Day-like story was pretty interesting, too.  There were some silly parts, like threatening to report one bad guy to the BBB (yes, that's really in there, and I found it funny), but I liked the core story of stopping the assaults on the wedding enough to push me forward.  It's a pretty fun JRPG, but I don't think it would turn a casual RPG player into a diehard.  The look of the game would sure get their attention though.  If you want to see the game in action, I made a video on Youtube showing the combat and a small story scene.  The game won't be for everyone, but go ahead and see if the combat looks interesting enough to try it out.

Monday, July 8, 2013

And We're Back!

I just got back from my trip to California, where we went so the kids could visit my wife's dad and grandma. They seemed to have fun, but it was an almost 12 hour car trip from my parents' house (which is a 3 hour drive from ours).  I'm just glad I'm back and nothing bad happened on our trip.  Well, except hanging out with my in-laws. ZING!  I'm just kidding.

That's the short version of why there wasn't a review up last week.  Hopefully the Tiny Tina one was good enough.  Speaking of which, I was glad to come back and see all of the other Borderlands 2 DLC on sale, so I picked up what I was missing: Scarlet, Hammerlock, the Ultimate Vault Hunter pack and the Psycho.  I can't wait to try the psycho out, since he sounds really fun.  Though first the wife and I will go through the other two DLCs and finish off any quests in Torgue, since we can get experience again.

I also picked up the Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga Game on Demand.  I already have Eco Draconis, but I have been eyeing the re-release since it added the DLC, which is not on the XBL marketplace.  $5 for it is a great price.  Now I just have to find the time to go through the game again, and the HD space to actually download it.

I have just started Time and Eternity, so I will have a review of that up as soon as possible.  Also I'm hopefully going to get up a few more videos on my youtube page.  Busy, busy, busy!