Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Toukiden: Age of Demons (Vita) Review

Toukiden: Age of Demons is an action game in a similar vein to Monster Hunter.  It tasks players with defeating large demons and protect a small village.  Players can do this with friends over the internet or with the computer controlled characters, and craft new weapons and armors with the rewards from each victory.

Character models, weapons and attacks are very reminiscent of Dynasty Warriors, which makes sense given who makes the game.  The stages are much more fantastical.  Like the Orochi games, the locations are realistic locations and either in ruins or twisted by their exposure to the Oni's miasma.  The spoken audio is Japanese only, but it's not a hindrance because there is rarely any dialogue in the middle of the fights, and what is there isn't that important.  The game does look and sound good on the Vita.

Each quest will have you go into an area infested with Oni and you must exterminate them.  Occasionally you will get a quest that has you kill some small fry, but most quests are to defeat one (or a few) large Oni.  If you've played a similar style of game where you hunt monsters (haha) you will feel right at home in Toukiden.  Using the "eye of truth", you can see the general health of the monster's different parts and the health of the monster overall.  Attacking an arm or a leg enough will sever that part from the big baddie and allow you to purify it.  Doing so will reward you with an item, and is worth doing.  Sadly, it doesn't much affect the large Oni, since it will get a phantom limb of sorts and can still use it.  However, breaking multiple pieces sometimes will affect their moves, such as the Windshredder falling over after his charge if all of his legs have been purified.  You have to do it quickly because if you just leave them around after being severed, the monster can regenerate them and restore its durability.  Really, this is my favorite part of the game.  I love systematically breaking or severing every part I possibly can in a fight, mostly for the extra loot you gain.  However, it's also fun and satisfying to smash a creature's leg off and watch it fall on its butt.

Each weapon type will have different strengths, weaknesses, and uses.  The dual knives allow you to attack quickly and from the air, making some of the higher monster parts easier to break.  The gauntlets are slow and strong, and can weaken an enemy's defences.  It's not too hard to transition to different weapons if you so choose, but it's best to try them all and use the one that suits your play style.  For me, it was the knives.  I had a lot of speed and mobility, and I could get into the air to break the hard to reach monster parts.

To further customize your play style, each weapon can equip 1-3 mitama.  The first one equipped will dictate which skills you can use in battle (each type has 4 that all mitama of that type will give you), such as healing an area, attacking with an energy geyser or even running faster.  Thankfully every type has a personal heal, and it's neat that the Spirit type can charge the heal to make it more effective, and the Healing type mitama will naturally restore more health per use.  Each mitama will gain experience in battle when you purify enemies, and can be leveled up to learn new passive abilities.  They can only have three at a time, and cannot re-learn any you have passed up or deleted unless you revert them to level 1 and start over again.  You do keep the list of what they learn at what level, so with some work you can make the perfect ones for your play style.  I wish that you didn't have to start them over to re-learn a skill you passed on, but there is at least a way to do it (even if it is time consuming or expensive).

There are seven total chapters of monsters to kill, and completing just the story alone (first five chapters) took me about 30 hours.  Doing all of the single player content would be around 50.  You will fight the monsters several times each, but that's the idea of the game.  Kill a monster enough that you can wear (or wield) it.  The multiplayer quests can be done solo, and those would add even more time to play.  This helped, since the few times I tried multiplayer, I wasn't able to find any lobbies (maybe I wasn't high enough in the online quests).  Any personal quests to complete the trophy list and obtain the platinum will take well over 100 hours.  There are a few trophies for completing quests and story chapters, but the longer ones will be for getting all of the mitama and obtaining all of one type of weapon.

I really like Toukiden.  It's enough like Monster Hunter that it fills that void in the Vita's library, or even ease people into that style of game without many of the drawback of that series.  On its own, the game has a lot of monster fighting content for just single player, and also a lot for multiplayer.  It might be a bit too much grinding for some.  It's satisfying to sever the monster's parts and purify them for loot.  If you have a Vita, I'd recommend at least trying the demo, since the progress of that carries over to the full version, and it's worth playing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

South Park: The Stick of Truth (PS3) Review

Many people, including myself, were looking forward to South Park: The Stick of Truth when it was announced.  Written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, it was to be an RPG crafted by veteran studio Obsidian.  Once THQ went bankrupt, people were worried about the game's future.  Thankfully, Ubisoft picked it up, and after some delays, the game is finally ready for the masses to enjoy.

First off, this game looks exactly like the show.  Granted the animation on the show isn't the apex of all cartoons, but the fact that the game got it down perfectly is worth mentioning.  The characters move, talk and act all how they should.  They also sound the way they should, since everybody is voiced by their show counterpart.  There are lots of details in the environment, many of which can be interacted with.  It's a nice touch that interactive elements have gold on them, such as doorknobs, cabinet handles and such, so it's easy to tell what you can and can't loot.  Overall, the whole sights and sounds package is amazing.  Old school RPG players like myself should get a kick out of Canada, as it was probably my favorite area in the game.

The story of The Stick of Truth is undeniably very South Park.  It starts off innocent enough, with the children split into two groups, the humans and the elves (drow), each fighting to control the stick of truth, which grants the power of the universe to its holder.  It quickly gets crazier and crazier and involves aliens and nazi zombies.  I don't want to give any spoilers, but it somehow manages to stay coherent, despite being strange.  The game is funny, but is very raunchy and explicit, so I was careful not to play it around my kids.  I'm not that irresponsible.  The game itself is also a satire on RPGs and games in general, and does it very well.  Then again, raunchy humor with good satire is something to be expected from the writers of South Park, so it's not a big surprise.  I'd also quickly like to mention the menu interface.  Since it's meant to be the new kid's phone, the menu looks like Facebook.  It's a nice touch that really fits the game well.

Battles are turn-based (like the Middle Ages, according to Cartman), but have many active elements to them.  If you have played any of the Super Mario RPGs, then you have some idea what to expect.  Attacks and skill can be powered up by timing button presses or by using commands during them.  Enemy attacks can have their power diminished by a well-timed block.  Mastering these is crucial to success, since otherwise the battles are very unforgiving.

Enemies usually have one of two kinds of resistances, shields and armor.  Shields will completely block a certain number of hits, so attacks and skills that hit multiple times will easily break them down.  Thankfully, they rarely come back, so eliminate them quickly.  Armor is much harder to deal with, as it takes its value off of every attack.  Multiple weak attacks will do minuscule damage, so use your heavy hits to deal with them.  Towards the end of the game, enemies will have ridiculously high armor values, so using status effects like burning and bleeding will really help out.  Burn is probably my favorite, since in addition to extra damage each turn, the affected enemy will run around in a panic because THEY ARE ON FIRE.

There are other things to help in battle, like the different skills of each class and of your partner.  I played the thief class, so I would frequently use the "mug" skill to stun my opponent (and gain an item), and then combo that with my backstab, which did extra damage to stunned enemies.  Using an item did not use up your turn, so you can easily heal before attacking, which helped alleviate some of the stress of battles.  Many times the environment can be used to either completely skip a fight, or at least cut down the opposition.  This is a nice thing to put in the game.  Using your fart magic could explode nearby flame sources to wipe out a group, or you could shoot an electrical cord and fry an enemy, making the group they were in easier to defeat.  You can also shoot your ranged weapon at an enemy, and they will start the battle stunned.  That made them easy pickings for my backstabbing theif!

One downside to The Stick of Truth is the playtime.  Completing the game takes about 10-15 hours.  This might not be as bad as it sounds, since the game felt like the proper length.  It wasn't too short, but didn't drag on.  There are four different classes to be, so there is some replay there, and even more if you are going for achievements or trophies.  Since a good chunk are completely missable, as is some equipment and collectibles, you may have to go through the game multiple times if you want to catch them all.  The achievement/trophy list is actually really good, with a few for progression, a few for completion, and a smattering of ones that can be obtained at certain points throughout the game.  Even the trophy list is very South Park, as there is one for crapping your pants (among other crazy ones).

If you like RPGs, I'd easily recommend South Park: The Stick of Truth.  Even if you are not a fan of turn-based fights, there is enough action to keep you on your toes through each encounter.  The only real downsides are the long list of missable things and the short (for an RPG) playtime.  Fans of the show will get a lot out of the game, as there are many, many references crammed into each area.  Even if you don't know much about the show, you'll still get a kick out of the game (unless you are really uptight).  Definitely worth playing!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky (PS3) Review

The newest Atelier game comes almost a year after the last console iteration.  Atelier Escha & Logy offers players the choice of which of the two heroes (natural alchemist Escha or city synthesizer Logy) to follow through the story.  The two will work together and join the R&D department in the frontier town of Colseit.

The look and style of the game is similar to previous entries.  There are cel-shaded looking 3D models, and I still like how the game looks.  Environments are filled out and enemies are detailed, although they are mostly the same enemies you have seen in the Atelier games before.  One complaint I have is some of the text not fitting in its area.  It's not a huge thing, but it just looks sloppy.  Audio-wise, the game offers both spoken English and Japanese for the characters, so everyone can be happy.  Most of the dubbed voices are fine, with Logy sounding flat some of the time.

The basic premise of the game is that both playable characters have just joined the R&D division of the government in one of their frontier towns, Colseit.  Escha has grown up there, but Logy volunteers to be assigned there.  They both have to work together and improve the town, explore ruins and make items using alchemy.  One famous part of the Atelier games is the 3 year time limit.  This is broken up into four month increments, with certain tasks being required each time.  The task are now laid on on a grid, with the main one being the center.  The eight around it are secondary tasks that will reward the player with bonuses when they are completed in groups of three (think bingo).  Around them are tertiary tasks that will give some points toward your rank if completed.  Finishing all the tasks in a given four month period will give you another bonus.

Moving to a dungeon (or back to town) will take a few days.  Thankfully, moving around the different areas of the dungeon will not.  Each day in a dungeon has ten segments, which are taken up when fighting battles or gathering items.  This is fairly standard, but there are some new things to make it easier and better to make your way through the game.  First is the new meter that you build up in each dungeon.  Gathering and fighting will raise it, and when it is over 100%, you can use it for a Field Event.  Field Events can do several things, like make monsters stronger, find a rare artifact, or gather all items in the area.  Very useful when used properly.  Mostly, I used them to gather rare items in an area so I wouldn't spend so much time to gather them manually.  It was also good to use it to acquire relics.

Second would be the battle items, like crafts, bombs and healing salves.  They can be used a few times, but are now refilled when you go back to town.  Wow.  This might be my favorite new thing added to the Atelier series, and I hope it returns for future games.  Spending days to make a really powerful bomb now pays off in spades.  Lastly, you can spend your money on research that improves various thing, like taking less time to gather or travel.  Previously, there were items you could create and equip, but I think I like this better.

Battles in Atelier Escha & Logy are similar to the Mana Khemia series.  All participants in the battle are on a moving line based on the characters' speed and the wait time of their previous action.  When someone's turn is up, you decide what they do.  There are ways to delay an enemy's turn, which moves them farther back in the line.  It's nice because you can see who goes when, and plan your moves accordingly.  Plus, skills and items that do damage for a few turns actually show on the line when that comes up.  I really liked that aspect of Mana Khemia, and I was happy to see a similar battle system in Escha & Logy.

A new aspect to the battles is that now you have 6 characters in your party, 3 of which participate at a time.  When a character's turn is up, you can switch them with the person behind them, and that character gets to take a turn.  The assist meter is still present, and lets you chain attacks together.  When you have a full party of 6, doing enough of these assist attacks can result in a special assist, which stops the combo, but allows the character to use a powerful and fancy attack.  Thankfully, the main characters can now spend their MP on battle skills, making them much better in battle than previous entries.  Couple that with the replenishing battle items, and the main characters are a force to be reckoned with!  Outside of actual boss battles, I rarely needed to heal because of this.

Of course, being an Atelier game, you must also gather ingredients and make items using alchemy.  While it has no impact on the overall item, Escha is the one who uses the cauldron and makes the items, while Logy can use specialized equipment to make/improve weapons and disassemble relics found in the field.  As you level up your alchemy level, you learn new skills to make the process easier than ever to manipulate.  While it sounds complicated when you are first starting, after some experience and skills, you can make high quality items.  My personal favorite skills so far are one that allows you to add an ingredient twice, and one that takes three earth points, but adds either another use to an item or makes one more.  Very useful and easy to do!  I'm sure long time fans may not like that you cannot craft items above your alchemy level, but you level up so quickly that it was never an issue for me.

There are 9 assignments during the story, and each took me several hours to complete, so overall it take at least 40 hours to complete.  There is some replay in using the other character as you main, or trying to complete every part of every assignment, or getting all the trophies.  The trophies are fairly standard for the Atelier games.  You get one for completing each assignment, and ones for seeing special scenes (usually accompanied by a special image).  If you are interested in going for the platinum, you will have complete the game as both characters, which will take a long time.

I'm not a fan of the time limit in the Atelier games, but it was barely an issue in Escha & Logy.  The battles were easier and more fun because of the item refill.  Alchemy is now easier (for me at least) to manipulate the final outcome, and the skills are very useful.  I felt like I had enough time to fight for experience, get lots of materials, and make lots of items, which is a first for me in the series.  It's my favorite so far, because even though there is the time constraint, I rarely felt the pressure that accompanies it.  While not as hard as the previous entries, I love all the improvements it has made and hope they return for future installments.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Magus (PS3) Review

Magus is a recent addition to the PS3 library and is the story of Magus, a prisoner who meets a mysterious woman and is then awakened as a god.  Using his new powers, he escapes the dungeon and seeks to dethrone the man who put him there.  The story, while not the best, is well done.  It isn't confusing, too weird or hard to follow, though it is a bit predictable.  The voice acting is good too, with several of the characters being portrayed by voices I recognize.

However, the first thing you will notice about the game is the graphics.  They just aren't very good.  Character and armor textures don't seem up to the level of most PS3 offerings.  It is nice that armor and helmet changes will show up on your character, but there aren't that many different models.  The stage locales are done pretty well though.  The scenery looks nice, if some of the detail is a bit sparse.  I also like the spell effects in the game.  The fire in particular I think looks good.

The game is a third-person action RPG shooter.  It's a strange hybrid, but works pretty well.  As a mage, you have a weak magic attack (R1) that you can shoot for no mana cost.  There is also a stronger blast (L1), which stilll takes no mana, but has a cast time and cooldown period.  Up to three spells can be set at a time to the Triangle, Square and Circle buttons.  These take mana and have a cooldown.  There are three different skill trees to invest points gained from level ups.  There are power-up skills, targeted spells, area of effects and even summons.  Each color also has a different weak and strong magic attack- green is rapid, blue is burst and red is spread- which gives more variety that it would first appear.  There's several spells to play around with, and combat was at least enjoyable.  I liked the combo spells, where you would use the strong magic, and shoot its effect with the weak to get a third effect.  They were hard to use, but fun.

Enemies have a good array of appearances, from skeletons to unicorns (not how you would think) to giants and more.  While the variety of enemy skins is good, there aren't really many attacks they do.  Enemies are mostly melee based or shoot arrows at you, regardless of the way they look.  There is only one enemy in the game that can use offensive magic.  Most encounters pose little challenge, even boss fights.  You can easily shoot enemies while they are away from you, then run when they close in.  Since this works on every fight, boss fights don't really stick out as special other than the enemy looks unique or you talk beforehand.

There are several ways to make your character stronger.  Upon leveling up, you gain a few points that you can distribute to stats like health and mp, which is pretty standard fare.  You also gain a point to put into one of the many spells available.  You also have a few different pieces or armor, including on the head, chest, arms and a belt.  Many pieces of armor have slots that you can put gems into to increase the stat bonuses.  There are also several runes you can equip, but only after you meet a character that can identify them for you.  The best way, however, is the character that can turn your excess equipment into scrolls that permanently increase your stats.  It takes half the value of the pieces, but you can put as many as you want to together to get the maximum benefit.  There is no limit to how many times you can do this.  Soon you will have a massively powerful god that can smash through the rest of the game with ease.  The UI for equipping items isn't the easiest to read (especially the values for Blue mana), and it can be hard to tell if something is stronger.  Also, there are a few times where what was displayed on the screen stretched beyond the viewable area, and there are no options to change that.

There are seven stages total in the game.  After the first two, you can do the next four in any order, which is nice.  The last one opens up when those four are completed.  The overall game length is about 8 or so hours, and a few more if you want the rest of the trophies.  The game isn't very hard, either, as the only time I died was when I didn't quite levitate far enough over a pit of spikes.  Plus, the enemies level with you, so you are always getting relevant experience and the order of stages doesn't matter much.

The platinum trophy in Magus is easy.  You will get most trophies just by making your way through the game normally.  There are ones for stage completion and several for killing 100 of each enemy type.  A few of those require replaying a stage, which can be done any point after the first two stages.  Even though you cannot go back to those two, everything you need is in the rest of the game, and no trophies are missable (thankfully).  Since enemies level with you, it's not hard to get the trophies for maxing each spell tree.  The longest one is picking up 500 items, and that's what will add a few hours onto the game time if you seek it.

While not that pretty to look at, Magus does offer some fun.  In particular, it was fun to make your character stronger, since there were several ways and it was easy to do.  The game is not difficult at all, but does give you the sense that you are playing with the strength of a god while blasting down groups of enemies.  The game is short, since it can be completed in about 8 hours.  The story wasn't bad, either.  Hopefully, the turning spare equipment into stat upgrades mechanic can go to more games.  It's very useful!  All in all, it was a unique experience and I had some fun playing it.

Bonus tip:  I suggest doing the mines first when given a choice.  Completing it will give you access to turning your spare equipment into permanent stat upgrades for your character.