Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bound By Flame (Xbox 360) Review

You will spend a lot of your time in Bound by Flame running around the maps, fighting enemies and talking to people.  It is an RPG, after all.  Playing as a mercenary operative codenamed Vulcan, your job is to protect a group known as the Red Scribes as they prepare a ritual to help defeat the advancing Ice Lords and their zombie army.  After an unforeseen complication, you must figure out how to coexists with a demon living inside of you and hopefully save the world.

Besides the main quest, there are of course several side quests you can do.  All quests (main and sub) are clearly marked on the map.  I like that so I can complete all the side quests before moving onto the main quest (that's my preferred method to games).  The dialogue is pretty standard for RPGs nowadays, and allows you to choose different responses for many situations.  The graphics are decent, the voice acting was done well enough, and there's even some good humor in the writing.

Combat is very important in the game.  You have to pay attention to the enemies around you, since a few solid hits can do you in.  Fortunately, blocking at the right time will deflect the attack and let you counter.  It's thankfully not just sitting around and hitting the counter button, either.  You can be aggressive when there's an opening, and have to pay attention to the enemy's attacks to dodge or counter at the right time.  You have two main attacks at your disposal, a normal attack and a circular attack.  The circular attack is stronger, and can be charged to hit a bigger area.  I didn't use it much, as there wasn't much time to safely do so.  While weaker, the normal attacks can get the job done, so I mainly stuck with those.

You also get a warrior stance for heavier weapons, a ranger stance for quick movements, a crossbow for ranged, magic and traps to take on any encounters you face.  Heavy weapons, consisting of two-handed swords, axes and hammers, are stronger and can occasionally interrupt a foe, or knock them down with a critical attack.  The range stance has twin daggers, and allows you do jump backwards to dodge attacks.  While not as good as an actual dodge, timing it just right also results in a counter attack.  I very much preferred the ranger stance, since the quick movements and easier dodge made encounters less threatening, especially in one on one fights.  I felt the sword and hammer were too slow, and the axe just performed better for me.  The warrior stance is more suited to fighting multiple enemies, since you can upgrade the block to cover your entire person.

Once you have access to magic, there are four main fire spells you can cast.  There's an area one, flaming orbs that increase your defense while they last, a basic fireball, and the ability to put flame to your blades.  Magic can be hard to use, since the spells have a small cast time which leaves you vulnerable.  I leaned toward the fireball spell and the fire weapon.  The fireball was good for a ranged attack to soften up the enemies, and the fire weapon made physical attacks stronger for a time.  With a few skill points, the cast time is instant, so it was easy to use and not lose health.  The crossbow is also good for a distance hit or two, but since ammo is scarce, you shouldn't over use it.  Similarly, traps are great for larger groups.  Use them sparingly unless you have lots of materials to make more!

Crafting is done from the menu, with no need to go to a specific place to do so.  Potions, crossbow bolts and accessories for your weapons and armor can all be crafted.  It's easy to see what you need to make stuff, and the whole process is fairly intuitive.  There's also lots of accessories that you can add to weapons and armor.  New hilts, blades, shoulder pads and more will not only change the stats of the piece of equipment, but its look as well.  Extra armor, weapons and even the added accessories can be recycled, which will return some raw materials to make more things.  Sure, you can sell extra stuff, but you might as well get some more materials for them.  The whole crafting system is really useful, so use it as early and often.

Every level, you get two skill points to place in any of the three trees.  The trees correspond to the Warrior stance, Ranger stance and Pyromancy.  They progress just how you would think, with the warrior skills affecting the heavy weapons, the ranger tree with stealth, and pyromancy for magic.  The tree is laid our very well, and you can see what abilities affect which skills, and what you need to advance.  While those trees are pretty standard, I liked that they also added feats.  They are much more varied than the skills, and can affect drop rates, health or magic pool, or even non-combat functions like playing a sound when near a treasure chest.  Everything was well explained, but I would still appreciate being able to 'respec' and allocate my points in a different way, even for a fee.

The game isn't quite as long as it would seem.  There are three chapters to the game, and a first run through the game will run around 15-20 hours.  You'll obviously get more time out of the game if you explore and do every side quest you can.  Since fights can get challenging, there's a good portion of time spent retrying parts of the game over again, trying not to die.  Different weapons and play styles make encounters easier or harder, and most fights are very unforgiving.  Make sure to learn block and dodge time, and pay attention to the enemies!  A one on one or two on one fight is easily managed, but fighting four enemies at once is remarkably more difficult.  The companions will help (some more than others), so make sure to take one when you head out.  There's also two endings, if you want more incentive to play again beside achievements or trophies.  The achievement list is a standard one, from killing x amount of guys with different weapons, finishing on the different difficulties, romancing your companions and fulfilling side quests.

Bound by Flame is a fun game.  While fights can be difficult, it was not a result of the controls.  Saving often is the key to avoid lots of frustration.  While the game autosaves a lot, it is still best to do so yourself.  For some strange reason, you only get 10 save slots, but it's manageable even for a save fiend like myself.  If you like action RPGs, I'd recommend playing Bound by Flame.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mugen Souls Z (PS3) Review

Mugen Souls Z is the sequel to Mugen Souls, and stars a few newcomers while also retaining the main characters and all the peons from the first game.  This time, Chou-Chou leaves to subjugate a new set of planets, twelve this time, and add them to the long list of everything that is hers.  She quickly meets Syrma, who accidentally steals most of Chou-Chou's powers with her mysterious casket.  Not one to let something like that go, the undisputed god and her friends will tag along on Syrma's mission to beat all of the ultimate gods and steal their power, in the hopes of restoring Chou-Chou to her original size.

The graphics are similar to last time, with high quality pictures of the characters used for story scenes and 3D super-deformed models for the exploration and battles.  There's also some nice pictures for a few story scenes, which can be unlocked for viewing on the G-Castle.  The story pictures for characters have more movement than last time, which is a step in the right direction.  Also, the 3D models are not just the one type, and created characters can have different chest sizes.  In an effort to be equal, males can also have the same chests.  So if you want to recreate the famous Pokemon episode with James and his inflatable boobs, you can!  It might seem minor, but I like that not every character is basically a little boy, so they look different from each other.  As far as I can tell, the voice cast from the previous game reprise their roles, although each of Syrma's moe types does not have a separate voice.  If you prefer to hear the audio in Japanese, there is dual language support as well.

The flow of the game and battles are pretty similar to last time.  You arrive on a planet with the intent of finding the ultimate god of the place and putting them into Syrma's casket to steal some of their power.  Usually this involves beating them up first.  Battles take place on a small field, and your movement is defined as a circle from your starting area.  Once you move into position, you can attack anyone in your attack radius, which is different for each weapon type.  You can also select various skills you have learned and use that instead of a regular attack.  Crystals that grant various bonuses or penalties are scattered around the battlefield to add spice to each encounter.

The battles might not be the most revolutionary thing to happen to RPGs, but they are fun.  Planning where to move and positioning attacks can make encounters much easier.  Blast Off attacks make their return, which allow you to knock enemies into another place, into each other, or even into the air!  Using this can move any pesky crystals, or destroy them.  Unfortunately, the easy bonus from hitting an air item seems gone in Mugen Souls Z.  Even so, battles, leveling and the flow of the game in general seems a lot faster than the original Mugen Souls.  I still did a little grinding in spots, but it wasn't near as much as the first game.

Moe Kills are still intact, which can use the type of girl the enemy is interested in to make them a peon.  You can change your type once per turn to better match any opponents you wish.  You can still subjugate several Planet Spots on each location for bonus money and to unlock other areas.  This time, the locations are on the map when they are available, without having to discover them first.  They also seem easier to "peonify" than in the last game.  G Castle battles are back and even better than before.  How?  Well, the G Castle now transforms into a giant robot for the fights.  As we know, robots make everything better, and I really like that change for the G Castle battles, which I was already a fan of.  The Mugen Field also returns, which helps get experience and unlock other useful functions like more job classes for peons, more slots to equip armor and other goodies.  Sadly, fighting in the Mugen Field did lock up my PS3 on several occasions, so be careful when using it... and hopefully it gets patched soon.

A new thing added to field movement are various skills.  Besides being able to jump (not new), certain Planet Spots make your jump higher, which opens up shortcuts or leads to treasures.  There are other powers that unlock during the story, like the ability to grab higher chests, unlock special ones or teleport to some hard to reach places.  On another happy note, you can change the camera's rotation speed!  It felt really slow to turn in the original, so I was glad to see I could increase it.

Being an RPG, there is a good amount of playtime in Mugen Souls.  I got about halfway through the planets in 25 hours.  This also included some time spent returning to worlds and subjugating every available point, some grinding and even a Peon Fusion or two.  While the game clock showed I was spending lots of time playing, it felt really quick.  There's also other things you can do to occupy your time in the game, like the Mugen Field and other unlockable areas, plus stat maxing with Peon Fusion.  The trophy list is also similar to the previous game.  There's one for each planet completed, ones for reaching certain levels and doing lots of damage.  A good spread of things to do to earn them, but there will be more than a few that will require lots of time to get.

I liked the original Mugen Souls, but I'm certain I like Mugen Souls Z even more.  It feels faster and more fun than its predecessor, and the story is much more lighthearted.  If you haven't played the first, they even cover the events for you, so newcomers can jump right in.  There are lots of things to do in the game, and timely tutorials to explain them.  I'd recommend the game to any fans of JPRGs looking for another game to sink many hours into.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse (PS3) Review

Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse is the modern remake of an old Sega Genesis platforming game.  It was recently added to Playstation Plus, so I thought I'd check it out.  The 3D graphics ended up pretty good, and the environments are pretty cool.  My favorites were the one where a small Mickey Mouse was running in a toy-inspired world and the world that was an ancient ruin (even though it involved swimming).  The only real problem I have with the visual package was that sometimes it was hard to tell what was a platform and what was just decoration.  It wasn't a big deal, but it was something I felt worth mentioning.

After the opening scene where Minnie gets kidnapped, you start in a castle hub-world, which allows access to the other levels when they are unlocked.  To open up the final part to the last boss, you need to collect seven rainbow gems.  While at first you would think that each world will contain one gem, this is not the case.  The first three do contain one each, but the next two worlds have two gems each.  Moving through most levels is pretty straightforward.  You usually run to the right, and jump to platforms (or over pits) and make your way to the exit.  There are lots of things to add interest, like floating platforms, swimming sections and even some parts that require you to run through quickly.  Enemies are usually dispatched by jumping on them, but Mickey can also pick up items that can be thrown.  Ammo is limited, but usually easy to come by and there was only one or two levels where I actually ran out.  After two levels, you will fight the boss of the area, which rewards you with a gem.

Overall, the game isn't that hard.  I only died twice during the first five worlds (getting all the gems).  The final boss was the hardest part of the game, since there are no checkpoints and the fight takes a few minutes to complete.  Other levels have numerous checkpoints, so you aren't set back far if you do fall into a pit or die.  Bosses are the most difficult part of the game, but a little old-school pattern recognition will help greatly.  Playing would have gone smoother, but the jump didn't always seem responsive.  It was also annoying to make midair adjustments when jumping.  Also, since it's effectively a 2D game, you are probably better off using the d-pad instead of the analog stick.

Probably the biggest weakness of the game is the length.  It took me about 2-3 hours to make it through the main game and beat the final boss.  The real game extender is the collectibles.  You can unlock extra costumes for Mickey, and some cool concept artwork for the castle hub.  This requires getting all the gems in a level, as well as hidden collectibles.  Getting some of them is annoying, since they are really well hidden, or at the end of a secret part of the level.  Finding a guide to them is advised, unless you are exceptionally good at finding stuff.  I'm really good and thorough at getting collectibles and other hidden things, and I couldn't find several cards and carrots in Castle of Illusion.  The trophies are also very straightforward.  Beating the game and getting all the collectibles are all that's required to get every one.  There is no platinum, if that matters to you.

Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse was pretty enjoyable.  It wasn't very hard, but the game is short, as I completed the main game in an afternoon.  Searching out all the collectibles will extend the time, and is really the only reason to replay the game.  If you are a fan of platformers, or Mickey Mouse, you should get enjoyment out of the game, even if it is short lived.  I'd recommend picking it up while it's on Playstation Plus, or if on sale for very cheap.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Demon Gaze (Vita) Review

Demon Gaze is dungeon-diving first person RPG where players must defeat several powerful demons and seal them away in keys.  The game is very old school, and is a lot like Wizardry, Etrian Odyssey or Class of Heroes.  Admittedly, I don't really like those game, even if my wife absolutely loves them.  However, a strange thing happened when I spent time playing the game...I actually started liking it.

The game starts out by picking a character graphic, voice and name for the main character, then you are thrust into the story.  Compared to other similar types of RPGs, this one has a lot more focus on story.  While the main character (the Gazer) and his or her party aren't very outspoken, they added a bunch of other characters to move the story along and provide all the dialogue.  I also appreciate that there are lines that mention your other party members, making them feel like part of the story.  Considering the other similar games that I have some very limited experience with are very light on story, it's refreshing to see it included in Demon Gaze.

Dungeons are basically laid out on a grid, although the environments don't look like it.  Each dungeon has a different motif, be it graveyard, underwater city or castle.  There's also several hidden items, secret passageways and traps to make it all more interesting.  The damaging floors are really annoying until you beat the second boss, Chronos, since equipping her will negate those.  And sadly, there are damaging floors you have to step on before fighting both bosses...yuck.  The first demon you acquire will show most hidden passages when nearby, so it's helpful to have her equipped early on, or your first run through somewhere.  I do like that there is some focus on exploration and not just combat.

So how are the fights?  Well, they are turn-based old-school goodness.  You select every party member's action at once, and then the turn will play out.  You have to plan in advance, which can make things harder depending on what the enemy does.  Abusing class skills really helps the fights go faster, especially the ones that allow you to hit entire rows of enemies at once.  Artifacts will allow characters to use skills that aren't native to their class.  If there's a particular skill you like (like the various "Slash"es), make sure to aim for those to increase your damage output.  To add other characters past the first two, you will have to fork up cash to rent the room for them.  This also increases your rent, which is due whenever you return to the inn.  At least you get fully healed!

The most unique mechanic in the game is the demon keys.  The bosses you fight are usually the "raging" form of a demon, and beating it will allow you to equip the demon's key and use them in combat.  There's a meter that shows how long you can keep them out before they go out of control and slaughter your party instead, to keep you from needlessly throwing them out there.  The skills they provide are very useful (especially Chronos' immunity to damage floors), and you can eventually equip up to three at a time.  Learn when to use them, and fights become much easier... sometimes even the boss ones.

Each dungeon contains several magic circles that must be purified before the boss appears.  You place 1-3 gems that will determine the type of loot you get and then fight some monsters.  Winning will purify the circle and allow you to save there.  Any time you leave the dungeon, the circle will stay purified, but you can place gems again to do another fight.  Take advantage of this, since you can better control what types of equipment you get as loot at the end of the fight.  You get plenty of gems, so use them frequently, and either sell or break down the extra weapons and armor you acquire.  The artifact gems are limited, so use them sparingly.  Be warned, that one of the unpurified circles will contain the normal form of the demon boss.  These fights are obviously harder than normal ones, so be careful when doing them for the first time.

Demon Gaze is hard, make no mistake about it.  Regular fights are usually painless, especially when you have a full party and some good equipment and skills.  Sometimes, enemies will summon other enemies, and battles can quickly get out of control.  Bosses are a different story altogether.  They are strong, fast, and have a lot of HP.  Even if you can quickly dispatch all enemies in the dungeon, the boss is a big challenge.  Add in that most have little minions (I call them bits for some reason... probably because of Lavos) that will take hits for them, the boss' ability to summon them as much as they want, and the frequent auto-heals they do can drive you up the wall.  At least it did that to me.  It felt like trying to stop a waterfall with your bare hands.  Most times you end up hacking away and hope they either stop summoning the bits, or get knocked out for a few turns so you can make actual headway in the battle.

The game will take awhile to beat, but most of that is because it takes a lot of grinding to be able to purify all circles in the dungeon and beat the boss.  There are several dungeons to complete and even some extra content after the main story.  Most of the trophies will come while just playing the game.  Things like beating each boss, reaching certain points in the story and killing certain amounts of enemies will reward you with various trophies.  You'll also get some for doing various side quests.  All in all, nothing more difficult than actually beating all the bosses.  So, probably pretty hard, or at least long for all the grinding.

Demon Gaze was for me, the easiest and most enjoyable old-school first person dungeon crawler game I've played.  The demon key mechanic was fun to use and added a new twist to the old formula.  Bosses are frequently frustrating, but the game was oddly engaging, despite me not liking the genre.  If you are a fan of games like Wizardry and Etrian Odyssey, like my buddy DTJAAAAM is, you will really like the game.