Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Galak-Z (PS4) Review

I first saw Galak-Z at PAX Prime two years ago.  It is a space action game that is a cross between the ship movement of Asteroids, a power-up system like a shmup and the perma-death of a rogue-like game.  The setting is a 70s or 80s space anime.  Can all of this work together in any kind of coherent whole?

Actually, yes, it blends really well together.  The game is separated into five seasons that have five episodes in them.  Each season must be completed in one life, and unfortunately your life does not automatically replenish between each episode.  This is one of the rogue-like elements in the game.  You can purchase health from the store, but only 1 bar each time, so it is best to conserve it when you can.  Therefore, running in to every encounter with guns-a-blazin' isn't an advisable strategy.

A lot of what you do has to be somewhat deliberate,  The space controls make this more difficult, since you will drift in whatever direction you have momentum.  Thankfully you won't take damage if you make contact with the terrain, so it is manageable.  As a ship, you can fly and shoot in any of 360 degrees, boost for a time, and juke to avoid enemy fire.  It controls well as long as you keep your cool.  I would sometimes stumble with the controls when firefight chases would get tense.  It didn't really get me killed, but I would end up taking unnecessary damage.

Oh, and in some episodes your ship can transform into a mech.  The mech looks cool, but trades the gun for a laser sword (of course).  It also gets a shield to guard from attacks, and a grapple to grab space debris to use as a shield or throw at enemies.  While this in and of itself is cool, and some of the moves really useful, I found the ship to be much better, simply for the attack range.  Yes, that sounds strange coming from me, the robot fan, but I prefer the ship.  The sword is very strong, but I tended to take a lot of damage when trying to use it versus the gun.  The super brave tactic of running backwards while shooting left me alive more often than not.  I'm sure that using the mech in certain situations is far better, as big enough debris makes an effective shield or cover to sneak by opposing forces.

All stages are randomized, but the goals are similar: get to the target(s) and then escape.  You usually start in an open area of space and then have to make your way through a cavernous asteroid or derelict ship.  Enemies are either one of the space insects, soldiers from the Empire, or Void Raiders, which seem like a type of scavenger.  There are a few different types of each to mix it up a bit.  Further stages have stronger variants as well.  Thankfully, the groups are not allies, and will fight each other if they are close enough and don't notice you.  Also, enemies will predictably spawn near the exit point once you have to leave the level.  You are stuck killing them, since using the warp point takes a long time.  You don't want to be sitting still with some Empire goons looming near!

Dying in an episode isn't always the end.  It is possible to continue in exchange for some Crash Coins, which are sometimes dropped by enemies or chests.  If you do, you still need to find your stuff in a crate that is randomly placed in the level.  You also unlock blueprints that are randomly strewn around the various stages, which lead to ship power-ups that can be purchased from the store.  Unfortunately, if you die, your money is not carried forward.  Couple that with the fact that blueprints must be purchased after unlocking, and you can easily be screwed if you do die.  Yuck.  Either keeping your money or letting the blueprints be actual unlocks (my preference) would alleviate those problems, but it is not to be.

I like the inspiration of Galak-Z.  It is a fun combination of retro sci-fi anime, rogue-like gameplay and Asteroids.  Each episode even has a "written by" and the seasons have their own ending credit sequences.  There is some funny dialogue, too.  The game can be fun, but the pretty unforgiving nature of death is of course present.  It does get really tense when you are fighting an enemy patrol while riding next to no health.  The random levels and unlockable blueprints gives a decent replay value.  Fans of rogue-like games should check it out.

[Update: 11/13/15]
I tried out the PC version, and the levels ran fine on my i7-4790 3.60GHz w/ 16GB RAM.  The cutscenes seemed a tiny bit choppy, just enough for me to notice but not to disrupt the experience.  It also controlled fine with the Xbox 360 controller, and I vastly preferred that to the keyboard and mouse.  The K&M worked... but the positioning of the keys was awkward.  Thrust is W, S is reverse and Shift is boost.  Since braking is both W and S together, I couldn't find a finger position that let me do all of it as comfortably as just using a controller.

The biggest addition to this... edition... is the Arcade mode.  Whereas normally when you die you go back to the beginning of the season, in Arcade mode you can restart the episode.  It's a good change, and thankfully the game doesn't make fun of you for it, and in fact, acknowledges how mean Hardcore is.  Also, the stages load much faster than the PS4 version, but that is likely because of the increased memory in my PC versus the PS4.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library and the Monster Seal (PS Vita) Review

By Tina Hand

Dungeon Travelers 2 is, in many respects, typical for its genre.  Like the old WizardryMight and Magic, and Bard’s Tale games from the 80’s, it is a first-person dungeon crawler.  Unlike those old games (and more like its contemporaries) it has benefited from a more modern perspective.  Instead of the carefully crafted party of eight player-created characters, there is a collection of truly lovely female party members to choose from, each distinctly unique in her own way.  Unfortunately, the player is restricted to five, but they can be arranged in a true formation rather than simply putting them in a line-up and hoping for the best.  A wide range of items, equipment and skills allows the player to customize each character as desired.  While the class system is limited in that there are only four base classes (fighter, mage, scout, and a class called spieler) they branch out into a tree of other available classes, making it possible to have multiple beginner classes become different things.

The game has a number of dungeons to explore, and as is usual for the genre, an incessant amount of grinding for better equipment, more money, and experience.  The first-person battle system harkens back to the nostalgic days of old PC games, but with far better graphics.  Though this game is technically a sequel, playing the first is completely unnecessary for understanding the plot.  There are numerous playable characters, and what is surprising for this type of game is that each one has a plot that is more than just paper-thin.  The characters all have personality and history—sometimes with each other and sometimes not—that make them more realistic.  There is humor present as well, sometimes at the expense of the characters, but always tasteful and in many cases subtle rather than blatant.

There is a lot to like about this game.  Though the main character—the only male in the entire story as far as I can tell—is not actually playable, he acts as a general for the rest of the party, giving at least the pretense of the characters doing what the player commands because they are meant to, and not just because a button got pushed.  Dungeons are artistically appealing without being overly-detailed, and monster graphics have a great deal of uniqueness to them.  After all, it isn’t every day you end up fighting fruit.  Also, there are extra rewards to fighting enemies that otherwise would be better avoided.  Once you have beaten a certain amount, you “seal” a monster inside the main character’s tome, allowing you to create a tome based off that monster later in town.  Those books can be equipped to improve a character’s stats and bonuses.

Menus and the interface are all very simple and easy to understand, with everything laid out logically and easy to access.  Of all the controls, a particular favorite is the right trigger, which displays the level and any status effects on enemies.  This is extremely useful when fighting enemies that cast spells, as you can see them “chanting” and it makes interrupting them easier.  Experience and money are on the low side, which forces a player to grind considerably.  Perhaps the only down side in this is that bosses are typically overpowered compared to the enemies in the dungeon surrounding them.  For example, if the dungeon has level 15-20 enemies, the boss is more likely to be 25-30 than something more reasonable.  Enemies also are unaffected by area issues.  If you are in an anti-magic area, the enemies will still be able to use spells.  Unfortunately, this renders pure magic classes practically useless, something that is actually irksome when your healer is unable to heal.   The ability to save in dungeons and exit quickly means that despite its disadvantages, it is still a fairly easy game to pick up and play.

The game also provides the player with the ability to reset a character’s levels.  This makes it possible to change classes and increase stats for a particular character without harming the entire party.  While it adds to the time spent grinding for experience, it also allows the player to reset a character’s skills, so if you accidentally purchase a skill you find yourself not using, or end up thinking is useless, you can reset their level and start again.

There are also extra dungeons that can be unlocked by performing quests.  The more quests a player completes, the more dungeons and additional options are unlocked, increasing playability as well as improving the player’s experience.  While these side-dungeons are not necessary for the plot, they provide another useful place to grind for money and experience.  On a side note, the addition of not one, not two, but twenty extra characters available via downloadable content—while not absolutely necessary to the completion of the game—gives a player the opportunity to build multiple parties, so it becomes possible to handle nearly any circumstance.  [Editor's note: You do get many party members through the game.]

Overall, the game is clear enough to be easy to play, complex enough to keep a player engaged, and fun enough to be worth the price of admission.  With multiple characters, multiple classes, and a barrage of beautiful enemies there is enough playable content to keep even the shortest of attention spans interested.  This is easily a game that can be played by casual and dedicated players alike, and all without massive DLC additions.  It was enjoyable, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes dungeon crawlers.  Just be aware of all the fan service in this game, as there is a lot.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

XBlaze Lost: Memories (PS3 / PS Vita) Review

The XBlaze games are visual novels that are set in the BlazBlue universe.  Lost: Memories is the sequel to Code: Embryo, but introduces some new characters.  Knowledge of the previous game is not required, but I will definitely say it helps.  I have not played the original, and this was only really a hindrance the few times the game jumped ahead.  Most characters were introduced well enough, and I was able to follow the plot.

However, as stated above, there were a few times where the story would jump forward without filling in what happened.  I have to assume these missing bits are in the previous game, which follows a different protagonist.  The story that is played in Lost: Memories is complete enough that I wasn't really lost, but it seems like some important bits were off-screened.  I admit that it does make me want to play the first game to get the whole story, because the situations and characters got a lot more interesting as the game went on.

Besides the main backstory, there is another story that follows some new characters.  This new protagonist is named by the player and must find her little sister in the Phantom Zone.  These sections involve some walking around 8-bit landscapes and collect memory fragments to continue.  You don't have to collect all of them to proceed, only 3 out of the 4, but getting all four gives you trophies.  They also unlock optional memories of various characters, to give you more insight into them and their perspective on events.

The game lasts about 7 or so hours, depending on how fast you read or how fast you set the auto scroll text to be.  You cannot turn off the auto scroll from the options menu, but curiously are allowed to in game.  A vast majority of the text is also spoken dialogue, so there are many voiced lines.  They are only in Japanese though.  There isn't much replay value to the game either, as very little can be missed.

XBlaze Lost: Memories isn't bad.  It's a bit short in length and light on replay, both of which are to be expected from a visual novel.  The story gets pretty interesting, although there are gaps that I assume are filled in from the first game.  It can still be followed, though.  Platinum hunters are sure to love it for the quick and easy platinum trophy.  Otherwise, it is probably best for fans of the BlazBlue universe to give it even more depth.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Warhammer 40,000: Regicide (PC) Preview

I've been a fan of the Warhammer 40,000 universe (called Warhammer 40k or just 40k for short) since I was a teenager.  My friends and I collected and painted the miniatures, and had some pretty big battles (I play Eldar for those wondering).  So I tend to at least see what games are coming to the franchise and check out what they have to offer.

So Warhammer 40k: Regicide comes along with quite a unique offering, mixing strategy gameplay with chess.  Or, if you play Classic mode, just chess.  This is actually pretty cool, since the pieces are troop types from the actual game, and they even get kill animations.  So, it is basically like the old Battle Chess, which is a good thing, since that is probably the most fun and entertaining chess to play.

The other part of the game is Regicide mode, which is like small scale strategy RPG battles.  There is a whole campaign, of which the first act is currently playable.  These are pretty cool, since the chess movements and "instant kills" still work.  You get other abilities like grenades and taking cover to increase defense.  So far these battles are pretty fun.

Still, the game seems pretty cool despite a few problems with it letting me continue the campaign.  I like that it is not only a unique take on a game by combining strategy RPGs with chess, but also including chess itself, now with bloody murder animations!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist (PS4) Review

First, I'm going to give you a little backstory between myself and the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise.  If you want to skip that, go down to the next paragraph.  Anyway, I've played Yu-Gi-Oh! for years.  I played the actual card game with my girlfriend/wife and friends, many of the video game adaptations and even considered being an official judge at one point.  However, the game and I decided to see other people after awhile.  More TV series came and went, more games came and went and new card types and rules were added.

Then Legacy of the Duelist released, and I saw it had campaigns for each of the TV shows.  I would be able to play with the cards I like and know how to use, but could also start to play around with all the new types that have been added in the last decade.  So I started with the original Yu-Gi-Oh! story and fought the first battle against Seto Kaiba.

Strangely, I lost that one.  I either forgot when a certain card could activate, or they changed it, and I was defenseless at a key point in the match.  I fought him again and won.  I decided to see if I had enough cards to make my own deck.  I did, and set about making a custom deck closer to my own.  I then plowed through the rest of the Yu-Gi-Oh! cast.  Yes!  This is how I remember playing the game.

While it is a nice touch that you can play with each character's story deck, everyone who watches the show knows their decks are pretty bad.  Not only that, but without knowing every card that is in it, I wasn't sure what cards I hoped to get to switch my fortunes around.  Thankfully you aren't restricted to the "historic" decks, and can use your own.  For the story battles, no cards are banned, so you can put some old favorites in your deck.  However, so can the computer, so you can easily stumble upon multiple Pot of Greeds, Exodia pieces, and other banned/limited cards.

The first duel of each campaign is a tutorial on how the game works, which is really nice for past players like myself.  You learn how the new types work in each show they were introduced in, and playing through the story helps you understand how to use them and strategies to make them effective.  Or, to show how ridiculous they can be (pendulum summons in particular).  It can be trial by fire, even with a good deck, but it will help you learn the ins and outs of being an effective duelist and even catering your deck to combat certain strategies.

Once you have bested an opponent, it unlocks the reverse duel, so you can play as the other side and duel the person you previously controlled.  These are really cool.  Beside adding more duels to do, it is a fun challenge to win with the deck that lost, even though it might be far superior to the historical victor.  The final series in the game, Arc-V, has only a single battle, which is basically to introduce Pendulum Summoning.  Supposedly the rest is to be included as DLC, since the series is still airing in Japan.  This would annoy me more, but there are plenty of other duels and many of the newer cards are in the game, so the story being excluded doesn't sting too much.

While no cards are banned for campaign and single player, online is a little more balanced.  Cards in the trunk/deck will be marked with the appropriate markings of being banned or limited to 1 or 2 of the same card.  It was also easy to get into online games and play with my friends.  An online lobby so you could have multiple people and watch others play would be nice, though.  I'm not sure how many people would get use out of it, but my buddies and I would have used it.  Being a turn-based game, if there was any lag it wasn't perceptible.

Cards are won from dueling a person (you get signature cards from their deck) or buying card booster packs with the in-game points you earn for playing.  There are a lot of packs to buy from, which must be unlocked during each campaign.  It's also not very obvious what you will get from each pack, as they seem very loosely themed.  Thankfully the community is pooling together and figure out what card is in what pack.  With so many cards in the game, it can be a chore to find the ones you want.  I'm also a little sad the old password system is gone.  I have no idea when it disappeared, and I likely just dated myself by mentioning it.  It was a cool idea.

Of course, as fun as the game can be, I would be remiss if I didn't point out the few problems I have with the game.  There are a lot of cards, and they have to fit so many on the screen so you can see them.  This makes the pictures hard to make out, as I and others have had trouble seeing pictures of cards that are instantly recognizable, and even the text can be hard to see (on the card and on the screen).  It's the price to pay for having so much on the screen at once, but it sure does strain my eyes.  There are a few signature monsters that appear onscreen when you attack with them, but they don't look that great.  I'd put them about PS2 level graphics.  It's not horrible, but with so few, I wonder why they even bothered.  Plus, as a personal gripe, there is no special scene when you summon Exodia.  They bothered to put a trophy/achievement for it, but no special scene?  What?

Also, with so many cards, they needed a way to filter the list so you can find what you want.  They have a decent selection of filters, but they really needed a "new" one so you can quickly find any new cards you got.  With how often I would get a card I wanted, only to have to scroll down to its alphabetical name to slowly find it, I would easily appreciate a "new" filter.  Also within the filters they give, I would love a way to quickly move down or up, like maybe have a button that will shift to the next letter in "name", or the next card type in "card border".  Anything to make sorting through the massive card list easier and quicker.  (EDIT: There actually is a function like this, but you have to hold the L2 Button and then use the D-Pad to move up and down.  Thanks to Marcus Shadow for pointing it out to me.)

As a returning player, I very much enjoyed Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist.  It was worth it for me to play through the classic campaign, collecting cards I used to use and even learning a few new ones.  Fans of the other series should enjoy it as well.  The tutorials are decent at helping people learn the game and the different card and summon types.  "Old folks" like myself should beware the new cards, as they can be very brok-- I mean powerful.  Still, it reminded me how much fun I had playing Yu-Gi-Oh! years ago.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Onechanbara Z2: Chaos (PS4) Review

Onechanbara has finally come back to US shores in the latest localized adventure, Onechanbara Z2: Chaos.  In addition to the original Japanese, the game is also dubbed into English.  One part of this that is really cool is how they handled some of the dialog.  In the original Japanese version, some lines were done in broken English.  In the dubbed lines, the same characters do the lines with broken Japanese.  A small touch, but pretty cool.  Other than that, the dub is your basic budget title variety.

Onechanbara is a hack and slash game series.  The Square and Triangle Buttons attack with your weapon while Circle is your sub-weapon.  Each girl has a primary and secondary weapon and moveset to go along with it.  As you cut up enemies, your weapon gets bloodier and bloodier, which will affect its damage and speed.  A simple button press can clean the blade and restore its shine.  Sub-weapons, while weaker, will not retain blood.  If you can correctly press the attack button right as the attack hits an enemy, you get a damage and speed boost.  These are known as Cool Combos, and if you get the whole combo correct, you get an extra move at the end (after you have purchased the appropriate skill).  These are harder to pull off than you would think, so practicing and the Practice mode will help a lot in getting the timing down.

Since there are multiple heroines, multiple will join you on each stage.  Save the first few story stages, you will have all four available, and can set their order in battle.  Pressing Up or Down on the D-Pad will switch whomever you are controlling, allowing the others to recover some health.  There is meter around the girls' protraits, and once that is filled, you can press the touch pad to summon the others to fight.  This is great for bosses and bigger groups, and really helps get the score up for the higher ranks.  However, it can be very easy to lose someone with low health, as I have done several times.  Oops.  Still, a great function in a pinch.

"But wait, there's more!"  You also have a meter than can build up that will allow you to unleash Ecstasy Combinations.  These super moves are fairly powerful, and very useful since you are invincible during them, and they can easily clean out a room of enemies.  The meters fill as you attack enemies, but quickly drain, especially if you get hit (since then you aren't hitting enemies).  Sadly, you can't really build them up and save them for when they would be needed most.  That's my complaint with them, as I would prefer to save them for bigger groups or bosses, but you have to pretty much use them or loose them.  It is possible to switch the character out and retain the meter, but that's not really the best solution.

There is also a blood meter around your health.  When it builds up, Aya or Saki will go berserk, increasing their attack and speed.  If you played any of the other Onechanbara games, this should be familiar to you.  However, the other two characters, Kagura and Saaki, gain the ability to transform, which must be activated when the blood meter is filled, and has a similar effect on your stats (Aya and Saki will eventually learn this as well).  It's nice that you can save it, plus it will constantly fill your Ecstasy meter, so you can throw out super moves a lot while transformed.  Needless to say, this ability is great for tough mobs or any of the bosses, especially when combined with the cross merge attacks.

The game starts off pretty linear, as it will split up the four girls into two teams and you have to complete a stage or two with them.  Once they meet back up, you can choose the next five levels in any order you want.  Then it goes back to being linear for the rest of the game.  I don't really have a problem with it, but it would be nice if the five choice stages had their numbers listed before you did them.  There is a stage order, but they won't tell you it.  It doesn't matter much, but I see no reason not to let the player know the correct order so they can do it if they want.  It's just silly, but not a huge deal.

There also exist many skills you can upgrade and pieces of equipment to buy.  The most useful skills you can buy are the combo attacks, since those increase the length of your combos.  The equipment is mainly divided into weapons and rings.  Weapons are pretty self explanatory, and each new purchase will be stronger than the one before it.  Each weapon can only replace its own type, and for better or worse, must be purchased in order.  This means it takes a lot of money to get them all.  Rings offer other benefits, like increasing attack or defense.  There are also some expensive but useful benefits, like converting some of your damage dealt to health or increasing the money (yellow souls) you obtain for kills.  Each ring can only be worn by one person at a time, which limits their usefulness.  Since you don't have a level, it would be nice to have the attack and defense rings on each of the girls.

There are a total of 16 stages for the main story, and five different difficulties if you want to tackle them.  It took me a few hours to run through the story the first time.  The game got a little harder on hard, but not as much as I thought it would.  Stages vary in their length and difficulty, but the hardest parts are usually the boss monsters.  Stages that are only a boss aren't so bad, though, since they are short and you can just concentrate on defeating the boss for a quick victory.  You also can get some items that refill health and other standard things to help you through any tough spots.  I used very few healing gems in my first run, but I can easily see that going up with the highest difficulties, since I don't see a way to increase your max health.  The hardest part isn't usually surviving, but getting a high rank on the level.

There are a few more things you can do in the game.  There are separate missions you can do that have specific score goals and strict requirements.  One might only allow special moves to kill while another might only allow kills while multiple characters are out.  They are fairly quick and can be fun, but ones with multiple bosses quickly get irritating.  The variety starts off pretty good, but then they quickly become "kill all/x amount of enemies", which is a bit disappointing.  This is at least for the "medium" difficulty setting, as I have not yet done many of the "hard" ones.

Completing the missions and the in-game "quests", which are things like "perform x cool combos" or "transform x times" will reward not only trophies, but also outfit pieces and game art.  The gallery, where you predictably see all the unlocked art work, doesn't open up until you beat the game.  Strange, but I suppose it is to not spoil the story.  Still, why not just say when it opens, since you unlock stuff for it but cannot see it until you beat the story.  The outfit pieces allow you to change the costumes of the girls and have a fair amount of customization.  Somehow some of them make the girls even more scantily clad... I didn't think it was possible!

Onechanbara Z2: Chaos is a fun action game.  I realize not everyone is going to like it, since it isn't super pretty, super hard or well-known.  Still, it is very stylish, has a decent amount of content if you are willing to go through the game a few times.  It has its fair share of fan service and gore, so be aware of that before diving in.  Fans of the franchise should definitely check it out, as it adds more to the series since its last US release.  I'd also recommend action game fans check it out, since it has a few things not found in other titles, plus you can master the cool combos to show off your skill.