Friday, September 30, 2016

Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity (PS4) Review

Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity takes the characters from the popular PC-only Touhou shmups, and this time puts them into an action RPG.  Only two of the characters are playable, but more make appearances during the course of the story.

You can choose which of the two ladies to use.  Thankfully my new favorite Sakuya the time manipulating maid is one of the two.  Her boss Remilia is the other.  They both have separate equipment and learn different skills.  Both characters have separate save files, too, with multiple slots for each.  Their story dialogue is different, but they appear to follow identical paths through the game.

The game itself is pretty simple, you run around the 3D environments attacking enemies.  There is a default attack string and three skills, one of which is a spell.  Under your HP are little diamonds that represent your skill points (in groupings of 100).  Each skill takes a certain amount to use, and the points will refill fairly quickly over time.  The large diamond to the side of the HP is the magic meter.  It doesn't fill automatically, but by doing damage.  Using a spell will pause enemy movement and make you invincible while it is happening, as well as doing a hefty chunk of damage to any targets caught in the attack range.  As you level up, you unlock more skills, and you can change them just about anytime.  I routinely used skills that were better for groups, but switched to my stronger ones when facing bosses.

The flow of the game is pretty consistent throughout.  After some story, you can select your next destination on the world map.  There may be times that you can choose to do one or the other location first, but the game is pretty linear. It isn't until the end of the game before you can return to any of the previous locations.  Also when you beat the game a bonus dungeon opens up.  It even takes a few dungeons before you get a store, which seems like an odd choice.

The dungeons can get pretty long and sometimes have multiple paths to get through them.  There are treasure chests to find and pots to break, and plenty of enemies to fight.  Strangely, only half of the areas or less have mini-maps.  I see no reason why they all can't have them, so it would be easier to make sure you explored every nook and cranny.  I felt the enemies are a little too good at blending in to the scenery, and sometimes the environment restricts your sight.  Enemy attacks are pretty basic, but true to the series' shmup roots, many enemies have bullet spreads that you can try to dodge.  Bosses have very bullet hell-like patterns, and plenty of cheap hits.  The only real option you have to avoid damage is jumping, since there is no block or other defensive move.

Your characters can each equip one weapon, one piece of armor and one accessory.  The equipment slots go in this order, but they strangely don't label them.  There are several different pieces of each, and the stats of each are random within certain ranges.  Therefore, even though you get multiple of the same pieces, they are different from each other.  They also have equipment at different rarities.

Since you can jump, they also throw in some platforming in the dungeons.  There are ledges to jump up, and even pits to cross.  Unfortunately, near the end of the game, the platforming gets really obnoxious.  There are a few parts where you have small platforms to jump around, and some enemies that are more than happy to knock you back and off the platform.  Or, there are crazy trap-filled platforms to run through.  Thankfully, there aren't as many as they could have had, but they still all result in character death.

Dying in Scarlet Curiosity takes a percentage of your money (ugh) and puts you back a bit before the pit you fell in.  The only times I died in the game were because of the pits.  There were a few close calls on two or three of the bosses, but other than that I had no difficulties making my way through the game.  While you go around the different levels, there are plenty of pots to smash.  A lot of these have healing pick ups, making it easy to keep your HP high enough to mash your way through the game.

Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is a decently fun game.  It took about 8-10 hours to complete, but this felt like it lasted just a bit too long for what the game is.  It's not too hard, save for a few tricky platforming parts.  The game is probably best for Touhou fans, since it is a pretty average game otherwise.

The Good:
A competent action RPG.  Two playable characters is also a plus.

The Bad:
Game felt like it went on just a bit too long,  Too many pits for cheap deaths.

The SaHD:
Even though I've only played two Touhou side games, I already have a hated rival: Utsuho the tengu girl.

(Review code for Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity was provided by the publisher)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sword Coast Legends (Xbox One) Review

Sword Coast Legends aims to bring an authentic Dungeons & Dragons experience to the consoles, the likes of which have not been done before.  While the RPG portion of the game does that in some ways, it also has a DM (dungeon master) mode to try and add a truly unique multiplayer experience.

The game starts off with some backstory to understand the basics of what is going on.  Depending on how much lore you want, this is either a good or a bad thing.  Personally, I like that it gives me the basics and gets me into the game.  Anything else is best presented as dialogue, books or glossaries in the game itself.  After that, you get to make your own character!  And boy, is it an involved process.

There are a ton of's almost daunting.  In fact, it probably is scary to some players.  You can set normal things, like the appearance of the character and their race.  Each race has different bonuses, so it can help to match a race to a particular class.  You also set your alignment (chaotic good, lawful neutral, etc.) and a backstory for your character.  This also gives a character a small bonus, so it's best to at least read what each one does to decide how it affects your created champion.  Thankfully you can scroll back and change these, which I had to do after seeing what stats my class actually needed instead of what I thought they did.

Afterwards, you move on to choose starting skills for the character.  All of the class' possible trees are available to look at, with many, many skills to check out.  As if the time spent on the character themselves wasn't enough, you can spend just as long looking through the myriad of abilities they can get, and to start and plan your character.  Each ability costs a certain amount of points which you will get from leveling up.  Overall it was a lengthy process to create my character, which I do like.  Two hours well spent.

I'd recommend playing the short tutorial.  The controls of the game are laid out fairly well, but they do take some getting used to, as there are a lot of functions crammed into the controller's buttons.  Character abilities are mapped to the face buttons and the triggers will toggle the sets.  Abilities are on a cooldown instead of MP-based, which is great.  The "boxes" button (select for you awesome old schoolers) pauses and unpauses the action (very useful) and the "wavy lines" (start) is the menu, inventory, etc.  Left and right stick are movement and the camera as you would expect.  Up and down on the d-pad switch which character you control, while left and right change your formation.  Strangely, the left bumper is used to switch targets, which took a lot of getting used to.

Speaking of tutorials, they do have many of them, but they also have a massive drawback.  They appear on the screen whenever you do something new that would require them, but they are only displayed for so long.  There's an icon on the bottom of each pop-up (I think it's an outline of a D20) that counts down.  When it reaches the end, the tutorial disappears, regardless of if you have read it.  This might not bother me but some of the pop ups have a lot of text, and it would be nigh impossible to read and understand it all before it disappears.  I didn't see an option to make them stay until I press a button, which would have been best for such a complicated and involved game.

The game is an isometric view, and combat is in real time.  As mentioned before, you can pause the game to select your skills and targets.  This is highly recommended, and there is actually customizable settings for this.  You can set the game to automatically pause at the start of combat, after a certain number of turns, and even if someone drops below a certain HP threshold.  When the game is paused, you can change characters, pick what ability to do, and switch targets.  Combat can go by pretty fast, so pausing every so often helps a lot, but it's too slow to do it every turn.  It's necessary to try and find the best balance for yourself, because your party can die really quickly, even on the easiest setting.  If you don't pay attention, or have it stop every so often that you can make strategic adjustments, you'll wipe a lot.  I would expect this kind of necessity on the hard setting and maybe sometimes on normal, but I think it's a bit too much to need it on easy.

True to any worthwhile dungeon diving, there are hidden traps and doorways in the game.  To find them, you have a party member enter "sneak mode".  You move slower, but there is a ring around your character where they can detect hidden things.  This is usually best left to a rogue, since they have the best chance to find and then disable traps.  Or, you can just trigger them by accidentally running across them, which is what ended up happening to me most of the time.  Oops.

The game contains the original Sword Coast Legends story, but also the Rage of Demons expansion.  These are both of the story modes.  Next is Dungeon Crawl, which you can set to make a small dungeon to play by yourself or with others online.  You can set the area, goal of the quest, enemy types, number of floors and even what kind of reward you get at the end.  Unfortunately, it is really hard to do these dungeon crawls by yourself, since I didn't find a way to bring your AI partners with you, only online friends and other people.

Similar to the dungeon crawl, the Dungeon Master (DM) mode lets you set the same options, but you can also play as the Dungeon Master.  As the DM, you can place new enemies for others to fight.  Placing them takes "threat", which builds up as the other players defeat enemies.  It is decreased when they die, since the goal of the game is to make it fun, not constantly kill the others.  I think this makes it the first game to actually reward people for making a multiplayer game fun instead of just being a jerk to others.  However, this is what the game tells me about DM mode.  Since you set up all the options when you do it, plus have to constantly place enemies when you have threat, you sadly can't set up a dungeon ahead of time and play it yourself.  I wasn't able to try this mode out, since none of my friends have the game, and I didn't have anyone join mine when I had it up.  I could only play around with the settings, not actually have people run though my creation.

When I first started the story mode, I intended to set the game to normal.  However, during this selection, easy was the only setting that had no friendly fire.  Since friendly fire is a huge annoyance and pet peeve of mine, I was stuck with the easy setting.  It would be nice if that were a separate setting.  It's probably for the best that I did have it on easy, since you can still get wiped out easily by big groups.  There are many different races, classes and skills to try out, so replay value is high.  There is also a guild chest that you can use to share loot with all of your other characters.  As fun as achievements can be, the ones in Sword Coast are on the ridiculous side.  There's one for beating the game as every race and class, which would take a long time.  It's not one I would have the time to get.

Sword Coast Legends is pretty fun once I got into the groove of playing it, but I would like it to be more accessible.  It has long load times, and I've had the game crash on me and my wife a couple of times, too.  You also only have one save for your character's story mode and it is possible to get stuck if you aren't careful.  It's a good game for hardcore Dungeons & Dragons fans, but ends up being pretty average for other RPG players.  If you have any interest or knowledge of D&D, it's worth trying out.

The Good:
Lots of options when creating characters gives many reasons to play around with character builds.  Multiple ways to solve quests.

The Bad:
The sheer plethora of options might scare away casual players.  Even on easy the combat can be very unforgiving.  Some of the achievements are ridiculously long.

The SaHD:
No druid class :(

(Review code for Sword Coast Legends was provided by the publisher)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (3DS) Review

Shin Megami Tensei is always a series I should play more of, but for whatever reason, have not.  I've played a few hours of several of the titles, but always seem to get distracted.  They are dark and punishing RPGs, with crazy mechanics and monster designs.  Basically, they should be games that I love and plow through them to completion, yet for some reason don't.  The best way to correct this: get a review copy of one.  So, that's what I did.

Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is a side story to the previously released SMT IV (no subtitle). I do own that, but have only played a few hours of it.  Even so, I had no trouble following the story of Apocalypse and how it connected to the previous game.  It explains any relevant backstory so you can easily jump right into this game.  Just be warned that it will reveal a few plot points from SMT IV if you have interest in playing that first.  The only trouble I had was keeping location names straight.

Like most of the SMT games I have tried, the battles in Apocalypse are turn based, however they are noticeably unique from many other turn-based RPGs.  Each turn you get one action per party member.  If you strike an enemy's weakness, or get a critical, you gain another action for your team.  Meaning, if you know your enemy (or get lucky), you get more turns to destroy them.  It's great because it rewards you for having a balanced team and knowledge of the game.  However, the reverse is also true.  If you miss or the enemy absorbs the attack, you lose an extra turn on top of the one you just spent.  Ouch.  I'm not too fond of that, mostly because missing is sometimes out of your control, but it does make things fair for the monsters.  Thankfully, you can pass the current character's turn at the cost of half a turn, so if their action would cost you extra, you aren't screwed.  If you keep the battle in your favor, you can route a group of enemies with little effort.

Boss fights can be very difficult, though.  They get multiple turns (I guess to keep things fair), jacked stats (to nullify the previous reasoning), and top it off with high critical and smirk chances.  Smirking is a new status that gives you a high critical chance and gives the light and dark spells (Hama and Mudo) their original chance to instantly kill the target.  So basically, bosses have multiple turns, hit hard, and get more turns.  Ouch.  Frequently I would have to grind a few levels before I could take one down, ensuring my game progress was slow.  Thankfully you can save anywhere, so you hopefully won't lose much progress from a team wipe.

Another enemy type that I don't like much are the hordes.  The are represented by a lot of enemies on the screen at once.  They count as one whole unit, sharing HP and weaknesses.  Like bosses, they get several turns when they act.  Thankfully moves that hit all enemies hit them multiple times, which helps even them out.  My biggest gripe is that they usually have multiple waves.  When killing off one group, reinforcements may arrive, which then gives you another group to fight.  At least they give a lot of experience when you defeat them, but I could do with less of them since they are a pain to fight most times.  And if you are wondering, Hama and Mudo can kill the whole group instantly if you are smirking.  It's really satisfying to see that.

Like SMT: Nocturne, your only human party member is the main character.  The rest of the party is filled by demons that you can swap from your reserves.  Demons don't just join your quest out of the goodness of their hearts, they have to be persuaded.  This involves talking to them in combat, and sometimes giving them money, items, or letting them take HP or MP.  It's not an exact science, since there each demon has its own preferences, but it is much more user friendly than it was in SMT IV.  Apocalypse has scouting dialogue that makes more sense, plus if you already had the demon, it will usually join you again if you just ask.  Really great changes considering how vital it is to recruit lots of demons.

The main attack stats in the game are strength, which affects melee attacks and skills; dexterity, which affects ranged attacks and skills; and magic, which affects, well, spells and such.  When the main character gains a level, you can assign the stat points as you see fit, but it pays to specialize, even early on.  You won't have many skills when the game starts, but your demon friends can help you with that.  When a demon levels up and learns all of their skills, they can 'whisper' them to you, and you will learn it.  If it is one you already know, it will power that skill up.  So, the best way to learn strong and useful skills is to recruit demons with them, and put the time and effort into leveling them up and passing them to your main character.  Sadly, the slots available take awhile to open up, and even then don't leave as much room as I would like.  Toward the end of the game is when you can actually have a mage with all the elements, which feels too limiting.

The other use of demons is fusion.  You can select two demons to fuse, and get a third, different one in the process.  You can select which skills are inherited on the new demon.  This is a great system to play around with, since you can have a variety of skills on a demon.  There are also special fusions that use more than two demons.  Sometimes accidents occur while fusing, so make sure to save first if you need reliability.  If you need more demons that you already had, you can pay money to re-summon them, and even overwrite the default ones with their current counterparts that you have raised yourself.  The demons in the game are a very valuable resource that is complex but rewarding to master.

Since you play as a hunter, most story progression is through completing missions.  Unlike most games that do a similar thing, the missions feel really relevant to what's going on and aren't just there to pad out the game length (that's what the boss fights are for).  Get a mission, complete it, move on to the next bit of story, rinse and repeat.  There are also optional side quests, called challenge quests, that are automatically given to you at various points.  One of the many conveniences of getting missions through your smart phone instead of a job board.  Some of the challenge missions are actually pretty hard, and others aren't very clear on your destination.  Even so, they are extra, so I'm fine with them not being perfect.  At least they aren't all fetch or collection quests!

Having a long and storied RPG pedigree, Shin Megami Tensei games are also know for their length.  Apocalypse is no different, offering at least 50 hours of playtime.  Sure, a good chunk of that is grinding for the next boss, but there is also a lot of time you can lose fusing demons and getting powerful skills for you main character.  It's definitely a game for dedicated RPG players, as it is not likely to leave your 3DS until completion.

Being a 3DS title, the game also has some street pass functionality.  You can acquire other hunter's cards, but also randomly fuse or power-up your attached demon.  Both are nice in their own way.  Fusion is good early on, or to use a lower level demon that you don't need, while gaining a random stat point is good for stronger demons or ones that you are going to keep.  Plus, they bring back some items.  I randomly got a pretty strong gun early in the game, which saved me some macca.  You can also connect to the internet for the same boosts, but only every 2 hours of actual game time.  It's still totally worth it to do so once, as you get a big AP boost when you do.  Too bad it does't give you that every time.

Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is a fun and length RPG.  Battles can be a bit punishing and bosses likely require grinding, but the skill system and demon fusion are really fun to play around with.  Fans of SMT IV should definitely check it out, and make sure to import your save file for some bonuses.  It's also a game that most RPG fans should check out, even if they haven't played a Shin Megami Tensei game before.

The Good:
Battles reward the player for being prepared and/or knowledgeable.  Recruiting demons is made a lot easier than the previous entry in the series.  A lot of game for your buck.

The Bad:
Each new area brings with it the need for grinding.  If a battle goes bad, it goes bad.

The SaHD:
I wish I could move the camera with the C-stick and switch the buttons for attacking and menu.  Some of the monster designs are cool, some are creepy, but they are all unique.  As an artist, I really appreciate the enemy design in the SMT games that I've seen.

(Review code for Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocolypse was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rive (PS4) Review

RIVE is a hardcore, twin-stick shooting action game.  You move around the various rooms, hallways and ducts of a derelict space ship while battling waves of enemies at various points.  The right stick can be set to aim and fire, or just aim, while firing would be another button.  That's sadly the most control you have over the button configuration.  The jump is set to L2.  This works...but I would like to try it as another button, considering I've hit both R2 and the X Button in a twitched response to jump.  Thanks, muscle memory.

You can use bits from defeated enemies to occasionally purchase upgrades and weapons for your vehicle.  They have a variety of types of special moves, from close range to AoE.  Unfortunately, you only get one shot before you have to replenish.  Not one shot of each, as would make more sense...just one overall.  Therefore, it's probably best to just buy the one you like and forego the rest.  Or, being able to actually upgrade your gun would be nice, too.  To get more ammo for the special attack, you have to hope for a random drop from an enemy.

Thankfully, unreliable special attacks aren't the only thing you have to help you.  You eventually get power-ups that let you hack turrets, nurse drones and other things to help in your mission.  Nurse drones will heal you at the cost of their health, and be destroyed afterwards.  Turret drones shoot when and where you do, effectively doubling your fire power.  Sadly, they are destroyed when they run out of ammo or health.  Considering how much you have to shoot, they don't last long.  So like most things in RIVE, they work okay, but could be much better and more reliable.

Probably my favorite part of the game is the personality it has.  The two talking characters are well voiced, and have some good dialogue.  A fair amount of the dialogue is tongue-in-cheek though.  The game does start off by switching the camera to "side-scrolling shooter" mode after all.  They also make references to video games, memes and tropes.  At one point, the player character even remarks why would someone store fuel in the middle of a molten furnace.  He also wastes the effort and space to have fireworks in his small vehicle so he can shoot them off when he completes a mission.  That's dedication.

The environment is really good looking and the atmosphere is set perfectly in each location as well.  Trouble is, the game is really too linear to take advantage of it.  You run down some hallways, stop, fight enemies, go to another room, stop, fight waves of enemies, rinse and repeat.  Being able to roam around the station, or even use the warp rooms 'correctly' (ie, not only one way to a set destination) would make the game a lot better.  I would really like being able to explore this cool looking desolate place instead of being shuttled off to another place to fight way too many enemies.

While I'm on the subject, the difficulty of the game is its biggest downfall.  It is just unapologetically hard.  Enemies swarm in from off the screen, move quickly and do a lot of damage.  The most prolific enemy is a fast mine that homes in on you with absurdly high accuracy.  It might not be that bad if they didn't routinely throw 5 or more at you at the same time.  Enemies from every side of the screen, plus homing enemies, plus homing shots, plus high damage equals high frustration.  Don't even get me started on the shielded enemies that are only vulnerable when dropping 8 of the homing mines and/or other homing enemies.

Assuming the enemies don't kill you, the environment likely will.  The whole game is filled with areas and traps that either flat out kill you instantly, or do half your max health.  Kind of negates the armor upgrade, huh?  Sometimes they just combine them all to piss you off.  One early section had me on a conveyor belt pushing me toward a high-damage saw and an instant death stomper.  On the other side of me was another instant death stomper.  I had to constantly jump to avoid moving in one direction while not going too far in the other.  Oh, and they also had me fight waves of enemies (those stupid mines) while doing so.  This is a bit much for the end of the second stage.  Sheesh.

At the very least, the game has plenty of checkpoints (although there is no indication of when/where they are) and there is no real penalty for dying, so you can keep trying until you succeed or quit playing.  It also loads really fast from death (yes!).  Sadly, this also has the problem of sometimes putting you in a situation where you might die again instantly, or at least take unnecessary damage.  The game is filled with instant death following the need to make split second decisions, so I guess it is true to itself.

The game isn't overly long...assuming you don't die a lot.  Sadly, that about doubles the play time for mere action game mortals such as myself.  To be fair, the difficulty is apparent when you start the game, since you can only select 'hard mode'.  It is possible to switch to a slightly easier mode in the game.  When/if you do, it places a bear on the screen in an attempt to humiliate anyone trying to make the game more fair.  I get what they are going for, but trying to make fun of a person just trying to have fun playing a video game, or one trying to make the game not so unfairly hard, is just dumb.  Anyway, you can replay the missions if you want, and there are two other modes, speedrun and single-credit mode.  Both speak for themselves, and both are modes I have little interest in.  Single-credit works for shmups, but here?  Yeah, good luck with that.

Overall, RIVE is a fairly average game.  Vehicle movement, attacks and upgrades work okay, but easily could be made much better.  The difficulty is cheap as well.  This is fine for some folks, but it takes the game down a few notches in my book.  I see a lot of potential in how the hacking and other things could have made for a great Metroid-like game, but instead it's just a linear game with hordes of frustrating enemies.  If you like unapologetic tough-as-nails action games, then definitely try out RIVE, but everyone else can easily skip it and not miss much.

The Good:
Lots of personality in the characters, environment, and dialogue.

The Bad:
Cheap, just throw everything at the player at the same time difficulty.

The SaHD:
The shmup-like sections are kind of fun.

(Review code for Rive was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness (PS Vita) Review

PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness is a visual novel set in a futuristic world where everyone's emotional state and potential is quantified and monitored.  People who are more prone to committing crimes have a clouded "hue" to them, and are watched and medicated accordingly.

To me, it sounds a bit like Minority Report, but without the psychics.  At least in the game, the crime is usually already committed by the time you apprehend the criminal.  Minority Report might actually be like that, I haven't seen the movie, just remembering the trailers from years ago.  The idea is really interesting though, and I do like visual novels, especially on a handheld, so it was definitely a game I wanted to try.

There is a special group of people, the Public Safety Bureau, that deal with the "latent criminals" and try to either subdue them so they can be rehabilitated, or destroy them if they are beyond help.  To do so, they have a special gun called a Dominator, that scans an individual and lets them use the appropriate amount of force.  If a person is beyond help, the gun basically paints the room with half of them.  So when I said destroy the criminals, I meant it.

When you start the game, you get a choice between two characters.  Both of them are in the same division of the mental stability police force, but they have different roles.  One is an investigator, who is like an actual cop, where the other is an enforcer, who is someone that is a borderline latent criminal.  Since they are close to being criminals, they know how a criminal would think, and are also used as front line fighters.  When not in use, they have to be almost constantly supervised by the investigators so they don't go rogue and become what they hunt.  With such diverse freedoms, both characters have different roles, thoughts, reactions and choices in each of the similar scenarios.

Since the game is a visual novel, most of your time is spent reading.  At several points in the story, you will be presented with a choice, and this choice affects how the story progresses.  Some choices might seem trivial, but it becomes apparent early on that they have a lot of weight behind each and every one.  The game is also helpful in that it shows where the story branches off, but showing a pop--up on the right side of the screen.

It actually shows a few things over there, but that's the only one I could really figure out.  The rest just kind of happen, with no explanation what they are or what they mean.  There are ones that show a portrait and fill up what looks like a health bar.  Some show your character with an up arrow.  Any kind of tutorial or information about this would really help, since I'm sure they are somewhat important.  The instruction book isn't any help in that regard either.

So while it does show where the story diverges, I'm not always fully sure why.  Which choices affected it?  I still made it through the game just fine, but I would definitely like to know more about changing the route to see other endings, scenes and get trophies.  There were many times where I stopped and though about my choices, and what it might change.  This was especially true when prompted about taking the supplements to clear your hue.

I enjoyed the story in the game.  It was mostly satisfying, even with the few predictable parts.  It also took me a bit to keep all the characters straight, but I was fine by the middle of my second playthrough.  However, without spoiling anything specific, it seemed like the game was building toward something that just didn't resolve.  Also, one character ending I got (which it said was a 'true end') felt random and abrupt.  I don't know if this ties into the TV show, or maybe is explained in another route.  It's also possible that it's a preview of a sequel.  It didn't ruin the experience, but it also didn't sit right with me.

There's also a mini-game to play where you slide matching number tiles to add them together.  It's surprisingly fun.  It isn't too hard to grasp, which is good because they tell you next to nothing about how to play it.  It can get pretty hard in the later levels, though.  The points you earn in this game are used to purchase the picture still and voice clips from the cast.  You get a lot of points for completing levels of the game, which is good because you need a ton to buy all the extra stuff.

Honestly, I haven't seen the dude on left and I went through the game twice.

PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness is a visual novel, so it only takes about 5-6 hours to get through.  However, having two selectable characters and many branching routes gives the game a lot of replayability.  There were more changes going through a second time than I thought there would be, which is a welcome surprise.  I haven't seen the show yet, and had no real difficulty following the story, other than sometimes confusing character names.  I am definitely going to watch some episodes, as the game has me interested in it, too.  I would definitely recommend crime drama fans and visual novel fans try out PSYCHO-PASS.

The Good:
Visual novels are always welcome on my Vita, and the story was really good with lots of choices to make.

The Bad:
Even though it plainly shows when a route changes, I have no real idea what decisions affect the path and ending.  Well, except the bad ones, those are pretty apparent.

The SaHD:
There was a company taking pre-orders for an actual Dominator gun, with many LEDs and even motors so it would transform.  It looked almost as awesome as it was expensive.

(Review code for PSCYHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness was provided by the publisher)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Megadimension Neptunia VII (PC) Review

Megadimension Neptunia VII (V-two, not seven) is a game I reviewed on the PS4, and like many other Idea Factory, Intl. games, has also been ported to PCs and is for sale on Steam.  The game was originally three smaller games that got compiled into one, with each smaller game now becoming a story arc for its full release.

Dungeon and battle controls are largely the same.  You walk and jump around the dungeon areas, and if you make contact with an enemy walking around, you will enter battle.  Battles are turn based, and when it is your turn, you can move around a set area to attack enemies with your combos.  What has changed, though, is one of the attack types.  The break attacks and break meters from previous games have been removed, with a 'standard' attack joining the 'rush' and 'power' ones to form your combo.  For better or worse, the number attacks you can use in a combo is defined by your weapon and not character level or skill.  Personally, I'm not a fan of that particular change, since stronger weapons may not be better at all, or even worse because you are losing out on full attacks for an increase in damage.

Another big change to the game is the overworld map.  Before you just selected the place either from a list or by moving a cursor, but now there are paths that you follow.  Paths are basically connected dots, with a fight possible on most dots.  Towns restore your health just by walking on them, so you don't have to actually enter the town menu to get healed.  The towns also offer shops and other functions that you will need throughout the game.  Sometimes the roads Neptune travels have to be built to connect, allowing you to travel there.

For all of my PC port reviews, I like to see how the game runs on my PC.  I have an Intel Core i7-4790, 3.60 GHz with 16 GB of ram, and the game ran fine for the most part.  It ran smooth, and loaded quickly.  The only area that was suspect was the victory and level up poses after battle.  They seemed a little choppy.  I don't know if that is because of the game, or my system or maybe even intentional, but the framerate was noticeably lower just in these parts.  Other than that, I didn't encounter any problems in the few hours I ran the game, and it looked just as good as the PS4 release.

The three arcs of the game give a good story length, though there will of course be times when you will need to grind.  Still, the game is a fun RPG, and a definite play for fans of the Neptunia franchise.

The Good:
Really mixes things up with the three arc story, and the new characters are pretty cool.  Bosses feel less tedious with the removal of the break meter.

The Bad:
Scouts can increase the difficulty of the enemies in dungeons, with no way to turn it off like the old blueprint system.  Combo length is tied to the weapons, and not the characters.

The SaHD:
The special attacks of the Gold Third characters are all pretty awesome.

(Review code for Megadimension Neptunia VII was provided by the publisher)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet (PS4) Review

Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet combines the disparate genres of bullet-hell shmup and fighting games.  It's actually not as strange as it would seem, as this has been done before, if anyone besides me remembers Wartech on the Xbox 360.  Basically, it's a one on one fight where you each launch hails of bullets at each other until one person stands victorious.  The characters in the game are people from the various Touhou games, which have the distinction of being well-known shmups that I somehow haven't played yet.

After booting up the game, I jumped into the story mode, since why not?  That's usually where you start.  Turns out, this was a bad idea.  I got a very basic idea of the controls, but was slowly being outclassed by the computer.  Since it was the first opponent, I realized it was just going to get harder.  So, I quit out and found the tutorial option.  This was a good move, even if the tutorial people are a bit too chatty.

Each character has a main shot, sub shot and charge shot, and even melee attacks if you get close enough.  The main shot is, well, your main attack, mostly aimed at the opponent and the sub shot is usually more focused on covering an area, rather than a direct attack.  You can dash, and even slow your movement to make it easier to dodge between shots.  Shooting any of the three shots while dashing or using slow movement will change the shot, giving you access to 9 different types of shot attacks.  I wish the dashing was only active if you held the button down instead of just activating it, so it would be easier to use its shot variations.  I didn't see any option to change it.  If you narrowly avoid an opponent's shot (called grazing), you build up charge.  Once a charge segment is filled, you can use a charge shot at the cost of some of the charge meter.  However, you can also use this meter for other things, like spells.

Spells cost at least one charge segment and a bomb stock (denoted by the "B"s under your charge meter at the top of the screen.  If you activate a spell, it places you at the top of the screen, and your firing patterns change drastically.  Instead of normal-looking shots, you now have firing patterns like a shmup boss, filling the screen with bullets.  You aren't invincible in the mode.  There is a ring around your character that depletes when you are hit.  If it runs out before time does, you exit the mode prematurely.  The opponent can also use one of their bomb stock for an actual shmup bomb, which will clear out some of the bullets, making their lives easier.  It's really cool, but ultimately not very useful against the computer.  Upon activation, they tear into with their shots, while expertly dodging pretty much all of yours.  It would work against an actual person, since they rarely have mathematically precise movement, and are actually prone to freaking out when a screen full of bullets comes at them.

After learning the basics, I then set about trying out all the characters, seeing who fits my style, and what enemies would be a problem.  I started to get the hang of the game after a few matches, and started doing much better.  Strangely, one thing I found that helped was spamming the main shot button instead of holding it down.  I don't know why that made them actually hit the opponent more often, but it made a big difference.  Even so, the CPU is a tough opponent, and I didn't see a way to tone them back so I could eke out some easy wins in the story mode, or any other mode for that matter.  As a computer, they are very proficient in the pinpoint-accurate dodges necessary to avoid damage when they want to.  They also have full access to the 9 shot types and chaining together shots with frame-perfect accuracy.  Thankfully, they don't do it all the time, so you can actually win matches.

A small sampling of what you face when an opponent activates a spell.
Touhou Genso Rondo features a story mode for each character, arcade mode, boss rush, versus cpu, and versus player, online and off.  Story mode is several battles linked by dialogue, just as you would expect.  Arcade mode is more like a survival mode, since you fight an endless string of opponents, with some life being restored to you in-between matches.  Boss rush is you versus the CPU, but they start off in spell/boss mode.  Thankfully you only have to survive until the time runs out to win a match, since the computer is as adept at filling the screen with inescapable bullcrap as they are at dodging your attempts to do the same in the other modes.  Fights in arcade and boss rush are only 1 round each.  Versus CPU and human are pretty self explanatory.  Early on I used the versus CPU a lot to get the hang of each of the characters.  I'm also nowhere near competent enough in my abilities to go online and get destroyed.

Touhou Genso Rondo is very unique and a fun game.  The merging of shmup and fighting game is pulled off very well, and there is a lot of depth to the fighting.  After playing it for a while I really started to get the hang of the game, and the modes offered are good.  The computer can be a real pain, since their accuracy and dodging ability is as good as they want it to be, with sadly no way I could see to adjust it.  Shmup fans should get a kick out of the game, and fighting game players should give it a whirl, too.  You might be surprised how fun (and difficult) the game can be!

The Good:
A well-made combination of shmup gameplay with fighting game mechanics.

The Bad:
If the computer wants to avoid what you throw at them, there isn't much you can do to stop them.

The SaHD:
For whatever reason, I was best with Sakuya.  It also helps that time-stopping maids with knives are cool.

(Review code for Touhou Genso Rondo was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

MeiQ: The Labyrinth of Death (PS Vita) Review

When I first saw MeiQ: The Labyrinth of Death, I figured it for another dungeon RPG that I should pass it off to my wife for review.  However, before I do that, I still try the games out for myself.  I had some hope for MeiQ after seeing the character designs, and the fact you get robotic guardians in your party sounded really cool.  After a few hours, I decided to keep playing the game myself!

The game is still a first person dungeon RPG, but seemed to do away with the parts of the genre I really didn't like.  The only gimmick panels are movement related, like sliding or teleporting.  No damage floors, no dark zones, and no anti-magic nonsense.  There are hidden doors in false walls, and of course mimics, but it is easy enough to figure out where they are.  Since there is no real formation, there aren't enemies that mess it up and destroy your carefully laid out party.  While there was some grinding (discussed more below), it took several hours before I actually had to do it, a welcome reprieve in this type of game.

You start out controlling Estra, the main character, and her first guardian.  Each of the girls and guardians represent one of the five elements - earth, water, metal, fire, wood.  Estra and her first guardian are earth.  Once you complete one of the towers, Estra gains a costume that is affiliated with one of the other elements, allowing her to more easily switch her elemental type.  This really helps when you give her different guardians, so they get bonus stats.  Besides the mages and guardians each having levels independent of each other, the forms also have their own level, which increases with being in battle.

The way stats work in MeiQ is also different from other games I've played.  Your main stats aren't too high, but seeds and stones that the mages and guardians equip will increase the percent that the stats are multiplied by.  Plus, each mage's proficiency (number) of any element is added to the percent of any guardian paired that shares that element.  If Estra has an earth proficiency of 120, this is added as a percent to the guardian's stats, on top of whatever it gains from its own equipment.  Granted, the guardian parts will actually have to give the stat, since any % times zero is still zero.  The numbers are very fluid, since you can change parts and equipment so easily, but it really pays to toggle them around to find the best bonuses you can get.  It really helps, especially in the late game.

Battles are mostly random as you move around the maps.  You can have up to three teams, made up of one mage and one guardian, in battle at a time.  If a guardian falls (runs out of HP), the mage can continue, but the opposite is not true.  The mage is also predictably squishy, so you don't really want them in the front lines.  Each turn, one member of the team can act.  A guardian's available attacks are based off what parts they have equipped.  It actually shows your guardians in battle, and they have many attack animations.  There are some really cool stones that will even allow multiple attacks in a turn.  Mages can also attack and use magic spells, which are use-based instead of MP-based.  I am more used to an MP-based system, but this works out better as you level up because you get so many uses of the basic spells.  I tended to save their spells for tough enemies and bosses, since they could do decent damage and the buffs they gave are really handy.  The spell Estra gets at level 40 is especially powerful!

I do have some problems with the battle system, though.  While the game says that a mage is protected by the guardian even if they use a spell, this wasn't always the case.  There were plenty of attacks that targeted them when it shouldn't have.  The game does state that some attacks can target the mages, but if the attack hits the mage that cast and the other two guardians, that doesn't seem like it's an attack that would target the mage.

If a mage or guardian dies, you are pretty much stuck waiting until after battle to fix it.  There is a resurrection spell for guardians and one for mages, but only two characters each have one and they are gained at higher levels.  There are also items that can resurrect and heal, but they strangely can't be used in battle.  Granted I didn't need them very often, but it still seems like a bad choice.  If one of my guardians or mages died, I would just warp out of the dungeon to heal, and use one of the shortcuts to quickly get back to where I was.

Lastly, battles can be really inconsistent.  Even in the first dungeon, there are the rare enemies that are really tough but run away.  Some enemies are a lot tougher than all the other ones in the dungeon.  There are even mutant enemies (shown by the energy circle at their feet) that have much higher stats than their brethren.  When defeated, enemies can vary drastically in the amount of experience, gold and aether they give.  Some harder enemies give very little, and some give enough to level you up several times.  It's not always a bad thing, but it can make grinding a lot more random than you would think.

The Seiruy body is super cool.  Robo-dragon!
MeiQ isn't a very hard game overall.  There are harder parts, usually because the boss' level is higher than yours.  The hardest boss fights are the few times you have to fight two in a row.  Even so, if your party wipes you are just sent back to the town with all of your experience, money and progress.  That's barely a punishment.  While I didn't have to grind really at all in the first 8 hours of the game, there were several parts later where I did.  Only characters in the battle party get experience, so if I switched it up for a new dungeon with new elemental weaknesses, I had to do some grinding to get people up to speed.

It took me almost 29 hours to finish the main story.  I could have shaved off a few hours by not trying to complete every side quest (stupid rare drops from stupid rare enemies), and if I had switched it to hard mode while grinding (for the extra experience).  I also spent a lot of time filling out every map, checking for all the sealed doors, and grabbing every treasure chest.  After beating the main story, a bonus dungeon unlocks if you still have the need to go dungeon diving.

Admittedly, when I first saw MeiQ: The Labyrinth of Death, I thought "Oh, girls and robots!  Sounds cool...oh, it's a dungeon RPG."  While it does have many similarities to Wizardry and its ilk, I actually had a lot of fun playing MeiQ.  It is a dungeon RPG, but forgoes a lot of the gimmicks and other things that keep me from liking that genre, while having a robust equipment system that is very fulfilling to take advantage of.  I think that fans of DRPGs might find the game too easy, but RPG fans should definitely try the game out, especially if you have wanted to get into usually unforgiving world of dungeon RPGs.

The Good:
A dungeon RPG that cuts out (or delays) a lot of the stuff I don't like about DRPGs.  Also a very useful and fulfilling equipment system.

The Bad:
Enemy strength, experience gain, money gain and aether gain can vary wildly within each dungeon.

The SaHD:
Considering how many of the females are scantily clad and busty, I thought the game would have fan service, but there really isn't any.  Except for that sweet mouse pad in the limited edition.

(Review code for MeiQ: The Labyrinth of Death was provided by the publisher)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

No Man's Sky and the Tutorial Problem

No Man's Sky.  I had seen complaints about how the developers lied, and how many people felt like they were sold a different game.  When I heard them describe the game as Minecraft with a space ship, that sounded just like the game I thought it was.

Then I tried it.

Yeah, it is actually similar to what I thought it would be years ago when they first announced it.  That wasn't what I had a problem with.

It was the lack of any kind of effective tutorial.

You might be one of the people that says something like, "But Jon!  Back in the day, games didn't hold your hand and tell you what to do, you had to figure it out.  Games were so much better back then, kids these days are idiots since they get crumb trails leading them to their goal without any hard work."

Ok.  First off, yes, some games were better back then.  Some were worse.  Kids these days are also dumb, but I'd blame that on other things before hand holding in games.  The point about old games not telling you what to do does have two big problems with it.  Before I get to those, I will state that I do not want games to tell me everything, but I do want basics, or even help when I obviously am not understanding what to do.  Figuring things out is great mental exercise, but it does have limits.

Now back to the two big problems with that argument.  There are a lot of games released nowadays, way more than back in the golden era of SNES and the other one.  With so many choices, having a game alienate you in the first 10 minutes can kill it.  People will know, and that should hurt your sales.  While you could look up tips online easily nowadays, that doesn't help with pre-release games or just released ones.  Plus, you seriously should not have to look outside of the game for basic help with the game.  That's ludicrous.  I've said the same thing about Monster Hunter if you think I'm just picking on a game I might not like.

Secondly, older games were much less complicated.  You could probably move two whole directions, left and right, and had either 2 or 6 buttons to worry about.  Now you have systems inside systems, context-sensitive buttons and a three-dimensional world to worry about.  Just try to have fun playing something like WWE 2K15 without a tutorial.  It would be awful.  As games have become more complicated, tutorials explaining the basics are a must.  All the intricacies can be figured out by the player, or looked up later.  The game itself should give you enough information to start the game without wanting to shut the game off and go away.  Well, it can if you don't want it to sell, I guess.

Anyway, back to the game.  It eventually dumps you on some random planet in the gigantic universe that the developers created and just lets you go.  Great, how about telling me anything?  Maybe some of the buttons?  If you walk up to something you can harvest without mining it, the necessary button is shown, so at least they do that.  The corner of the screen does have some pop ups to help you along, but they have some problems.  One, they don't call attention to them and two, they disappear quickly.  There are a lot of things to learn and meters to understand, and they do a flat-out crappy job of communicating to players.

It really wouldn't take much to make this better, so here's my idea.

First, I would start out in a small, instanced area.  Make it a crater on some moon, who cares where.  Just a small tutorial area to let players learn what the heck is going on and what they need to do.  Start next to your ship, and it is out of power/gas/whatever it uses for fuel.  They tell you basic stuff, like how to mine, what to look for, how to craft, how to refuel/recharge things, stuff like that.  Just a small area with a few things to mine, gather and something to scan.  Make them craft something, refuel the ship, then they can fly away.  At this point, you could have a wormhole appear and send them to whatever random planet they would normally start on.

Bam, problem solved.  They spend 5-10 minutes to learn basic stuff, then you abandon them on a remote planet in the middle of nowhere to start their journey.  But this time, they have some starting knowledge to effectively play the beginning of the game instead of throwing up their hands in frustration.

I wanted to like the game, and still might.  I haven't played enough to form an overall opinion, just point out how the beginning of the game is terrible, and needs to be improved.  I might have stopped playing at that point, but from my previous experience in games like this, once you learn what to do, they become fun.  Too bad most of them have really terrible or non-existent tutorials.

Oh, and one last thing that isn't related, but is a separate terrible decision: sprinting and scanning.  What kind of dunce puts sprinting, something associated with moving, mapped to the look stick, and then puts scanning, something associated with looking, mapped to the move stick?  It's backwards and I couldn't find a way to fix it.  Stupid decision, Phil Okinawa.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X (PS4) Review

Hatsune Miku, the vocaloid sensation is now available on the Playstation 4.  This marks the first time the game has been 1080p and 60fps, and also the first Hatsune Miku game I have reviewed.

Project Diva X is a rhythm action game, meaning you must press the correct buttons at the correct time in the song.  Most of the requisite notes types are present: pressing the button, holding the button, and mashing the button.  Before you play the game, I strongly suggest you do the tutorial and set the input lag in the options.  It was recommended in the PR email, and is good advice.  It really helped me out, too.  It took me a few minutes to get the input lag just right, but it was time well spent.

At the start of the game, you are charged with completing songs to fill up a song crystal to re-energize it.  Once the first one is done, you can choose another to do.  There are five categories of songs (classic, cute, cool, elegant and quirky), and you have to eventually go through each crystal, unlocking songs and filling them up one by one.  At the end of each one, there is a medley song (which I jokingly referred to as "boss songs"), which is snippets of several songs played together.  Once that is complete, you have finished off the crystal and can move on to the next.

When they are all filled, you do a special event festival to celebrate.  Then, you can replay songs and fill the crystals again a few more times to unlock more event requests.  This time, the amount filled is based off "voltage", which is basically your score for a song.  This is blatantly just making you play the songs again and again, but you can increase the difficulty for more voltage.  There are also special ways to play songs, like having the notes disappear, or moving twice as fast.  Plus, you will probably be playing the songs multiple times to unlock items, so it isn't as bad as it would initially appear.

During the songs, there are two special areas to be aware of.  First is the Technical Zone, which tasks you with hitting every note at a set point in the song.  "Cool" and "Good" will count, but "Safe" does not.  If you hit them all, you get bonus voltage points.  Miss one, and you get nothing.  Sad to say, I rarely hit them all.  The other special part of the song is the "Chance Zone", which gives you a chance to get a new module (basically costumes).  During these parts, every note you hit fills a star that gives a module change (mid song transformation!) if you fill it completely and then hit the star note at the end (the notes where you flick the stick or the touch pad).  Make sure to hit it or you get nothing!  The costumes are per character, but you aren't guaranteed to get a new one, only a chance at a new one.  Sadly, I got the same one three times in a row, even though I already had it.

The game isn't overly hard, but I'm still not very good at it.  After playing a few songs, I got into the groove, so to speak, and started doing much better.  Still, I don't think I have ever perfected a song.  Sometimes the song is just harder for me, and sometimes it's the star notes.  They sometimes have problems registering when I flick the stick, but I don't think it's a controller issue.  Notes are also at various places on the screen, not in one set location, like other rhythm action games that I have played.  Sometimes notes come from the near side of the screen, making you have to react a lot faster.  That's pretty mean.  With all the dancing action and effects taking place on the stage, plus the fancy camera cuts, it can be pretty easy to not be able to see the notes, and thus miss a note.  Combining all of that, it is easy to see why I haven't hit every note in a song.

The modules and accessories you unlock aren't just for show.  Each one matches one of the types of songs.  Equipping them will boost the starting voltage rate for a song, making it easier to gain the required score to complete the stage.  Some combination of accessories give a further bonus if they are themed in some way, for example equipping several animal pieces.  Modules also have different abilities, with the most useful (to me) being the ones that give you a better chance at a new or rare module.

The other items you gain at the end of a song are gifts, which you can give to the various characters to raise their affection.  Sometimes after a song, they will ask for a certain type of item.  Items that raise the character's affection are different per character, which you should expect in any game where you give characters stuff.  I don't know these characters, so I don't know what they would prefer.  A few times I've had them ask for something, such as when I had Luka tell me her throat was dry, and she acted like I was a weirdo for giving her juice.  Yeah, I'm the strange one here...

The first part of the story mode, unlocking each crystal and playing all the songs, takes about 4-5 hours.  Past that, you are looking at many hours to fill up the crystals over and over again, plus unlocking all the modules and accessories for the characters.  I played through the first time on easy, and later on normal.  I actually completed a song on hard, but normal is pretty much my limit.  I'm not that great at the game.  Besides making the songs harder, higher difficulties will let you get more items at the end of a song, and higher voltages also mean less replaying to fill the crystals.

Besides the story mode, there are other things to do.  There is a robust photo mode that lets you dress and pose two characters and take a picture of them.  Concert mode will let you set up songs, pick the performers, and even change camera angles to make your own music videos.  Both of these modes, while extras, are really involved and are great things to include in the game.  Besides unlocking all the stuff, these give the game even more replay value.

Overall, it was fun to play my first Hatsune Miku game, Project Diva X.  The songs are catchy, the game is really pretty, and there is a lot to unlock.  There is a fair amount of grinding if you want to see all the content, and the notes can be hard to make out over all the background action.  Other than that, the game is fun and worth playing for fans of rhythm action games.  I don't think it would be the best one for people's first foray into the genre, though.

The Good:
There are a lot of unlockables, giving you a lot of reasons to replay the songs.

The Bad:
Notes are all over the screen and can be really hard to see with everything going on.

The SaHD:
I'm too busy watching the notes to be able to read the lyrics.  I have no idea what any of them are.

(Review code for Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X was provided by the publisher)