Wednesday, October 31, 2018

All Good Things, Part 1

With that review, I have come to the end of my current review obligations.  You may have noticed a decline in reviews, and even the regularity of them.  At the beginning of the year, I finished the classes for my accounting certificate.  A few months later, I finally got and entry-level job through a temp agency.  The first place was for 3 months, and they weren't really looking for a permanent employee, despite their claims.  I am tempted to write a story about the place, as there were some interesting things going on.  However, the second place I worked was very interested in a new employee.  So, long story short, I now work there!  They are very appreciative to have me, which is very humbling to a new accounting person with little experience.

So, is this the end of  No.

I do have fun reviewing games, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  I just don't have as much time as I used to, so there will be fewer of them.  I already stopped asking for as many as I used to.  I will still ask for some, but only ones that I'm very interesting in reviewing.  This allows me to focus on games that I already own, but haven't reviewed.  So, I can chip away at the backlog, and still review some (hopefully) cool games.  I've already got a few in the pipeline.

At the very least, I have to stick around until next February, as that will make 7 whole years of  Plus, the site isn't going away any time soon, so rest assured you can read the old content, and any new stuff that pops up.

Thanks to everyone who read a review, you are one of the special few!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk (3DS) Review

Ten years ago, the first Jake Hunter hit the US on the DS.  At that point, I had recently played Phoenix Wright, which started steering me into visual novel territory.  Since I like crime dramas, it seemed like a natural game to play.  I really enjoyed it, but didn't pick up the second release.  Partially because I was indignant that it was just a better version of the one I had already bought, and partially because I had a young child at that time, so I had no money.

Flash forward to 2018, and we are finally seeing another Jake Hunter released.  Ghost of the Dusk collects five different cases, plus an extra.  Each case is a separate story, with only a small handful of characters appearing among them.  Most times you will be playing as the titular character, Jake Hunter, but on a few rare occasions you will take up the mantle of his equally-capable-if-not-moreso assistant Yulia.  They are usually assisted by Jake's cop buddy Scott Kingsley, affectionately called King.

The game is pretty much a visual novel, but without the routes.  There are choices to make, but you can't really make the wrong ones.  This will keep some people from the game, but it shouldn't.  The stories and characters are interesting.  There are many times when you have to move to a different location, talk to various people, and even investigate suspicious scenes.  It works fairly well, but there were a few things that were either strange or rubbed me the wrong way.

First, there are many times when you must talk to people several times in a row.  For some reason, you have to select talk and pick the person again.  I understand doing this when there are multiple people, and Jake switches who he is talking to, but many times it's just the same person.  I guess it's nice if you want to examine something in between lines, but it feels a little strange.  Sometimes instead of speaking to a person, you have to "examine" them to move the story forward.  There are times this makes sense, and times it doesn't.

The examination scenes are the ones that sometimes frustrated me.  You have a small scene, and move the eyeglass around, pressing the button to see what's there.  Some things are obvious, plus the cursor changes to blue, but there were several times when I couldn't proceed.  I was missing the correct pixel to check.  It's not like the game highlights things of interest, so at that point it's just trial and error, clicking around various places on the small screen, hoping it's the slightly different message that allows you to finish and move forward with the story.

Another problem I had was with the text.  The main case had a rash of typos.  Strangely, they weren't anywhere near as prevalent in the other cases.  What they did all share were boxes of text that would be skipped through.  Sometimes, pressing the button to advance the dialogue would quickly dash through the box that was supposed to come up, and move onto the next.  It was easy enough to scroll back and read it, but that's a bad issue to have in a text-heavy game.  I'm pretty sure it's not my system, either.

While I didn't have a problem with this next point, the game is also localized, instead of just translated.  That means Jake and company talk in detective jargon, and the character names are fairly Westernized.  Personally, I like that, since it helps me keep the characters straight.  It will be a turn off to some people, though.

Ghost of the Dusk is the main case, and as such, lasts the longest.  It took me around 9 hours to go through it.  The four sub-cases were shorter, each lasting around 2 hours.  The final, extra case was much shorter, clocking in at about 30 minutes.  That one has a tiny alternate route, but it's little more than text and a riddle.  Still, the total play time clocks in at under 20 hours.  Since the game is linear, there's not much replay value.  Even if you miss the hidden passwords while going through the cases the first time, you can type them in to gain access.  I like that you aren't forced to replay just for some of the game's extras.

While Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of Dusk is short, the cases and characters are interesting.  The game isn't perfect, and it's not the longest investment of time, but it's well worth playing if you are a fan of visual novels, or detective stories.  Then, hopefully someday we will have the other games/cases translated, too.

The Good:
One main and four sub-cases with interesting stories and characters.

The Bad:
The game's linear flow hits a few distracting bumps.

The SaHD:
I know that the art style for each case is a little different, but Yulia's look varies a lot.  I didn't even realize it was her when I started the second case.

(Review code for Jake Hunter: Ghost of the Dusk was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Disgaea 1 Complete (Nintendo Switch) Review

Back in 2003, I saw an ad for the soon-to-release Disgaea: Hour of Darkness.  Since I liked strategy RPGs, and anime art, I decided to buy it when it came out.  Once I played it, my mind was blown.  There was crazy stuff I hadn't seen before in an RPG.  Crazy characters, wild terrain effects, and insane stats.  The levels went to 4 digits!  It was eye-opening to see this stuff after max level 99 and max damage 9999 Final Fantasy games.  It quickly became my favorite game, and its success likely fueled other RPGs increasing their own level and damage caps.

This should have been an easy review to write.  This is a re-release of Disgaea.  The first one.  My number 1 favorite game of all time.  It dethroned Final Fantasy IV for heaven's sake, which was no small feat.  All I should have to do is gush about how much I loved the game.  However, nostalgia can be a cruel mistress.

Is it the updated visuals?  Nope, those look crisp.  With the exception of the graphics and sound, the game is a fairly faithful recreation of its original incarnation.  And therein lies the problem.

The subsequent game added new things, changed some, and fixed things for the better.  Well, most times.  Still, there were plenty of quality of life changes that just made the core experience better.  None of that is present here.  There's no cheat shop, so leveling up takes more time and more grinding.  Money is more of an issue in the early game, as is fully equipping your people.  You don't get experience from healing, so healers fall behind.  High rank weapon types aren't balanced.  Heck, monsters only have the one type of weapon, so "too bad" if they need INT.

The item world is of course present.  Every item contains a random dungeon that allows you to power it up as you descend.  Still a great idea.  Levels aren't as small as they became over the years, and Mr. Gency's exits aren't as easy to come by.  No innocent farm or storage.  I will give the game credit for at least removing the geo panel from the exit square.  Now there should not be any floors that are actually impossible.  Also, the support innocents, like Statistician, seem to be higher starting values.  I don't remember there being so many, especially in values over 5, at the early stages of the game.

Some aspects of the Dark Assembly feel dated, too.  Since the cheat shop (regretfully) wasn't added, you have to use the council to increase or decrease monster levels.  Bribery is a huge pain, since each senator is an individual, not part of a group.  The percent chance of success isn't shown before the vote.  If you want to increase your counter attacks, you'll need the Dark Assembly, since there is no Character World.  No more promotion to increase your class' rank, you have to reincarnate for that.  Mentor and student isn't something that can be switched to benefit people, it's completely set at creation.  Just listing the stuff that should have been added to the "complete" version is kind of depressing.

Now, as much as I want the improvements from future games to be crammed into Disgaea 1, making a formerly great game incredible, I can see reasons why they didn't.  Maybe they wanted a 1:1 copy of the original, just with crisper graphics.  If that was what happened, I would still complain, but understand.  For better or worse, that's not what happened.  Remember the treant golems in the first game?  They were there, but now they're not.  Several enemy types were replaced with later iterations, likely because HD sprites of them already existed.  So I guess they aren't even pretending to faithfully recreate it, just do what ever is cheap and fast, consumer be damned.

But, we get Asagi.  I mean, she's been in other games before, but now she'  And a Prism Ranger!  That's actually cool.  Not totally unique, because there was apparently a way to get one in the PSP version.  Still, it's a shame that those two things are the only things that were added.  Maybe it's my fault.  Maybe I expected too much after how great the re-releases of all the other mainline games have been.  How they get upgrades from new system mechanics, benefiting the player.  However, part of the blame is also adding Complete to the title, which implies something comparable to the last release that carried it.  Adding one and a half new characters doesn't strike me as a "complete" sort of thing, just a tiny gesture.

There is a silver lining through all of these dark clouds.  For all the things that should have changed, there remains one thing that shouldn't.  The story.  Disgaea 1's story is still the best the series has to offer, and it is completely intact.  I still think Laharl is wonderful, Flonne is ditzy, and Etna sucks.  The story for this game is wonderful, and was one of the reasons I kept playing it, despite how painful it could be.

Disgaea 1 Complete should have been a slam dunk.  Take the original characters and story, add the improvements from the past 15 years, slap in some new characters and battles, and rake in the praise and profits.  Sadly, that isn't what happened.  What we did get was a lazy port that tries to keep to everything original, except the things that would require doing work.  Despite the Complete moniker, it's barely different from the current PC offering.  If you have never played the original Disgaea, then it might be worth it to play the amazing story.  Otherwise, leave your nostalgia in the past...having your face shoved in its faults is a painful experience for the soul.  It's not a bad game, but it's a huge missed opportunity.  Just play Disgaea 5 Complete instead.

The Good: looks much better than the PS2 version.  I don't think some random item world levels are impossible anymore.  The plot is still great.

The Bad:
Disappointingly lacks the quality of life improvements from the last 15 years that really should have been added to make this game utterly fantastic.  I'm pretty sure I brought that up at least once or twice.

The SaHD:
Well I had already preordered the special edition from NIS, so it should be very easy to keep it sealed.

(Review code for Disgaea 1 Complete was provided by the publisher)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Metal Max Xeno (PS4) Review

Metal Max Xeno is an RPG set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Humans created robots that turned on their creators, nearly wiping them out.  As one of the last remaining humans, jump aboard your tank and take your revenge!

The setting isn't unique by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not one I can recall in an RPG.  It's like a mix of Terminator and Mad Max, and I really like it.  When looking the game up, I was surprised to find out that there have been several Metal Max games, dating back to the NES.  I didn't think I had heard of the series before, but apparently Metal Saga on PS2 (which I played some of and enjoyed) is under its umbrella.  Thankfully, you don't need any prior knowledge to enjoy this game.

Upon starting, you are given a small tutorial dungeon to learn a few mechanics. I thought it would have started with more story, but it did not.  After gaining your first tank, you find a town, and are quickly thrust into your first quest.  In fact, you can't even enter the building until you finish part of the quest.  You can restore your health and ammo by visiting it though.  This gave me the impression that the game was going to be light on story, and mostly a dungeon crawler.  That isn't really the case.  It does have a lot of dungeon crawling, as you fight in dungeons and in the overworld, but there are times you will be in the home base, and talking to people.

For the overworld, most fights will be your tanks versus the enemies.  Enemy groups show up on the world map, allowing you time to avoid them, or get in the first attack.  When they pop up, you can press the X Button to target them with your weapons.  You can also check the enemy weaknesses, switch attacker, or which weapon you will shoot them with.  Damage done to them before the fight starts will carry over, as does the ammo consumption.  If you manage to defeat them with this first attack, you also get bonus experience.  I was pleasantly surprised at just how often this happened.  It's a nice way to skip battles, or at least make them shorter, while either giving you full experience, or a nice bonus.  Also, it does not make the game a cake walk to kill most enemies you come across.

If your opening salvo doesn't finish them off, you will start combat.  The player chooses which weapon with each character to attack with, or they can use a variety of skills.  Tanks can equip a variety of cannons, machine guns, and special heavy weapons.  Cannons are fairly strong but have limited ammo, while machine guns are weaker but have unlimited ammunition.  The latter are also really nice for opening shots, as they can finish off a group of enemies.  Special weapons are things like missile launchers, or other specialized armaments.  These tend to be stronger than cannons, but the ammo is even more limited.

Once you have selected your choices, the turn plays out.  The game claims that it is in semi-real time, but it waits while you are selecting your moves.  "Semi-real time" seems to mean that multiple people can shoot each other at the same time.  It's fine, just slightly more confusing when trying to follow who hit who.  Tanks don't have HP, but instead have SP.  When they take damage, SP depletes.  When it runs out...well, the tank is still okay.  Since it represents your shield, you don't immediately die when SP is zero.  Instead, it enemy attacks can damage or destroy parts of your tank.  If a weapon is destroyed, it can't be used until repaired.  If the chassis is destroyed, the pilot gets kicked out and will likely meet a grisly end on the next turn.  It's a nice system, as there are fights I would have lost if just running out of SP knocked the character out of battle.  It's also really easy to fix your tank and restore ammo by warping back to the base from any point on the overworld.  You can then warp back to a nearby warp point and quickly pick up where you left off.

When not driving around, exploding wicked machinery and ants, your characters will run around some dungeons on foot.  The combat is still turned based, and is very similar to the tank combat.  The only difference is you can't get a cheap shot on an enemy to start the fight.  In fact, the dungeon enemies don't appear at all, you just get into random fights with them, like old school RPGs.  Humans also have HP instead of SP, and are knocked out when that HP drops to zero.  Inside a dungeon, you can only warp to the entrance.  Nice if you want to leave.

There is some nice customization with your party and their tanks.  The party is made up of three people, each of whom can equip three weapons.  Each character has a job class, which gives certain skills as it levels up.  The job level is independent of the character's level.  Tanks can equip several different weapons, and you have some say in what is possible.  The chassis can be modified to house more weapons, special weapons, or even scaled back to provide more power to the shield.  You can even edit specific weapon slots if you don't want to change the whole thing.  Special chips can also be equipped to the tank, giving them skills.  These can be simple but powerful, like shooting every cannon or machine gun you have in one turn!  It will burn through ammo, but packs the punch you might need on a boss.

Normal enemies, both in the tank and on foot, aren't that hard.  You can beat them without much difficulty, provided you aren't fighting tank enemies on foot (you aren't Grahf).  However, there also exist wanted and named monsters.  Named are special, stronger enemies that tend to appear in dungeons.  They are just random encounters.  Wanted monsters are basically boss enemies, and defeating them helps pad your bank account nicely.  These fights are much tougher, mostly because they get multiple actions in a turn.  It can require a few tries to iron out a usable strategy.  Since you can save anywhere, I'd recommend it, as these fights can spring up on you and can be difficult.

While it is great that you can save anywhere, that's also tied to one of my gripes with the game.  After saving, it always asks if you want to quit to the title screen, or continue playing.  I don't know why they wanted to copy probably the most annoying thing from Dragon Quest, but they did.  And it's annoying here, too.  Since I save a lot, I would much rather the option to quit to title screen in the menu, and not incessantly asked upon my successful save.

I really liked Metal Max Xeno.  The setting and gameplay aren't anything unique, but they are interesting and fun.  That's very important.  The difficulty goes through a few spikes at times.  However, the amount of party and tank customization, the monsters to fight, dungeons to explore, and items to find make it well worth playing for any RPG fans.

The Good:
Fun battles, interesting premise, and lots of customization for your party.

The Bad:
Uneven difficulty at times, being pestered to continue/quit after every save.

The SaHD:
I don't think it will be hard to convince my wife to cosplay as Maria.  She really likes purple!

(Review code for Metal Max Xeno was provided by the publisher)