All posts by Cranberry

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization

Developer: Aquria
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita
ESRB Rating: T

 

Introduction:

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is the latest in a series of Sword Art Online games that is based off a light novel and anime. The setting of the series is a fictional Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing (MMORPG) game in which players don a Virtual Reality headgear that allows them to fully immerse themselves in this online world. Sword Art Online is the name of this game, which itself has seen several settings during the various story arcs of the series.   The video games are based off the source material, but occur in alternate realities where events did not unfold exactly how they did in the original stories.

In Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization, Kirito, the main protagonist of the Sword Art Online series, and his companions are invited to participate in a beta test for Sword Art Online: Origins, a new MMORPG set in a recreation of the world from the original Sword Art Online. Inside this new game, they meet a variety of other players, and encounter a mysterious NPC that offers a quest with an unusually meager reward. Intrigued by this odd and seemingly incomplete NPC, Kirito and his companions aim to solve the mystery of this unusual NPC.

Parent Talk:

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization has a Teen rating by the ESRB with the following justifications listed for the rating:

  • Drug References
  • Mild Language
  • Partial Nudity
  • Suggestive Themes
  • Violence

This list is very accurate for what is portrayed in the game, especially suggestive themes. The game is full of what is often called “fan service” in which female characters are frequently shown in rather suggestive situations and revealing states of dress.

The battles fought in the game are not bloody or gory and are pretty tame; they should not cause any problems for even younger children.

There are some direct portrayals of drug usage within the game.

The teen rating seems appropriate for the game, younger children should have parental discretion.


Plays Like:

Although there is an online multiplayer feature, at its core this game is a “Pretend” Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). The game simulates the look and feel of a MMORPG, but the core game occurs offline. The game-play borrows a lot of elements from Phantasy Star Online 2 and Final Fantasy XIV.

There are two types of game-play here. This game is an action RPG that plays very similar to Phantasy Star Online 2. You always have direct control of your character. You can run, jump, attack, and evade all in real time. You can perform special skills with your weapons, which often serve as finishers to your combo attacks.

Much like Final Fantasy XIV, you have a pallet where you can set various skills, items, and abilities to grant you quick access to them. Enemies have visual cues and the world maps have special events that occur when you enter a designated area. Fans of these online RPGs will find a lot looks familiar here in Sword Art Online.

The second style of game-play is a visual novel. Story progression takes place through character portraits displayed on screen.   Most dialogue is voice acted, albeit entirely in Japanese. Subtitles display the dialogue in English. Nearly all narration is presented through this visual novel style of play.


The Good:

In terms of visual presentation, the game takes a unique approach. I would describe the aesthetics as looking like Dragon Quest characters inhabiting a Final Fantasy world. The character models have a distinct “anime” look to them, helping them stay pretty true to the source material they come from. The world and terrain you explore looks much like the world of Final Fantasy XIV; a much more realistic look in contrast to the characters.

Speaking of the in-game world, there is no shortage of world to explore. Helping the game simulate the look and feel of a MMORPG, you are presented with some truly massive maps to roam around in. These maps are full of monsters, treasure chests, and special events that will ensure there is always something to do on them. With so much activity, you can easily spend more than an hour on a single field hunting down all its features.

Of course, maps filled with monsters inevitably leads to battle, and fortunately battles are one area where this game shines. Despite a large number of skills and abilities available, you do not have to wade through endless menus searching for your desired move. Basic attacks are mapped to a simple button press, with another button activating your main skill. Further skills can be activated by tapping your special attack button while inputting a direction on the analogue stick. An action pallet can also be customized and displayed or hidden as desired to gain access to even more skills and abilities.

The result is quick access to your desired specials with minimal “search” time, which is essential when you are in the thick of a heated battle. Combat is simple enough that it’s easy to learn, yet has enough depth and strategy to it to make it feel engaging without being overwhelming.

My favorite aspect of the game comes from one of its mechanics designed to help simulate a specific MMORPG experience, and that is the simulated “raid” boss battles.   While there are only a handful of true bosses in the game, when you finally do encounter one, you find you are not the only one gunning for the boss. A whole legion of characters have shown up contemplating how to defeat the boss, and they are more than happy to join up with you for the battle.

Accept the offer, and you’ll begin the boss battle with a 12-member team, and it is truly an incredible experience to see so many characters working together in real-time to achieve an objective. You can even issue commands that your AI party members will follow; you are given a lot of influence over encounters.

Are you a trophy hunter?   If so, there are quite a few to go after. It will probably take you a several hundred hours to collect every trophy this game has to offer. If 100% completion is your thing, this game will keep you busy or quite some time. Obtaining the platinum for this game is quite an accomplishment!


The So-So:

Although the game features a character creation mechanic, no matter what you do with your character, the game still considers you to be Kirito, SAO’s main protagonist. Most of the time, you’ll be referred to by the name you input, but make no mistake. You are Kirito. In all of the cut scenes, you’ll hear Kirito’s voice actor voicing your dialogue unless you go into the options menu and mute the voice. Characters will make references to your past deeds in previous adventures from SAO, and treat you the same way they do Kirito. Even if you create a female character, everyone will still refer to you as a male, and all of the female characters will still hit on you.

I should mention that I am a woman, and it quickly became apparent to me that I am most definitely not the target demographic for this game. Aside from being forced to essentially be Kirito, this game is definitely one that plays the role of a male fantasy. The core cast of the game is almost entirely female side-kicks for Kirito, all of which are ready and willing to hit on Kirito, and frequently present themselves in varying states of undress. In fact, the rewards for many of the game’s side-stories is a snapshot of the girls in a revealing and often seductive state.

Even Asuna herself has realized what this game is really about! Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not a prude and I am not offended by some revealing images, but when the same fully nude female character was shown to me 3 different times, and nearly every other quest line was prominently having the female characters reveal their panties and having suggestive dialogue, it became quite clear that this game was not intended for me.

Further building on the male fantasy design of the game, it includes a dating simulation.   Characters have a friendship level that represents their affinity towards you. Once you are on friendly terms with a character, you can invite them to walk around town with you. Special locations around town will allow you to initiate a private conversation with a character. During these private conversations, you not only get a chance to build up your friendship with them, you get to make out with them as well. You can stroke them, grab their waist, or if you’re really daring, move in for a kiss.   If you are skillful with your making out, you an even bring the characters to bed with you, where you can have a “Pillow Chat” with them as they lay down on your bed so you can continue to make out with them. While the game naturally guides you towards the multiple female characters swooning over you for this, anyone and everyone is fair game. Male, female, it doesn’t matter. As long as your friendship level is high enough with someone, you can romance them. Even Kirito’s family members are fair game. Want to hit on your daughter? The game will let you.

While this mechanic does introduce an element of bonding with characters, which is not a bad idea, the way it’s carried out comes across as so shallow and superficial that it’s hard to feel like you are really building a meaningful relationship with the characters as opposed to just taking advantage of them.

Another area of the game that is rather under-whelming is just how shamefully it borrows from other games, to the point where it almost feels like a knock-off of them. This is especially true when the game is compared to Final Fantasy XIV, where the similarities become so glaring that it has to be intentional.

Monsters look suspiciously similar to enemies encountered in Final Fantasy, and the special field events are virtually identical to the “FATES” encountered in that game.   Enemies even use the same targeting field on the ground to telegraph their attacks that Final Fantasy uses.   When it comes to originality, this game is sorely lacking. But, on the other hand, the things it copied it did so fairly well.

It really does get your heart racing and builds up a sense of excitement when a massive super powerful enemy suddenly appears, and you have to decide if you are going to fight it, or run for your life. These on-field super enemies can be even stronger than the game’s main bosses, and it can take as long as an hour to defeat one.

If you are able to topple your super foe, the rewards are incredible pieces of equipment, giving you a real tangible motivation for engaging these super foes; not just bragging rights. In addition to the super enemies, there are also lesser field events that give lesser rewards but still encourage field exploration and interaction. Despite the lack of originality, these copycat events are executed well and can be fun to play.

While this game is only pretending to be an MMORPG, it does in fact contain a multi-player mode playable online. Multi-player mode is instance based. You create a room that can contain up to 4 people. There is no story progression or special quests in multiplayer mode. It’s essentially free-roaming of the world maps, although it is possible for the super enemy monsters to appear, allowing you to recruit friends to help fight them. There’s also a mode where you need to defend checkpoints while accomplishing an objective. This mode is also available offline, but it is quite fun to play it with friends.   That’s all she wrote for multi-player.   It’s a fun diversion, but it’s features are quite bare-bones. It’s worth mentioning that PS4 and Vita cannot play together for some reason.


The Bad:

For all the things about an MMORPG that the game does right, there’s a lot it gets wrong. First and foremost, the game is extremely dialogue heavy, so much so that it is not uncommon to spend 20 minutes doing nothing but advancing dialogue. While narration is important, the problem is that frequently, the narration is just fluff that has no significance to the story. Many times, its just not interesting to read. All of these characters know each other and are friends, that’s great and all but the game is going to be reminding you of this constantly. What’s worse is, it’s very easy to stumble into these long cut scenes when you’re simply trying to move through town to reach a destination. I once encountered four lengthy cut scenes all while I was trying to walk to the teleport plaza. It quickly became a rather infuriating experience when every one of them was little more than re-affirming that the characters are friends with Kirito.

Even out in the field, you are not safe from these. Frequently, you’ll be traversing a new field and will at last find a significant location; perhaps one you have spent a great amount of time searching for. But just as you approach its entrance, Kirito will halt progress and demand you return to town to “tell the others” about it. You then must go back and sit through a lengthy scene where you explain to the other characters what you already knew. Then at last you can return and continue on, but by the time you get back, that sense of excitement and anticipation has probably turned into one of frustration and annoyance.

That’s not to say that the story is all bad. Over time, you can genuinely start to feel for some of the characters, and some of their events are quite relatable. Occasionally, the events that unfold are surprisingly poignant and can really touch your heart.

While it doesn’t make up for all the fluff, there is some good bits in the narration if you are able to pay attention long enough.

In addition to the length of the visual novel elements, another problem is the means at which they tell their story. Frequently, a cut scene will begin, and end a quest without ever giving you any active input into it. This is true for the vast majority of the main “quests” in this game.   You don’t feel particularly engaged when a terrible monster supposedly shows up and attacks your party, only for it to never be seen on screen. Instead, you see images of your friends as various sound effects play in the background and the on-screen text tries its best to convince you that a fierce battle is underway. Very occasionally, you’ll actually be thrust into an in-game battle during one of these scenes, though this is rare. That’s the most participation you ever get in these visual novel elements. While they are beautifully drawn, they are over-used and way too long, and become more of an annoyance than an engaging story tool.

For as much as these visual novel elements talk about all these quests the game is full of, in truth, the quest system is arguably the most faulty part of the game. There are essentially 3 kinds of quests. The main story, the side stories, and the bulletin board.

The main story is just what it sounds like, the main single player offline campaign. The side stories are triggered by talking to people in town, or visiting a specific location. These side stories are always visual novel scenes. Finally, we have the bulletin board. The bulletin board offers hundreds upon hundreds of quests… all of which fall into one of 2 categories. Hand over some items the client wants, or kill certain monsters.   It never goes any deeper than this, this is how every single quest works from the bulletin board. When you complete a request for someone, they’ll mail you a thank you letter, and may even ask to meet the in town. Meeting them in town allows you to trigger another quest, which is simply another item fetch quest. Clearly the developers did not understand what actually makes for an engaging quest system in an MMORPG. Endless monster hunt and fetch quests become little more than chores.   A proper quest system with interesting characters and objectives could have made what is supposed to be a MMORPG world feel much more alive and interactive. What do you think would happen if in a real MMORPG your party leader decided to do several hundred of these kind of quests and dragged you along for it?

Another problem with the quests is the mail. As I mentioned, every time you complete a quest, the client sends you mail. This results in a huge amount of “mail spam” in which you start receiving hundreds of messages, and everyone sends the same messages. It gets tiring very quickly, to the point where soon you’ll just be ignoring the mail. There’s no quick delete function either, every letter has to be manually deleted.   What’s worse, in many cases deleting someone’s mail simply prompts them to re-send it, which only furthers the problem.

One other glaring flaw about the game are the numerous typos. A few are forgivable, but here they are spread throughout the game, and show up quite regularly. In a game that already has problems of breaking you out of the immersion, this only makes the problem worse. Though, they can be a source of amusement as well, such as this one:

Can Horton hear the Who?

The Lowdown:

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a fun, yet flawed game. The target demographic for the game is young men, and the game is not the least bit subtle about that fact. The story is full of visual novel elements that quickly out-stay their welcome and the game features one of the worst quest systems ever seen in a game.

Despite these drawbacks, the core game-play is solid, and the visuals are gorgeous. The world to explore is huge, and despite it’s shortcomings teaming up with friends in multiplayer mode can be fun. The game can be difficult, but is always a fair challenge. There are some truly epic boss battles to be had in SAO.

While the game falls quite short as a pretend MMORPG, if you can make it through its lengthy dialogue and get to the action, there are plenty of good times to be had.

My final rating for Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is 7.7 / 10

Atelier Sophie ~ Alchemist of the Mysterious Book

Atelier Sophie ~ Alchemist of the Mysterious Book

 

Available on PlayStation 4 (Japanese version also available on PlayStation 3 & PlayStation Vita via importing)

ESRB Rating: Teen
Number of Players: 1
Genre: RPG
Publisher: Koei Tecmo America Corp
Developer: Gust Co, Ltd.
Release Dates: JP – November 19th, 2015, NA – June 7th, 2016, PAL – June 10th, 2016

Version Reviewed: North American PlayStation 4

Parent Talk:

Atelier Sophie is a light hearted adventure in a European styled town in which the titular character, Sophie, uses her alchemy skills to help her friends and fellow villagers with their day-to-day lives.   The game features some mild language in the form of a few curse words, and there are some suggestive themes, namely from the “Tess” character. There’s also a few somewhat revealing outfits in the game that are worn by the Plachta character. This has earned the game it’s teen rating, which is probably pretty appropriate for it.   Even children younger than their teenage years should be fine with this game.

Plays Like:

I would describe Atelier Sophie as playing like a cross between Dragon Quest and Animal Crossing. The game-play involves guiding Sophie through various fields in order to collect an assortment of materials to be used in alchemy.   Virtually everything that happens in the game centers on the alchemy. Alchemy is used to create a wide variety of items that affect your performance in battle, advance the story, and develop your relationships with people living in your village.

Much like in Animal Crossing, you’ll often have people request you to create something for them. Delivering the item they request will both improve their opinion of you, and help advance the story forward.

There are also plenty of side quests available, which will earn you rewards and Cole (money) for completing them. This, and gathering materials for alchemy purposes, is reminiscent of the Dragon Quest series. And, there are barrels!

Despite some similarities in how they play, Atelier Sophie still very much stands on its own, and never feels like an imitation of either game.

Review Basis:

 

I must begin by saying that this is the first, and currently only Atelier game I have ever played. This is the 17th game in the Atelier series, thus it has quite a few other titles that it very likely draws inspiration from. Having not played any of the previous ones, this game is being reviewed entirely on its own merits with no comparisons made to previous games in the series.

The Great:

Atelier Sophie is filled with characters full of personality. While this game is not pushing the bar on graphic fidelity, all of the characters still look gorgeous and are beautifully animated. They are expressive and a joy to talk to. Much of the game is voice acted, and you have a choice of using the Japanese or English voices. And you can’t go wrong with either choice, both sets of voices sound appropriate for the characters; I never encountered any cringe-inducing moments due to awkward voice selection.

None of the characters ever came across to me as being overly annoying either. There wasn’t any character that I dreaded seeing appear on the screen, even the ones that have some rather unusual passions and interests. Much like in real life, you can be quite surprised by what someone’s interests are, and this game shows that as well with several characters having some unusual or un-expected hobbies.

The town you live in is bustling with life and even deep into the game, you’ll still be exploring the town and talking to people to see what they are up to.

You’ll have plenty of opportunities to help the people of your village too, you are most definitely not a mere visitor passing through, this town is your home, everyone knows you, and you know them.   And you’ll be able to actively help them pursue their goals, for better or for worse…

If you enjoy an active and lively town to inhabit, Sophie definitely delivers.

The Good:

Atelier Sophie features a much different style of story than your usual RPG. There’s no earth shattering catastrophe here that you are setting out to prevent, there is not an evil being plotting the destruction of the world that you are on a quest to foil. You are not on a quest to save the world, you are instead helping Plachta, a mysterious flying book that you encounter, recover her memories, and helping the people of your village.

Both of these things are done through the very thing Sophie is trying to become skilled at, alchemy!

When you aren’t visiting with villagers, your primary activity will be exploring the surrounding landscape in search of alchemy materials.

Initially, your choice of destinations is limited, but you’ll steadily unlock additional locations to visit as the game progresses.   Each provides access to new materials with new traits for Sophie to find. By the end of the game, you have a pretty respectable chunk of land that you can traverse. Traversing the map is easy, simply select your destination, and Sophie automatically runs to the location you wish to go, stopping only for the map events you might encounter on the way, portrayed as red dots on the path. These red dots usually result in a small reward, but sometimes powerful enemies suddenly ambush you, so there is a sense of mystery when you encounter one.

Within each field, you’ll not only encounter items to collect, but monsters as well. Battles are your traditional menu driven turn-based fare, but there is some depth to be found to it. As the game continues, you gradually unlock additional features to the battle mode, such as chaining attacks together and unleashing special super moves. Your characters choose a stance to stand in during battle that either allows them to do extra damage, or focus more on defending themselves. And these stances have a big impact on what kind of moves get chained together. The chained moves can also increase offense against an enemy, or help strengthen your party’s defenses. There’s a lot more to consider than if you want a particular character to reduce their incoming damage or not.

Character growth is also handled in an interesting way in this game. Traditional leveling up only takes you so far. The level cap in this game is fairly low. Rather than grinding out levels, alchemy is your main form of development. Every piece of equipment you wear can be affected by alchemy. In some cases, you’ll directly create some gear in the alchemy cauldron, in others, you’ll provide parts to someone else to craft something for you. You can create these parts through alchemy and infuse them with special properties that will aid you in battle. You might build a sword with incredible attack power, or you might create armor with resistance to a status ailment. It will require a great deal of clever alchemizing and manipulating of materials in order to get the traits you want on the end product.   Fortunately you can transfer characteristics from one ingredient to the next, allowing you to create combinations that can result in some truly amazing items.

Alchemy itself is handled by placing your alchemy components on a grid, in which colored spaces on the board serve as a multiplier for pieces laid over them. The idea is to fill as many spaces of the board as possible and obtain the largest bonuses for the desired characteristics of the alchemy in question.

While it’s simple to get the basic idea down, mastering the system takes a lot of patience and practice. But you’ll definitely have ample time to practice, as alchemy is a fundamental component of the game, and this is a screen you will be seeing often.

The So-So:

One area that Sophie is a bit lacking is the fields in which you explore. Many of them have a similar look of being a small outdoor field, especially in the early areas. Even as the game advances, most of the areas still have a similar look to them. There’s not a big variety of climates, and you can start to get tired of being out in the woods or meadows surrounding the towns. And the fields are all pretty small, sometimes being just 1 small map. Many areas do have sub-areas you can visit, but these sub areas usually look about the same, and are still very small, adding only an extra screen or two to the area. There really is not a rewarding sense of exploration when it comes to the maps. Very few times will you encounter a special hidden treasure hidden in a crafty place. Very occasionally, you can see some subtle changes in a map by special events found through the Rumors system, but these typically relate to a special enemy or item appearing that you wouldn’t normally see.

The game also has a definite lack of boss fights.   While many maps do have a formidable enemy on them, there’s very few major story-driven battles in the game.   If you are looking for compelling narrative and a focused goal, you won’t find that here. While there is a plot, it moves along fairy slowly and your progression isn’t determined so much by overcoming fierce challenges that test your skills, but more by how much alchemy you performed and how many people in town you talk to.

Sophie’s home town of Kirchen Bell is the only village in the game, and you’ll be exploring it repeatedly as the game goes on.   Players looking for fresh areas and new faces to interact with will be disappointed. This game is more about building relationships with the people you know than meeting new faces.

Graphically, the game is not pushing the limits on graphic fidelity. As mentioned previously the characters are colorful and expressive, but there is a bit of a lack of detail to the textures.

The visuals are not bad, and they give a very anime styled look to the game. But some fine tuning of the textures and more attention to detail could have certainly enhanced the games presentation and overall experience. All in all a small price to pay for an otherwise great experience, but one that is noticeable.

The Lowdown:

Atelier Sophie is a delightful experience full of light-hearted charm. The characters are likeable and you’ll soon find yourself immersed in Sophie’s world and the people that inhabit it. The game does a great job of blending narrative, alchemy, and exploration into an adventure that is quite down to earth. Sophie is one of the most relatable protagonists I have seen in a game, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her character development as she learned the ins and outs of being an alchemist, and dedicated herself towards helping her villagers.

With a variety of fields to explore, and a “Requests/Rumors” system that serves a similar role to side quests in other games, you can get a lot of mileage out of Sophie. It’s amazing how much variety can exist within the simple humble village of Kirchen Bell.

While the lack of a focused story and clear direction can be a little jarring at first, give Sophie a chance and let yourself become drawn into her world. Once there, you won’t want to leave.

My final rating for this game is a solid 9.7/10

Mighty No. 9 Review

Mighty No. 9

Available on:
WiiU, PS4, PS3, Xbox360, Xbox1, PC

This review is specifically covering the WiiU version of the game.

Parent Talk:

Mighty No 9 is a Japanese action “run and gun” platformer that features robots. The game-play is quite similar to the classic Megaman games and features a comparable level of violence. Beck, the player controlled character, is a robot sent on a mission to stop 8 other robots that are rampaging through the city.   The battles are neither graphic nor gory; nothing here that should be inappropriate for children.

No human or living characters are ever fired upon by Beck, all destroyed enemies are robotic.

The History:

 One cannot discuss Mighty No. 9 without mentioning how it came to be. Mighty No. 9 began as a Kickstarter project, started by Keiji Inafune, a former employee of Capcom that is one of the most influential people behind the Megaman franchise. Mighty No. 9 was created to be the spiritual successor to the Megaman franchise.

With more than 70,000 backers, this was one of the most anticipated games from Kickstarter.

After a turbulent development phase, the game has been released.   How does this Kickstarter birthed game fare? Let’s take a look!

The Good:

Mighty No. 9 has a fair number of features available. In addition to the normal single player story mode, there are a number of challenges, an online co-op mode, an online race, and a mode featuring a different playable character. There’s a fair amount to do beyond just the main story.

There are a lot of familiar elements incorporated from the Megaman series that inspired this game.   You get to choose which level you wish to enter, and may complete the first 8 levels in any order you wish, along with an optional bonus level. Defeating the boss at the end of your chosen level will reward you with a special weapon that you can use in other stages.

The characters in the game have a lot of personality, especially the bosses. One of the more interesting characteristics about this game is that when you defeat a boss, you not only gain their power, but you gain their assistance as well. While they are not playable, they can appear in other stages and help you through them.   You may see them defeating enemies or disabling stage certain stage hazards to help your mission. They also provide clues for you before entering a stage.   This helps provide a sense of teamwork and makes you feel not so alone out on the battlefield.

This gives the boss characters more screen time and makes than more than merely the boss of a level.   The world feels more alive and connected as you see the relationship between Beck and his fellow Mighties portrayed on-screen.

This game features the old-school Nintendo era level of challenge. Depending on how you look at it, this can be both good and bad. You can definitely expect to experience a lot of game over screens as you learn the stages and patterns of your enemies.   Many of the stage hazards require precise timing and careful movements to clear, and the bosses show no mercy.   If you love old-school difficulty and pattern memorization, you will definitely find it here.

The Bad:

The graphics in this game would look right at home on the Dreamcast; they don’t have the look and polish you might expect for a game released in 2016. While they get the job done, they tend to look rather plain and uninspired.

Sometimes, the active objects on the stage blend in with the background, and sometimes it can difficult to determine what is part of the stage, and what is background. It can be frustrating to leap towards what looks to be a ledge you can stand on, only to fall through it. Other times, narrow passages you need to squeeze through can blend into the background and be difficult to spot.

The game has a number of stage design problems. Several times the game will threw a new stage gimmick at you without teaching you how to use it, or you’ll be expected to use to use your special transformations in an unusual way without ever being given any indication that you could perform this task with that transformation. This can range from platforms behaving in unexpected ways over dangerous terrain, secondary abilities for your weapons that were never revealed, to certain miss-able power-ups being required in order to clear a stage.

The game features a dash mechanic that is used both for traversal, and for battling enemies.   Once you’ve inflicted enough damage on an enemy, it becomes stunned and you can dash into it both to destroy it, and to potentially gain temporary power-ups. It’s not particularly natural or intuitive for a run and gun game to encourage you to deliberately collide with your enemies, though this does encourage speed-running and gives the game a mechanic all its own to set it apart from similar games. But this mechanic does present problems all its own. In addition to defeating weakened enemies, dashing into them collects power-ups as well. The power-ups collected from dashing can alter your speed and control in mid jump, and it is quite easy to go sailing off a ledge because the speed of your character suddenly changes. You often fight enemies on narrow platforms where dashing is dangerous and undesirable.   The dash mechanic can lead to a lot of lost lives from accidental dashes off a cliff.

Bosses are the biggest examples of the flaw with the dash mechanic. Once you damage a boss enough, it stops taking damage and begins healing itself until you dash through it. Frequently, a boss would take damage, and then go and fly around at the top of the screen where none of my weapons could reach it and recharge most of its HP. This was quite frustrating, and happened frequently.

The Ugly:

Mighty No. 9, at least on the WiiU, features some horrendous loading times. Each time you lose a life, it takes 20 seconds or more to load the next life; sometimes considerably longer. This is most definitely not okay, and is quite aggravating in a game that features such a high degree of difficulty and trial and error.

The game also suffers some frame-rate issues that can adversely affect game-play. While fortunately this was mercifully rare, it was quite noticeable when it occurred.

The game’s online co-op mode is perhaps the games biggest swing and a miss. In this mode, 2 players co-operate to clear challenge objectives. The problem is, one player will find that the game plays normally, but the other player will find the game to suffer such extreme lag and button input delays, that the mode will be completely unplayable. If you are not the “host player” hosting the room, many times your button commands are ignored entirely, and even if the game does respond to the command, it does not do so properly. It took me 5 attempts to jump onto a ledge directly above me when my character would leap up onto the ledge, and then fall right through it. While the feature is a fantastic idea, it is simply unbearable in this broken state.

The Roundup:

Mighty No. 9 aspires to be the spiritual successor to the famous Megaman series, and while it captures a lot of the elements that made that series great, it doesn’t quite hit its mark.

Despite having a lot of the right elements, the game does not use them well. The stages lack the quality design of its predecessor and the enemy selection is rather plain and boring. You face the same few enemies throughout the game which gives all the stages a similar feel. The stages themselves are pretty generic standard fare types of environments.

While Might No. 9 is not a terrible experience, it is a very mediocre one. Nearly everything the game does, its predecessor does better.

While the multi-player mode is un-playable, the single player campaign, if you can tolerate the loading screens, can give you a decent run and gun experience that will indeed be reminiscent of that old-school Megaman feel. One thing that can help ease the frustrations of this game is to go into the options menu and increase the number of lives that you have. This gives you more opportunities to start from the last check-point and more chances to attempt the trial-and-error based challenges this game loves to throw at you.

All in all, Mighty No. 9 is a very middle of the road game, which has earned it a middle of the road final rating. My final score for Mighty No. 9 is a 5/10.

Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven Review

Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven

(Available on 3DS)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Role Playing
Publisher: XSeed
Developer: Marvelous
Release Date:
Japan – October 2nd, 2014
North America – June 2nd, 2015
EU- June 4th, 2015

Hey everyone! My name is Cranberry; here with a guest review! Well, let’s get right to it!

Parent Talk:

The Entertainment Software Rating Board has rated this game T for Teen, citing the following: Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, & Suggestive Themes. While it’s not excessive, there is some blatant “fan-service” in this game that involves some up-skirt pictures and some unnecessarily skimpy outfits. They aren’t kidding about the suggestive dialogue either; it definitely gets pretty suggestive at times. Of particular note, there is an animated bathing scene that you probably would not want to get caught watching at work.

The battles are not bloody or gory and are pretty tame, although some cut scenes imply some pretty harsh violence at times.

The teen rating seems to be appropriate for this one; I wouldn’t recommend this one for young children.

Plays Like:

This game plays like a cross between a turn based RPG, a strategy game, and a visual novel. The main emphasis of this game is definitely the plot and the interactions between the characters. The game features a lot of cut scenes and dialogue reading, much of it voice acted.

Combat plays a part in this game as well, and combat is played out in a strategic turn-based combat system. In combat, you field a party of up to 4 characters. Each character has different attributes and attack ranges.   Combat takes place on a large field where you can see all of the enemy units. Both you and the enemies take turns moving and attacking. But the field is not a grid. Each character has a circle that appears around them, showing their move range for that turn. You can move freely anywhere within this circle provided there isn’t anything to block your path. When you’re ready to attack, you’ll see a red space that designates the area you can hit.

The game also features an experience point leveling system as well as a crafting system, which adds some RPG elements into its strategy styled combat system.

The Good:

The presentation in this game is quite beautiful. The graphics have a cartoonish feel to them, which is pretty normal for a 3DS game, but they get the job done wonderfully. The 3D effects are not mind blowing, but they supplement the setting well without feeling too “busy” or disorienting.   The characters are likable and full of personality. The story is also pretty well written and engaging. You take the role of an inn keeper, whom you can choose a name for.   He runs an inn on the outskirts of town, and is patiently awaiting the day when his inn at long last receives a guest. The guests soon arrive in the form of characters that will join your party; 7 in all over the course of the game. There is a reason this game is called “Maiden Heaven”, every playable character except for the main character is female. But each girl has a distinct personality and it is quite enjoyable to watch their stories unfold and see their character development over the course of the tale.   These cut scenes are sometimes supplemented by some lovely artwork too.

There are also “heart events” you can access, which are essentially quests that dwell deeper into an individual girl and reveal more about her. There are 21 such heart events, and it will take several play-thoughs to see them all; which fleshes out the story further and gives the game some replay value too.

The music in the game is top-notch. The songs fit the context well and are pleasant to listen to. I received the OST with my game, and I frequently pop the CD in and listen to it. I really enjoy the music.

I really enjoy the combat system in this game. Each character has different roles they can contribute in a battle, and you need to think about how they can complement one another on the battle field. Some characters hit for a wide area in front of them, others hit an area at a distance, some hit an enemy multiple times, and others specialize in support skills.   There are a lot of possibilities even before the battle begins. Once in combat, the strategy-game like field system allows for a lot of tactics that just wouldn’t work in a traditional turn-based RPG. You gain an action point each turn, and you spend this action point to perform your chosen action. This game features an interesting “bowling” mechanic in battle, where enemies you hit can knock down and take out other enemies. If you manage to take down 10 or more enemies with 1 attack, you get a free turn.   It’s quite an interesting and creative mechanic.

If you choose not to take an action, you’ll keep your action point and when your next turn comes, you’ll have 2 action points. This allows you to save up points for special skills.   This makes combat more complex and more engaging than simple “hurt and heal”. You need to carefully consider how best to place your characters, and what action is best for the situation at hand. Do you send one character ahead as a decoy to try and form an opening for the rest of your party to slip through? Do you try and surround the enemy to limit their attack options? Do you fall back and regroup?   All of these and more are decisions you’ll be making in battle, which makes for a very engaging battle system.

The game also features an elemental “Rock, Paper, Scissors” style vulnerabilities system that is similar to the typing system used in Pokemon. This further adds to the strategic combat decisions you make in battle.

An enjoyable story and an engaging well-designed battle system make for quite a good presentation.

The So-So:

The story in this game is both it’s strength and it’s weakness.   While the story is engaging, it’s also very drawn out and you are frequently watching long scenes in which you do nothing but hit the A button to advance through pages upon pages of text.   This can be pretty frustrating if you are itching to get to the action, or if you don’t particularly care about the conversation the characters are having at the time. This is especially noticeable at the very start of the game where you read a huge amount of dialogue before you even gain access to your character. While there is a fast-forward feature, it doesn’t actually skip the cut scenes, but rather speeds through them much more quickly. Doing this does help speed things up, but there’s no “rewind” feature so if you accidentally skip ahead too far, you can’t go back to read what you missed.

The massive amounts of dialogue and the frequent lengthy cut-scenes often make this feel more like reading a book than playing a game; which can be a big put-off for a lot of people. Simply put, playing this game is going to involve reading a LOT of text.

There is a crafting system in the game, and while it adds some interesting customization options by allowing you to create skills for the characters, there’s little else you can make other than skills. There is also very little in-game clues as to what you can craft. You can at least see what the item your chosen ingredients will create before you make it, but there are no recipe books or listings of what can be made. No clues or hints from other characters as to what you should make.   Unless you look up a guide online, it’s entirely trial and error based. The game really needs a recipe list.

This game does not feature equipment to put on your characters. No new weapons, no new armor, no special accessories. Just skills, although some of the skills are passive skills that give you stat bonuses or special attributes, which is similar to what accessory-like items do in many other RPGs.   But it still feels like a real missed opportunity to not include equip-able items in the game.

There are a number of free missions, which allow you to field a team into battle in a variety of settings that you’ll unlock as you go through the story. These missions have some interesting flavor text, but that’s all it ends up being. It’s nothing but a battle against enemies that serves as a grinding or item farming opportunity. The good thing is that these free battles allow you to immediately enter a battle without having to wade through a mountain of text, but it’s disappointing for the missions to be given such interesting descriptions only to have nothing special happen in any of them.

The Bad:

As was already mentioned, the lengthy cut scenes can be pretty jarring, which depending on your tastes can be a real negative. But perhaps the biggest negative is the complete lack of exploration this game allows.

Except for a camp-site that you get to very briefly walk around in, the Inn is the only area you get to explore. Every other area, the only interaction you get with the environment is through battle. No exploring the territory, no searching for treasure, no searching for hidden secrets, no chatting with NPCs in town. There is a town in this game, and your visits to it are entirely scripted. For an RPG title, this is a glaring flaw. Nothing is more frustrating than setting foot on these beautiful maps, and not being able to explore them.

99% of the battles mandate that you have the main character in them, even in free battles. This unnecessarily restricts your party selection, and can be frustrating when you start getting more characters available and want to experiment with a variety of character combinations. In a game that is already quite linear with no exploration, the last thing you want is even more limitations.

The Lowdown:

This is almost a love it or hate it game. The story is an engaging tale full of mystery, drama, and suspense.

There’s a fair amount of customization you can do with the character’s skills, and the combat system is magnificent.

But, the frequent extremely lengthy cut scenes, the lack of exploration, and the lack of equip-able items are pretty significant flaws that are quite noticeable and glaring during play.

If you are looking for an engaging tale full of lovable characters, I recommend this game whole-heatedly. But if you’re looking for action and adventure, or your traditional RPG experience, this game won’t satisfy you.

That’s why my final rating for this game is a 7/10.