Category Archives: PSN

SoulCalibur II HD Online Review

SCIIHDOSoulCalibur II HD Online (Available on PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Project Soul
Release Date: November 19th, 2013

Parent Talk: SoulCalibur II HD Online is rated T for teen because of violence, suggestive themes, and mild language.  One look at Taki and you’ll understand why the game’s rated T.  She’s wearing a skin tight spandex outfit with no bra.  Yup, 13-year old men made this game.  Seriously though, it’s rated T because of some of the skimpy outfits, and also because it’s a weapon-based fighter, but there’s no blood or anything like that.

Plays Like: This complex weapon-based fighter is the follow-up to the Dreamcast launch title, SoulCalibur.  Prior to this naming convention the series was known as Soul Edge, and wasn’t anywhere near as popular.  The game features a killer single-player story mode, as well as the usual assortment of arcade and versus modes.  New to this HD remastered version is a competitive online multiplayer mode, but the game retains the same excellent gameplay from the 2003 version.

Review Basis: Namco Bandai sent us a PSN review code, and having played the living hell out of this game upon its initial release in 2003, I simply went through the motions of testing the single player portion, and then headed online and proceeded to get my butt handed to me several times over.

While only a handful of people actually remember Soul Edge, which was released on the original PlayStation way back in 1997, everyone remembers the 1999 follow-up, SoulCalibur, as it was the most polished fighter of all time, upon its release.  It was the first time a home console port actually exceeded the arcade original.  It also happened to be a fantastic fighting game that was extremely well balanced…well except for Kilik with his far reach, but that’s beside the point.  Everyone loved SoulCalibur and it singlehandedly pushed this franchise into the mainstream, so naturally a sequel was inevitable.  When said sequel was finally released in 2003 it featured the same refined gameplay from the original, with an expanded roster, and a sweet little extra.  Each console version, one on the PS2, the original Xbox, and GameCube each had one exclusive character.  Remember this was during a time before DLC, so these characters remained exclusive for the duration of the console’s lifespan.  Everyone I knew picked up the GameCube version because of Link’s inclusion, but naturally he’s not in this version of the game as a Wii U port wasn’t made.  Instead both Spawn (Xbox version) and Heihachi Mishima (PS2 version) join the roster regardless of which version you pick up.  While they’re nice additions, they’re not Link.  That said, how has the rest of the remaster turned out, and has the core gameplay aged well or is this one better off left in the past?

SCIIHDO1The Great:

An all-around fantastic remaster.  Textures are crisper than ever before, character models look extremely detailed, and to be perfectly honest, if it weren’t for hair physics being improved so much during the PS3/360 era I’m sure a lot of people would have assumed the game was made for those consoles.  That’s how much care and attention went into this port.  Level design and overall graphic quality has always been one of the strong points of the series, and it’s amazing how well the overall look of the game holds up some ten years after its original release.  It’s pretty damn impressive, and when you see it in motion it makes you wonder why more companies don’t invest in HD remakes like this.  The audio is equally impressive as the soundtrack and audio effects have all been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 and sound wonderful.

SCIIHDO2The Good:

+ All the superb gameplay modes you remember from the original make their way back.  Arcade, versus, training, team battle, time attack, and the phenomenal Weapon Master mode all return.  Weapon Master Mode is where you spend the majority of your time in single player and features what would equate to a deep story mode in a modern fighter.  You select your character and tackle various objective-based missions.  Sometimes it’s beat three characters, sometimes it’s complete a round without blocking, and so on.  As you progress you earn points which can then be used to unlock a wide assortment of goodies from additional characters and weapons to costume colors.

+ Gameplay remains as tight as ever.  Not much else to say about it.

+ Great touch adding Spawn and Heihachi to the mix, but it would have been great to see Link make an appearance.  Obviously that was never going to happen, and no one should have expected it, but it would have made a killer Wii U exclusive had they made a version of the game for that platform.

SCIIHDO3The So-So:

+/- I appreciate the inclusion of an online mode for die-hard fighting fans, but it’s about as barebones as you can imagine.  Featuring only a Ranked and Player match mode, there’s really not much to see.  Player match is far too basic to be useful, as if you create a private match, or even a public one, as soon as the fight is over with you are kicked out and placed back on the menu screen.  You can’t create a fight list and slowly work your way through it facing multiple friends, one after another.  There’s also no spectator mode allowing you to watch other fights.  As I said, it’s extremely basic, but at least there’s a way to play online.

+/- Speaking of online play, fighters live and die based on their net code and it’s kind of lukewarm in SC II HD Online.  All the online matches I played featured input lag, making parrying impossible, and blocking a real pain.  If you’re a casual fan the input lag won’t likely be bothersome, but to the hardcore it could be a deal-breaker.

SCIIHDO4The Lowdown:

SoulCalibur II HD Online is a fantastic game for those who loved the original, or are just looking into getting into the series.  While I wish the online mode was improved, the core gameplay and overall package remains highly impressive.  If you’re into fighting games, this is certainly one to check out for $20.

Final Score: 8/10 

Resogun Review

ResogunResogun (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Shoot ‘em up
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Housemarque
Release Date: November 15th, 2013

Parent Talk: I’ve got no idea how this game scored an E10+ rating as it’s a spaceship shooter based on Defender.  Children have been playing 2D arcade shooters since the creation of the genre way back in the early 70s.  I would easily allow my children to play this game.

Plays Like: Resogun takes its inspiration from the classic Williams Electronics hit from 1980, Defender.  You fly left or right around a cylindrical world, trying to rescue the last humans while taking out all the aliens around you.  Simple as that…if only it were simple.

Review Basis: Finished all levels, and played through the game a second time in co-op mode.

When Sony announced the PlayStation 4 they went to great lengths to talk about how they’re going back to basics and focusing on the games.  They spent a lot of time talking about indie developer because that’s where all the innovation will come from.  It’s true too, as AAA titles have a budget in the tens of millions, whereas indie developers often make their games for a fraction of the cost, and are willing to take chances.  Housemarque might not be an indie developer anymore, but they surely aren’t in the same league as the big boys with operating budgets in the millions, but that doesn’t mean their games can’t stand on their own.  Incredibly, Resogun is my favorite PlayStation 4 game on the market right now, including all the big AAA releases from third parties and Sony itself.  That speaks volumes to the talent at the studio, and how much of a sucker I am for arcade classics.

Resogun1The Great:

Ridiculously simple gameplay that’s insanely challenging to master.  Based on the arcade hit Defender, players move their craft around a large cylinder trying to take out the alien armada.  Once keepers drop, destroying them will free a human.  Your goal is to “save the last humans,” while trying to stay alive yourself.  Each stage is broken up into three phases, ending with a boss fight.  Rescuing the humans is essential if you want a high score, or if you plan to make it to the end of the stage.  When you defeat the keepers a human is released from their cell and you only have a limited amount of time to pick them up before an enemy will take them out.  Returning a human to the base nets you either points or an upgrade, such as an extra life, a shield bonus, etc.

Chasing high scores is a large part of the fun and the risk and reward system is always on your mind.  If you activate a bomb, which clears the entire screen of enemies you take a good chance at losing your score multiplier since you need to continuously shoot down enemy ships in order to keep the multiplier going.  So often bombs are only used as a last resort.

Overdrive is a special blast attack that consumes a tiny green meter located around your ship.  As you defeat enemies they explode into hundreds of tiny cubes, and if you collect enough of them you’ll fill your Overdrive meter.  The trade-off is that you can’t control the length of the overdrive, in other words once you activate it it’s gone until you fill the meter back up.  Another move, the boost is far more important to master as it uses a similar meter, although you can control how long you wish to boost for.  While technically a defensive move used for when you’re about to get overrun, the boost actually releases a small explosion once you stop.  A good technique is to boost right into oncoming enemies, and watch as they all explode.

Add extremely powerful bosses into the mix, especially in the later levels, and you have one of the very best arcade shooters released in a long time.  There’s always a constant risk and reward factor to each element of the gameplay.  Do you sacrifice a human so you don’t lose an extra life, or do you take the chance and perhaps get a weapon upgrade in the process?

Things only get more intense when you add a co-op partner to the mix, which I highly recommend you do.

Resogun2The Good:

+ By using voxel (also known as 3D cubes) graphics gives the game its own unique look.  When you destroy an enemy ship it explodes into millions of tiny cubes.  On top of that the particle effects are spectacular whenever enemy ships fire at you, which is all the time.  When you combine everything together, from the enemy ships exploding, to bombs being set off, to the particular effects, you’re left with the nicest looking arcade game I’ve ever played.

+ The soundtrack is techno-infused, and fits the setting perfectly.  All voice samples play out through the DualShock 4’s internal microphone for a little extra flare.  Ship explosions also sound great and there’s lots of bass for those with a good surround sound system.

+ Fun trophy list.  Can you rescue two humans within a second of one another?  Can you kill 50 enemies using only one boost?  I love when developers put time and effort into their trophies because it gives you an incentive to actually try and collect them.

The So-So:

+/- Having only five levels, and three different ships might grate on some people’s nerves.  The three ships play quite differently from one another in terms of the weapons they have available, but the limited levels will eventually start to feel similar to one another after a while.

Resogun3The Lowdown:

Resogun is my favorite PlayStation 4 game right now.  When I purchased my PS4 at launch Resogun, like Contrast was free for PlayStation Plus members.  This is an outstanding game for free, and a great game for the asking price of $10.  If you own a PS4, this is one you really need to play.

Final Score: 9/10

Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness Review

Disgaea D2 BoxDisgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness (Available only on PlayStation 3)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Strategy/RPG
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Release Date: October 8th, 2013

Parent Talk: Disgaea is filled with character archetypes and comedy tropes that should resonate with any anime fan, though the sexual innuendos and more offbeat humor may make some jokes too crude for children. Most of the humor is taken from clever wordplay and (sometimes groan-inducing) puns, making it great for the anime lover in the family.

Plays Like: If you’ve played previous entries into the main Disgaea line, you should have an understanding of how this game works. D2 is a direct sequel to the first game in the series, though it does take into account the tweaks of the later entries (not counting the Prinny-focused action games or the visual novel PSP game). Basically, the game is a series of battles that occur on a chessboard-like environment. There are no places to explore or towns to visit; you simply power up your characters, watch cutscenes, and then play the next map. It sounds simple but it’s so incredibly deep and complex it would take hundreds and hundreds of hours to see all the game has to offer.

Review Basis: Completed the game once, currently on a second play-through.

disgaea03

I never expected Disgaea to become the recognizable fan-favorite franchise it’s become today. When the first game, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, came out for the PlayStation 2 back in 2004, I expected it would become a beloved cult-favorite, destined to be lost to time and then home on many “Best of PS2” and “Games We Wish Had Sequels” list. I was certainly wrong. The lovable, offbeat (and admittedly bizarre) comedy, great characters, and dizzyingly deep combat and character customization not only made it a hit, but led to sequels, spin-offs, merchandise, an anime series, manga, and much more. Disgaea has become so popular that the Prinny, the hilarious penguin-like demons featured in the games, have basically become the de facto mascot of Nippon Ichi Software. Still, after all this time and all of the sequels, ports, and spinoffs, I’m amazed it’s taken this long to make a true-to-form sequel to the original game. D2 features the cast of the first game, back in action after nearly a decade. Laharl, Flonne, and Etna are without a doubt the most popular characters the franchise has to offer, so it’s great to see them return.

Even if you’ve only played the original game, you can dive into this one quite comfortably. All of the core entries in the series are turn-based strategy RPGs akin to Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem. If you haven’t played a game in the series before, you may be completely unable to follow the plot, but it’s still a fun ride. There are no towns to visit or vast fields to explore; instead, it’s all about character customization, grinding, and battles. Characters move on a map laid out like a chessboard, attacking enemies with a variety of magic, weapons, and skills. What makes the series so compelling though, is the sheer depth it has to offer. In addition to the main characters, each of which with their own special skills, you can create a number of other characters and develop them in a myriad of ways. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Great: An intricately laid out game. The basic flow of the game goes like this: 1) Watch a cutscene introducing the chapter. 2) Battle on a map. 3) Access new map. 4) Repeat a few times. 5) Fight boss. 6) End cutscene. It sounds simple, but the combat and character building is what makes the game so interesting. There are tons of possible character types you can create, including: Warrior, Skull, Witch, Healer, Thief, Gunner, Ninja, Samurai, Brawler, Archer, Magic Knight, Shaman, and much more, including monsters. When a character is created, he or she is set at a certain proficiency level, such as Good-for-Nothing, Incompetent, Skilled, and Genius.

Higher proficiency levels take more mana, which you get from winning battles and performing actions, but ensure the characters will have better growth. You can also promote characters to better class types once they are unlocked. You can also choose to reincarnate characters at level 1, to improve their stat growth patterns. That’s not including the smorgasbord of options available to you via the Dark Assembly courtroom. You can recruit special characters by fighting them in special missions and then maintain their growth with meticulous detail. Not only do characters level up, but they also can gain proficiency in different weapon types and gain experience in specific skills. That’s still not all of it.

disgaea04

The Good:

+ A brilliant cast of characters. Laharl, Flonne, and Etna are some of the best characters that the series has to offer and I’d make the argument that they are some of the most memorable RPG characters of all time. Laharl is the son of the previous Overlord, King Krichevskoy. In the first game, the story was all about Laharl rising up to become the Overlord himself, and find out what happened to his mother along the way. He also befriends an angel named Flonne. And then we have a series of offbeat jokes, references to Super Sentai hero action shows, references to anime, nonsensical character dialog and humor, terrible puns, and more. It’s wonderful. The characters are back in full force and are just as lovable as ever.

The voice work, both in English and Japanese, is just spot on and captures the spirit of these characters perfectly. Case in point: the beginning of the game opens with Laharl riding a meteor that crashes into a flower garden that Flonne is tending to. Laharl laughs maniacally as it crashes into the ground. When Flonne says she’s angry, Laharl just comments that he’s the Overlord so it’s ok. Sicily, one of the new characters central to the story, fits in well with the cast. The plot of this game is about a group of schemers threatening to overthrow Laharl as the Overlord, the mysterious Sicily who claims to be Laharl’s younger sister, and the potential war between Celestia and the Netherworld.

+ A fun, nonsensical world. What makes the Disgaea series so lovable is the quirky sense of humor. It’s difficult to tread the line between groan-worthy and hilarious, but the game manages to do so well most of the time. It tends to be mostly juvenile, but there are some hilarious moments, especially all of the weapon descriptions. Puns abound! Like the original game though, it still balances out with a narrative that has weighty overtones. Most of the game is about accepting your family and reconnecting with lost loved ones. Laharl paints himself as a ruthless villain, but he actually cares deeply about his family. It’s that juxtaposition that makes the game interesting.

+ Character Maker is more intricate than before. This time around, you can choose between three different personality types for the character, which will change that unit’s passive bonus (called “evility” in this game), voice, and other characteristics.

disgaea06

+ The Master/Apprentice system allows you to develop characters in the way you want. Do you want your spellcaster to learn some healing spells? Then have him serve as an apprentice to a healer!

+ The Demon Dojo also lets you develop your characters in the way you see fit. When you start, only certain sections of the dojo are open. For example, you can raise your characters’ HP or SP by making them train in the corresponding sections of the dojo. That way, when they level up, they will gain extra bonuses to those areas. By using the Dojo more often, you get new areas to train in (which gives you new opportunities for character growth) and more character slots per each spot in the Dojo.

+ The Cheat Shop allows you to fine-tune your preferences even further. Do you desperately need more mana, but you have more money than you know what to do with? Then adjust the settings so that you receive more mana at the cost of less money! You can even make the game harder by disabling certain features, like team combination attacks.

+ Geo Panels, team combination attacks, likability, and more!  Very few of the battles in this game are cut and dry. Not only do you have to account for your enemies’ attack patterns and movements, but you have to consider whether they will attempt to do a team attack on you, if the Geo Panel effects work to your favor or against you, and more. For example, you may have one section that gives you a boost to experience points—but enemies have higher damage output. Do you risk getting hurt for the sake of more experience? Or do you just destroy the Geo Panel? Or do you throw it to another part of the map to change what section the effects correspond to? Furthermore, you also have to consider how well your teammates get along. If you frequently pair units up together, they will like each other more. This means they will engage in team combination attacks more frequently. Or, if you’re on the receiving end of damage, an ally might step in and brace the attack for you if he or she likes you enough.

+ The Item World. If all of that wasn’t enough—skills, character classes, Geo Panels, and more—you can also level up your items and make them more potent! You see, each item basically hosts a dungeon. Different items have a different number of floors and guardians. If you can defeat the guardians and get to lower floors, you can power up your items. You can get all the way to level 9999!

+ Intricate balance and management. All of these mechanics are deep and profound, but the game carefully treads between spoon-feeding you details and ignoring it completely. The result is a game that manages to quickly instruct the player in a simple, unobtrusive way. For example, learning how to throw and stack characters is crucial to completing certain maps. The game teaches you the mechanic early on and encourages you to experiment.

+ Previous characters return in DLC. Fuka and Desco, two characters from Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten, are currently available to download, and more will be coming, some of which from games outside of the Disgaea series. For example, Gig (one of my personal favorites) from the game Soul Nomad and the World Eaters is slated to be a DLC character.

+ The HD sprites, character designs, and colorful presentation all look great. While the field graphics are nothing special, and the castle hub is somewhat plain, the character designs are really what stand out. The series is not particularly well-known for offering more advanced visuals, say as in a game like Ni No Kuni, but the colorful presentation and characters are packed with charm and personality. Unfortunately, unlike Disgaea 4, there is no option to toggle between the old-style sprites and new HD sprites, though it’s not much of a loss. There is a free DLC pack that allows you to use the original designs/outfits for the main characters though.

+ Great audio. Both the English and Japanese voice tracks are available, and both are great. When playing in English, some of the grunts and in-battle dialog isn’t translated, but the main performances are great and are in keeping with the character. The music is fun to listen to, and fans of the original game may recognize several tracks.

+ Extra missions. If you take the time to visit the Dark Assembly between missions, you may notice special options available to Laharl. If you successful convince the senators to vote in your favor, you’ll have access to new areas. These bonus missions don’t just let you battle on a new map; they also have special story cutscenes and allow you to recruit a bonus character to your party.

+ Multiple endings and New Game +. Playing through the game once takes dedication and patience. Completing the game multiple times offers extra incentive for the truly hardcore. Also, if you complete the game, you can carry over your party, gear, and levels, so that you can raise your characters to even greater levels.

disgaea05

The Bad:

-The plot and characters are difficult to follow and care about it if you are not invested in the series. Laharl, Etna, and Flonne aren’t given much introduction in this game, so the expectation is that you are familiar with the world of Disgaea from the get-go. On the other hand, longtime fans might appreciate the fact that the game doesn’t waste time re-introducing the cast or treading over known territory. Also, because the original game is available on PSN, there isn’t much of a reason not to dive in.

-The adventure isn’t quite as memorable as the first. Sicily is a lovable character and I did genuinely enjoy the new story, but the story doesn’t quite live up to the original. It’s probably one of the weakest parts of the game. The story and gameplay are both great, but just not as great as the first. It tends to retread familiar ground. Even with the new gameplay tweaks, people who have played previous entries may already feel as though they’ve played this one before. Still, that should be taken in context—it’s still a wonderful game, one most certainly worth playing, just not as excellent as the first game. Trying to top the first game would be like capturing lightning in a bottle.  While this sequel plays it safe, it still manages to be fun and charming.

disgaea01

The Lowdown:

If you like strategy RPGs, niche Japanese games, or games with a bizarre comedic style, Disgaea D2 is perfect for you. If you’re feeling burned out by lengthy strategy RPGs or simply don’t wish to invest that much into a game, this adventure might be a hard sell. But this entry sits comfortably alongside its contemporaries as one of the better strategy RPGs available.

Score: 8.5/10

rain Review

rainrain (Available exclusively on PlayStation 3)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action Adventure
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCE Japan Studio
Release Date: October 1st, 2013

Parent Talk: rain is touching, sad, yet beautiful all at the same time. Children might be put off by some of the enemies that chase after you while, but there’s nothing overly violent or gory about the game as a whole. Young children will most likely not enjoy the feeling of isolation, and anyone over 10 should be perfectly fine.

Plays Like: rain is an action adventure game that tries to do something new. For the first few stages you’re trying to make your way to a little girl, always one step away from you no matter how close you get. While in the rain your playable character (a little boy) is visible, to both you the player, and to the various creatures that roam the land. If they touch you, it’s game over. The trick is to make use of your environments wisely. If an enemy can see you in the rain, then be sure to hide under sections of the street that have an awning so the rain doesn’t touch you. The goal is to make your way to the next section of the stage without being swallowed by the darkness. It sounds easy, but it gets complex fast. After the third level the game switches gears and plays more like ICO, where you have to work together with the little girl in order to overcome enemies, and other obstacles as you make your way to the stage’s exit.

Review Basis: Sony sent us a review code, and I completed the game.

Sony has made real strides this generation with their digital download service. What started off rather simple, has blossomed into a platform with some of the very best games available. From Super Stardust HD and Guacamelee!, to Journey and The Unfinished Swan, the PlayStation Network is home to a wide variety of AAA titles. With all that quality, releasing a new original IP can be tough, what with it being easily overshadowed by its peers. Sony has a lot of faith in rain and for good reason, it feels incredibly unique, looks great, and has solid gameplay.

rain5The Great:

An incredibly unique world. It often feels like a mixture of ICO and Limbo, because of the setting and overall gameplay. rain takes place in a world that is constantly raining. The only way to see yourself is to walk into the open, and let the rain fall down on you. The problem is monsters can also see you when you’re standing in the rain. In order to bypass them, you need to walk underneath awnings, roofs, or any other area where the rain can’t hit you. Throw in puzzles based around this gameplay mechanic, and a stunning visual style and you have yourself one heck of a creative videogame.

The feeling the game puts off is also impressive. Do you remember being extremely young and walking into a dark basement? Remember that feeling of isolation or dread that slowly crept up inside you? That’s exactly what this game does, it makes you feel like a child who’s trapped in a familiar setting, that’s teeming with dark and strange creatures.

rain4The Good:

+ Excellent difficulty progression. While the first few stages are extremely simple, mainly acting as a large tutorial, eventually you’re forced to use quick thinking, and multiple skills at the same time. That includes making sure you don’t step in mud, hiding from the rain, pushing blocks so you can reach safe zones and much, much more. Oh and you need to do this all while being chased by the Unknown, a large hulking beast that shares a few resemblances to a teacher, which ties into the feeling of making players feel like children.

+ Gameplay really shines once you hit the forth stage. That’s when you have access to a second character, and much like ICO before it, you have to help each other in order to solve puzzles, and escape enemies. This can include moving a ladder so one character can climb to a higher level, or waiting for your partner to sneak by enemies so you can quietly get by afterwards. Things get really interesting when several mechanics are thrown into the mix while enemies are chasing you both down.

+ Nerve-wracking at times. You might not believe it, but this game can be more creepy than even the scariest Resident Evil game, and that’s because there are several monsters that will follow you wherever you go, and you only have a finite amount of time to solve the puzzle before you and your partner get consumed by darkness.

+ While the eight levels can be completed in around three to four hours, maybe less if you use the hint system, upon finishing the game you can revisit each chapter to try and locate memories.

+ Level and art design are excellent. The way the rain interacts with both kids is wonderful to look at. Rain drips from their silhouettes, there are wet footprints which show which direction you’re walking in when not in the rain, and the overall environments are extremely polished. The way the narrative is presented is superbly stylized. This is one fine-looking videogame.

+ The audio is also very impressive. While there’s no spoken dialogue, the ambient noise is enough to calm you down during thought-provoking puzzles, or drive you up the wall when a giant monster is right on your tail. Composer Yugo Kanno and singer Connie Talbot have crafted an excellent soundtrack to accompany the sound effects. The tracks are somber, sad, and delightful, which fit the mood of each scene perfectly. There’s a lot of piano work here that’s especially memorable.

rain3The So-So:

+/- It can be a little hard to see exactly where you’re going when multiple mechanics are thrown at you at once. For example there are sections of the game where you need to use moving cover in order to hide from enemies all around you. One false step and it’s game over because you’ll be spotted within a second. The problem is that the moving cover doesn’t highlight your wet prints making it extremely difficult to tell if you’re going to overshoot your cover or not. It’s not mechanic that’s used too often, but when it is, it can be problematic.

+/- Some really intelligent gameplay mechanics like the one mentioned above are only featured in one stage in the entire game. While most will be further expanded as the game progress, there are a few puzzle elements that are slowly introduced just for the sake of having them at one particular point in time, and then never used again.

+/- Fixed camera angles are also problematic over time. 90% of the time they work perfectly and offer some stunning views of the action, but the other 10% twist and turn or cut too soon and will cause you to either run off a roof, or walk directly into an enemy you didn’t even know was there.

rain1The Bad:

– Hand-holding to the extreme. Die three times and the solution is presented to you. Wait around for a few minutes and the same thing happens. Sure you don’t have to hit the ‘Select’ button, but the fact that the solution shows up so quickly is annoying. It encourages people to simply ‘cheat’ their way through the game instead of using their brain to try and figure out the solutions for themselves. Sadly the hints cannot be turned off.

The Ugly:

You will learn to hate the Unknown monster. He clearly represents a teacher, as he sticks his finger out scanning for your footsteps, and it reminds me of a teacher scolding a kid in class with their finger. If he spots you he’s almost impossible to lose, and will surely catch up to you. It makes for some truly intense moments, and if someone like Steven were to play this, you’d hear his screams miles away.

rain2The Lowdown:

rain is a very refreshing game. While it has a few problems that keep it from achieving the same milestones that some of the other big heavy hitters on the PSN have, it’s originality help make it a title you should check out. The biggest problem is clearly the hint system, and the fact certain gameplay elements don’t seem to evolve over time, but the environments, the soundtrack, and feeling of isolation all come together to make rain a truly unique experience. If you enjoyed ICO or are simply looking for something a bit different, you can’t go wrong with rain.

Final Score: 7.5/10

Flashback Review

FlashbackFlashback (Available on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action Platformer
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: VectorCell
Release Date: August 21st, 2013 (Xbox 360 version)

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Flashback T for teen because of violence, blood, suggestive themes, and mild language. Unlike the original Flashback, this HD remake uses realistic graphics to depict the futuristic world. As such the violence would be too much for young players.

Plays Like: If you’ve ever played the original Prince of Persia (1989), or Flashback (1992) then you know more or less how this one works. Instead of playing like a modern 2D platformer, the game retains similar controls to that of the original. In other words as you approach a platform above your head, you need to walk up to it and press up on the analog stick in order for Conrad (the protagonist) to pull himself up. You can’t just jump and have him automatically grab ahold of it. In terms of gameplay, it plays much like you’d expect for an action platformer. You move through somewhat non-linear levels taking on enemies and solving puzzles. There are hints of Metroid thrown in for good measure, such as being able to located hidden areas via the useful map system.

Review Basis: Ubisoft sent a review code for the Xbox Live Arcade version of the game. I played through the entire game on Medium difficulty.

Flashback is actually a remake of the 1992 classic of the same name. The original development staff, or at least a good portion of them, actually developed this HD remastered version, and it shows. The game is extremely faithful to the original, although it now features all the modern gameplay enhancements you’d expect, on top of lush HD visuals and a more fleshed out audio score. For anyone that missed out on the original, now’s your chance to experience this landmark title.

The Great:

The setting is one of my favorite elements in the game. While you start off in a jungle, the setting quickly changes to a much more sci-fi setting as you make your way to a futuristic city. From there the environments and locations only get more and more interesting until the credits roll. The game oozes with Terminator, Blade Runner, and other classic science fiction film influences. If you’re into the genre, odds are you’re going to really dig this unique.

Flashback1The Good:

+ Metroid-like exploration is awesome. There’s a map system that hand-holds you to your next objective, but you’re completely free to go where you please so long as you have the right equipment to get you there. Not only can you find extra goodies, but you can also find weird creatures you need to destroy in order to unlock bonus achievements/trophies.

+ Light RPG elements go a long way. As you progress you gain experience which rewards special points that can be used to increase Conrad’s accuracy, technology, and stamina. Depending on where you allocate the points, Conrad’s core abilities change quite significantly. He might have more health, or his weapons will be more powerful. In the end I decided to go with a well-balanced character on my first play-through, but the choice is entirely up to you.

+ Teleportation device is a blast to use, and allows for some tricky puzzles. You can literally throw the device anywhere and then materialize a second later in the spot where it lands. When the game mixes different puzzles types together, it really shines. Take an exit for example. In order to get to said exit you need to shoot the teleportation device in such a way that it lands on a switch, but also misses the incoming lasers which one-shot you. Timing and precision are key here, and it can take more than a few attempts to figure out how to get by.

+ Solid combat. The right analog stick is used to aim 360 degrees around Conrad, which allows for much easier combat than the original. You can either shoot your standard hand gun, or charge it up for a mega blast a la Mega Man. There are also explosives and the trusty teleportation device which can make combat feel much deeper than it truly is.

+ Given how the 3D visuals add different layers of depth, a new ‘highlight mode’ has been added which allows players to make interactive objects in the environment glow.  This was extremely useful in certain areas where it appeared there was no exit.

+ New game plus. I always love when developers give you a reason to come back for more. The new game plus allows you to play through the adventure again while keeping all of your power-ups, and even adds new ones to make you all the more powerful.

+ Including the original 1992 version of Flashback was an excellent idea. Not only does it show how far gaming technology has come in the past two decades, but also highlights just how original the game was. It remarkably holds up better than I expected it to.

+ Comic-style cutscenes do a great job in fleshing out the storyline. The plot remains the same as the original game, you’re trying to piece together your mind by finding flash drives. The more you find, the more everything starts to make sense. At first you’re running for your life, but eventually you’re mankind’s savior. It might sound cliché, but it actually comes together in the end.

Flashback2The So-So:

+/- The gameplay works as well as it did years ago, although I found it a little clunky at times. Sometimes I would want to run and jump to a platform only to have Conrad fall off the edge, or try to grab onto the wrong ledge.

+/- While I appreciate the nice new HD visuals, it’s kind of sad to see the cel-shaded cartoon look of the original replaced by the generic 3D visuals of today. At least the level design is top notch. Players will feel encouraged to keep exploring, and sci-fi fans will love all the nods to classic sci-fi films.

The Bad:

– Voice acting lacks any sort of emotion, and falls flat. This is especially true when Conrad talks of his girlfriend.

The Ugly:

Odd bugs here and there. During a couple of sections you’re tasked with escorting someone to a certain location. I had to reload a previous checkpoint several times because either the A.I. would get stuck under an elevator, or other bizarre bugs would prevent them from doing what they’re supposed to.

Flashback4The Lowdown:

Flashback is one of those games that is fondly remembered because of how original it was when it was first released. While this new version has been given a fresh coat of paint it isn’t as memorable as the original. It falls directly in the good, but not great category.  That said, if you’re in the mood for an action platformer that features solid combat, fun exploration, and an intriguing storyline Flashback might be just what the doctor ordered.

Final Score: 6/10

Irrational Games Reveals Single-Player DLC for BioShock Infinite

Burial at Sea

After what feels like an eternity of waiting, Irrational Games has finally pulled the lid off their story-driven DLC for BioShock Infinite. Ironically enough, the first piece of DLC isn’t story-driven at all. It’s called Clash in the Clouds and is combat-focused, and set in Columbia. It’s out right now on Steam, PSN and Xbox 360, and costs $5 for those who don’t own the $20 Season Pass.

Clash in the Clouds is a horde-based DLC pack, and includes four different challenge maps (The Ops Zeal, Duke & Dimwit Theater, Raven’s Dome and Emporia Arcade). Each map contains 15 waves of enemies, a special challenge and even leaderboards for players to see how they rank. The DLC pack also includes the Columbia Archaeological Society, which acts as an in-game museum of sorts where players can look at original concept art, character models and much more. The pack also extends the lore behind Columbia through unique Voxophones and Kinetoscopes.

The second piece of DLC is indeed story-driven and is called Burial at Sea. It takes place 24 hours before the fall of Rapture. Here’s the official teaser trailer.

Even if you’ve never played BioShock or BioShock Infinite, you’ve got to admit there’s something really appealing to the overall style of the trailer. We don’t have much to go on right now pertaining to concrete details about the DLC, other than the fact that it’s broken up into two parts, and that it will feature a Noir-style Elizabeth. Each part will be $14.99 to those that don’t own the Season Pass, so now might be the time to remedy that. The second part of Burial at Sea will place Elizabeth as the central playable character. We currently have no details on when Burial at Sea will be available, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime my review of BioShock Infinite is finally going up sometime later this week. Yes it’s long overdue, and I apologize for that, but hopefully it’ll be worth the wait!

On Online Professionalism, Transparency, and Critiques – Phil Fish vs. Marcus Beer Debacle

So Fez II got cancelled and Phil Fish quit the industry due to a culmination of a hate parade on him throughout the years, finally pushed over-the-edge by one Marcus Beer of GameTrailers. In this video, I delve into my thoughts in general of what went down and how we should improve ourselves as game journalists and fans alike. Please note that while I’m not taking the favorable way of going completely against Phil, I rationalize why and do fault him for certain things he has done and said. I may not completely know the details of how this beef came to be and neither I do recite the events in full chronological order, but the vital parts are mostly there. Besides, it’s not about the details here; it’s more about how these people acted in public.

Persona 4 Golden Review

Persona 4 Golden BoxPersona 4 Golden (Available exclusively on PlayStation Vita)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: RPG
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Release Date: November 20th, 2012

Persona 4 is easily one of my favorite games on the PlayStation 2, and one of my favorite role-playing games of all time, so when I finally got the chance to play an enhanced director’s cut on the Vita, I was ecstatic. For that reason, this is a difficult game for me to review—I became so attached to the original I wasn’t sure if I could view it through a critical lens. After finally getting time to play the game, I’ve been hooked all over again. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 was already a near-perfect masterpiece, but Golden improves upon it in every way, making it a must-own for the Vita.

Parent Talk: Persona 4 Golden is rated M because of some suggestive dialog, alcohol references, and the dark nature of the story. There are only a few instances of profanity, there’s no sexual content, and there is hardly any blood or gore whatsoever. The game could have easily gotten away with a T for Teen rating.

Plays Like: A turn-based role-playing game mixed together with a dating-simulation game.

Review Basis: Completed everything the game has to offer, received a Platinum Trophy, and played approximately 140 hours.

Persona 4 Golden_meeting

The Great:

A flawless director’s cut. There are a lot of things I could put here—the endearing cast of characters, the excellent story, the innovative gameplay, but ultimately, I’m most impressed by how well the game stays fresh and how the changes, both the minor touches and the more major additions, mesh so well and result in a more polished, finished, and dare I say perfect product. Not only has the game received a visual upgrade, but there are additional dungeons, new story elements, new characters, new Social Links, more activities to do, and well…more of everything. It’s like an entirely new game. While it unfortunately lacks the ability to play as a female lead character, which Atlus implemented in the PlayStation Portable port of Persona 3, it offers enough to convince both existing fans and newbies alike to put down the cash.

The addition of Marie is unarguably the game’s biggest draw, serving as both an interesting new character and a vehicle for more compelling story content. The developers managed to insert her story so seamlessly into the adventure that people may think it was always there to begin with. The minor changes, such as the upgrades to the fishing mini-game, are welcome and help improve the parts of the game that felt less polished. That’s not to say there was much wrong with the original release. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find someone critical of the original, making these additions all the more amazing. The game scenario even continues for a longer period of time than in the original—in this game, you play until February, whereas in the original, you stopped in December.

Persona 4 Golden_izanagi

The Good:

+ An excellent cast of lovable characters. What makes the newer Persona games so great is that they are more about your interactions with the characters, as opposed to your interactions with a blank, expressionless world. Many RPGs send the player out into a world to explore, and the NPCs only act as a means to an end—a way to get a quest item or bit of the story. In the Persona games, the main character does act as somewhat of a blank slate for the player, but the rest of the cast are well-written and interesting. They grapple with problems that make them believable and human. Chie is jealous of her friend Yukiko, but she is upset with herself for feeling that way, leading to a cycle of self-loathing and depression. Yosuke is deeply hurt that he wasn’t able to get closer to a girl he liked, because she was killed before he really had the chance to open up. The characters feelings are actually an integral part of the plot, because each character needs to face his or her “True Self.” It’s a clever way of tying in the game mechanics, characters, and story into one cohesive theme—friendship and bonds. This game is all about the bonds you make when you meet someone, whether it’s by hanging out at school, working at a job, or spending time at home. By the end of the game, I was genuinely attached to the entire cast and was sad that it ended. The game eschews the “save the world” theme, in favor of getting you more attached to your fans and the little country town of Inaba.

+ Fantastic music. The music in the original was already incredible and the new tracks don’t disappoint either. The song “Memory,” which plays in one of the new dungeons, is probably my new favorite song in the game.

+ Refined combat. The game is still a menu-driven, turn-based role-playing game. That may make many newer gamers cringe, but it really shouldn’t. The mechanics are so polished and perfected here that it makes you believe it shouldn’t be any other way. Like the original, you have a party of four members, including the protagonist. The protagonist has access to a wide variety of personas and thus can be a jack-of-all-trades, while each other character has a specific specialty. Yukiko has fire-based attacks and high magic stats, while Kanji has electric-based moves and high physical attack, for example. Knowing how to best use your party for any situation and adapt your main character’s persona list accordingly can make a huge difference in battle. Each persona is kind of like a Pokémon—it’s a creature that can do your fighting for you. Though your character can perform physical attacks, personas can have up to eight attacks, spells, or abilities. If you use a spell or ability that exploits an enemy’s weakness, you can get another turn to attack. If you knock all of the enemies down, you can get an “All Out Attack” and have your entire party rush the field for added damage. This much should be a given for anyone who has played the original game.

In this version, however, not only are there more personas to use, but there are other subtle changes. For one, Rise is far more useful in combat than before. In the original, Rise acted only as a navigator, providing advice for the player. In this version, Rise can heal characters after battle, add damage to an All Out Attack, come into the battle to raise your party’s stats, and completely scan enemy weaknesses at the start of battle. How well she helps you is dependent on her level and her Social Link ranking with the protagonist. The other characters can also use team attacks, and characters outside the party can randomly join in for a support attack, as well. Also, it’s now far easier to refine your cast and your move-set. You can find cards in dungeons that will teach a move to your persona. After registering found cards, you can go and purchase more of them later, and you can even get cards by going to the café in town. You can teach your teammates moves they’ve forgotten by traveling to the hot spring and talking about your memories or you can teach them new moves by talking about your future. Characters can also get access to a third-tier persona in this version, with new attacks! The gameplay and battles are still carefully balanced, fun, and occasionally challenging even with these new additions.

Persona 4 Golden_summer

+ Social Link system. Persona 3 gained notoriety for its innovative hybrid of dating sim and role-playing game styles. Persona 4 improved on it in every way, offering more balanced content. Golden does the same. Basically, part of the game is a life simulator. You have to attend class and experience the major story events, but aside from that, you’re free to determine your own schedule. You can play basketball or soccer, join the drama club or band, hang out with friends after school (or even ditch class), go around town on your scooter, go fishing, watch movies, read books, get a part-time job, and more. Each of these events, seemingly insignificant at first, actually are incredibly important to building your character and learning more about the cast. Pursuing these events will build on your “Social Links,” which represent different Arcana. Arcana correlate with a certain class of persona. Thus, advancing your Social Link will allow you to create more powerful persona of that respective Arcana. Only by advancing the Social Link, learning more about that character’s likes and dislikes, and meeting them on their schedule will you be able to succeed.

It’s a careful balancing act, because you want to create a powerful persona to beat a boss, but to do that, you have to spend enough time with the person who represents that link. In this version, there are more characters to spend time with, more events to participate in (like the New Year’s Festival), and more ways to advance your social link. For example, you can know hang out with your friends at night and chat, which will raise their affection and speed up the time for increasing your Social Link.

+ Trophy support.

+ New scenes to watch, which give more insight to the characters. Many of them are quite fun and the Valentine’s Day scenes are actually really sweet. (By the way, Chie is the best choice).

+ Bonus extras, like a music player, cutscene viewer, a compilation of promotional videos and concert videos, and a quiz game.

+ Adjustable difficulty. You can set the game on Easy if you don’t want to concern yourself much with fighting, but the truly dedicated can try the game on higher modes. You can even fine tune individual settings, such as the rate of experience points awarded after battle, the amount of money you receive, the amount of damage dealt, and so on.

Persona 4 Golden_winter

The So-So:

The graphics have received a face-lift, but the character models are about the same as before. The game wasn’t designed for the Vita originally, so it won’t compete with the likes of Gravity Rush and Soul Sacrifice in terms of visuals, but it still has enough flair and style to make it look great. It’s definitely a game that will look good no matter how old it gets.

The Bad:

Unlike Persona 3 Portable, there is no option to play as a female lead character. It’s difficult to complain about this given how much content this version has and just how good the game is, but considering it was an addition to the previous game and this is a director’s cut, it would have been nice to have this in the game. Even if not much was changed, it would have been a neat option.

The Lowdown:

I consider Persona 4 Golden a near-perfect game. It improved upon an already excellent game in nearly every way and I had to struggle to find a complaint. The only major issue I had was the lack of an option that was featured in the previous game, but the adventure was just so fun and gameplay so addicting that I really didn’t care. I sunk in approximately 140 hours into the game and didn’t stop until I got the Platinum Trophy—and I still want to play it again and again. It’s a role-playing game that shows that JRPGs can still hang with the best of them, and if you have even a remote interest in role-playing games, this is simply a must-own for the PlayStation Vita. I consider it the best game in the system’s library. This game comes highly recommended.

Score: 10/10

E3 2013: Sony Press Conference Live Blog & Stream

Time for Sony to shine! Will they opt out of DRM? Will their exclusives outmatch what Microsoft just revealed? Tune in to find out. We’ll be live blogging the whole thing. Click here to watch the live stream! I’ve also embedded the stream below the chat window for convenience.



Live Video app for Facebook by Ustream

Best instruction video of all time.

Mega Man and DuckTales Return!

Capcom has finally announced a brand new game in the Mega Man franchise, well sorta.  Here’s the scoop.  Today at PAX East Capcom confirmed the studio is in development of a brand new Mega Man game, but failed to release any further information.  Literally all we know is that a new game is in development, and that’s all she wrote.

The second piece of news is that WarForward and Capcom are bringing back the 1989 NES classicDuckTales for a new generation of gamers to enjoy.  Titled DuckTales Remastered the game will be available later this summer for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and the Wii U’s eShop for $14.99.  The game will feature hand-drawn character sprites in a 3D world, and the Disney voice-actors are currently recording their lines, while the classic music also gets the remastered treatment.

We’ll have more info on both titles as we get it.

Updated by Ahmed Mosly: here’s the trailer for DuckTales, guys. Holy crap! It looks freakin’ awesome. I feel my childhood rushing back to me.

Virtue’s Last Reward Review

Virtue's_Last_Reward_Boxart Virtue’s Last Reward (Available on Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Puzzle/Adventure
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Chunsoft
Release Date: October 23rd, 2012

Parent Talk: Virtue’s Last Reward is absolutely not for children, not only because of the violent content, but also because of its difficult puzzles and emphasis on storytelling. VLR is a “visual novel” game, meaning that you have to read pages upon pages of text to advance the story. The story is dark and twisted, which should satisfy fans of mysteries and thriller movies. It’s not as overtly violent or gory as M-rated action games, but the game has a dark tone that permeates the entire narrative.

Plays Like: VLR is very similar to other games in the visual novel genre, especially 999, its Nintendo DS predecessor. Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton are also quite similar, because of the emphasis on puzzle solving and reading text.

Review Basis: Completed every story route, received a Platinum Trophy, and completed the previous game in the series.

3DS vs. Vita: There are no significant advantages in either version of the game. The 3DS obviously offers 3D effects, though the Vita offers a better audio and visuals. The Vita version’s biggest strengths are probably Trophy support and three save files. The 3DS only offers one save file. Some may focus on the fact that the 3DS has a stylus packaged in with the system, which makes writing notes and solving puzzles easier; however, you can easily purchase and use a stylus to use on the Vita.

vlr_interview_02_thumb

The Great: An excellent story. 999 excelled because of its strong characters and compelling narrative. It wove an intricate plot with multiple story threads and many different endings. Characters in that game were far from one-dimensional clichés; they had complicated back stories that required exploring. VLR offers substantially more than its predecessor. Each of the characters is unique, and that’s not just a reference to the visually striking character designs. It’s impossible to guess what’s going to happen next, which is essentially t any compelling mystery novel. The fun comes with trying to see what comes next and figuring out how to proceed.

Advancing the story isn’t as simple as just hitting the “confirm” button though. Each section of the game has an elaborate puzzle that must be solved, but the game encourages the player to be absolutely thorough in exploring the plot development as well. At certain parts in the story, there may be a “block” that the player can’t advance through without first going through one of the other story routes. This not only adds significant longevity to the game, but it also requires the player to think more about how the story evolves.

For your own sake, please do not read strategy guides that explain the story—that would absolutely ruin the experience. Like 999, VLR is a dark and twisted story. Nine people have been forced to participate in a bizarre competition called “The Nonary Game-Ambidex Edition.” In this game, characters must either choose to “ally” with or “betray” teammates in order to survive. To complete the game, a participant must accumulate at least nine points and then open up the number nine door. You can get points more quickly by betraying teammates, but then you’ll sacrifice trust, which is difficult to get back. If you choose to ally, you can reach a mutually beneficial outcome, but that’s only if you know your partner will also choose to ally.

Depending on the player’s choices, characters will be put into different groups, making each round full of anxious tension.  Each choice will open up a different story route, but it’s difficult to know which is the “correct” route to choose—a diabolical dilemma. If you fail to get enough points before someone else does, they will leave the facility, leaving you trapped…forever. Also, you can’t risk being too gullible either, because if your point total reaches zero, then you’ll die. Similarly, do you want to be responsible for the death of another character by taking away his or her points? This game is an exercise in moral dilemma.

VLR-_zero

The Good:

+ Interesting characters. The character designs are bizarre, but they certainly are memorable. Every character has a uniquely defined personality and a complicated back story. Figuring out their motivations and deciding who can be trusted makes the narrative even more intense. Each route focuses on a specific character, but that doesn’t mean you won’t learn anything new about certain characters in other routes as well. Like 999, the story plays with your expectations.

+ Homage to 999. Playing 999 will properly set the stage for VLR, but it is not a requirement. In other words, the story can be understood and enjoyed on its own. The stories between the two games are unmistakably linked, but that may not be apparent even to those who have played the first game until much later in. The stories and characters from the first game are still important, but they are purposefully kept hidden and vague until much later in the adventure. This clever misdirection is meant to keep players guessing and wondering where the story will go, rather than pigeonholing this game as a blatant sequel.

+ Tense music. The music perfectly sets the stage for the tone of the narrative. My personal favorite track is “Blue Bird Lamentation,” which perfectly punctuates a more melancholy piece of the game’s narrative. Fans of 999 may even recognize some familiar music as well, in the song “Ambidexterity.”

+ Excellent voice work. There is a significant amount of spoken dialogue in this game, and it’s actually good. Really good, in fact. Character dialog can either be set to Japanese or English, but in either case, the voices perfectly match the characters. The performances are great and there’s hardly any poor or overacted lines at all.

+ Challenging puzzles. At its core, VLR is most certainly a puzzle game, even though it is wrapped in a lengthy narrative. Each section has a difficult puzzle to discover and master. However, these challenges aren’t just simple math or logic problems. Like 999, the puzzles are often contextual and have significant length.  Players must explore a room or series of rooms in search of clues. Hints gained from these bits of cryptic evidence are then applied in a series of smaller puzzles, each of which usually yields some small reward: a key, a new clue, some directions, etc.

Many of the puzzles require a unique form of input and sometimes they make interesting use of the system’s features. For example, in the Vita version of the game, certain puzzles may use touch screen input or motion controls. Some puzzles simply require you to input clues found in the room, while others require you to be a little more creative and come up with new solutions. After solving the puzzle, you will receive a code which will unlock a safe. Doing so will not only net some rewards, but will also open up the path forward. However, some puzzles have multiple solutions, and uncovering them may bring added rewards. Finding the hidden passwords will give the player more treasures from the safe. This adds significant replayability.

+ A well-developed world. One of the hallmarks of a great game is a rich, well-developed world. This can be done through intricate environments, but it can also be done by giving the player that the game world is larger than it appears, making the game appear more than just one adventure. In VLR, the hefty amount of notes and files left behind in the safes make for interesting reading material and help expand the game’s “world” far beyond what is expected. Some of these notes are trivial. Others explain mundane character activities, scientific principles mentioned in the puzzles, story elements from the previous game, story elements not mentioned explicitly in VLR or 999, back story, etc. All of these come together to make an established canon that immerses the player into a compelling, through-provoking world of mystery and intrigue.

vlr-0003

The So-So:

+ Every character is ridiculously intelligent. A great mystery story uses the right amount of misdirection—using vagueness and confusion to addle the audience at first, while slowly revealing more and more clues to reveal the puzzle. When things come together properly, the characters in the story should come to realize the truth at the same time the player does. If the player has everything figure out right away, the story has failed. However, here, the characters are so incredibly articulate and intelligent that it’s almost ridiculous. They all have some passing knowledge of academic schools of thought and complex scientific principles, which makes the dialog less believable. It pushes the game further into the realm of science-fiction. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can make the game hard to follow.

zero escape ally betray

The Bad:

-Minimal animation and movement. For most of the game, you will be looking at static screens filled with text. There isn’t much of a sense of movement. Even in tense scenes, most of the story scenes are played out via short animated segments, followed by text. Many of the scenarios described are either implied in the text or glossed over. That’s not to say that everything is lifeless, though. During exchanges of dialog, characters move about slightly, rather than just sitting still like portraits.

The Lowdown:

This should be one your “must have” list for 2012. No matter which platform you own or choose to play it on, Virtue’s Last Reward should be experienced. It’s difficult to pigeonhole the game into a genre, especially because terms like “puzzle game” and “visual novel” are nebulous at best. The compelling mystery story, the interesting characters, and challenging problem solving alone make it one of the best handheld games of the year.

Score: 9.5/10

Growlanser IV: Wayfarer of Time Review

Growlanser IV: Wayfarer of Time (Available only on PlayStation Portable and PSN)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Strategy RPG
Publisher: ATLUS
Developer: Career Soft
Release Date: July 31st, 2012

Note: This game is playable on PlayStation Vita.

Parent Talk: Growlanser is a complex strategy-based role-playing game. There are mild sexual references and some profanity, but because of the relatively simple graphics, there isn’t any gore or blood to worry about. Some younger players may have a difficult time playing the game because of some of the more difficult battles. You do not have to play previous games in the series to understand or enjoy this game; it is a stand-alone product.

Plays Like: A mix of turn-based strategy games, like Final Fantasy Tactics, and real-time action. Characters do not move on a grid-style chessboard, but instead move freely about the area; movement speed varies between characters.

Review Basis: Played for 60 hours, completed the main adventure, and watched several of the endings.

Growlanser Generations was a pleasant surprise on the PlayStation 2. I imagine many North American gamers are unfamiliar with the series, just as I was when that game arrived. After playing it and enjoying the unique blend of strategy and real-time combat, I came to appreciate the series. Hopefully even more will come to enjoy it considering how excellent Wayfarer of Time is.

The Great: A memorable adventure. Like the PSP-exclusive role-playing game The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, Growlanser IV succeeds not because of significant contribution to the genre or thoughtful innovations, but simply because it is a memorable, well-crafted adventure. Many (unfairly) criticize JRPGs of being stale, repetitive, and linear. WoT is excellent evidence to the contrary, with its excellent characters, great relationship system, non-linear storyline, and branching dialog. How you choose to play the game, how you choose to interact with other characters, and what your preferences are shape the adventure. Characters may live or die based on your choices, characters may enter or leave your party, and you can even fall in love.

Many gamers may be reminded of the Persona series, which is a fair assumption. However, the branching dialog trees are more pronounced here, with more significant changes to the story. In Persona, you are largely tasked with time management; in Growlanser, the game conforms to your preferences. However, unlike most Western RPGs of this ilk, you cannot customize or change the appearance of your characters. I personally prefer the existing designs because of the excellent artwork from Satoshi Urushihara, so I see this as more of a matter of preference.

The Good:

+ An interesting combat system. WoT mixes together elements of turn-based and real-time action. Players choose each character’s actions based on her or her position in the lineup, but characters move and act based on their movement speed and reaction time. These statistics can be improved by leveling up characters and equipping stones, but that’s only scratching the surface. Characters also have magic spells and skills (called knacks), in addition to unique abilities granted by stones.

Many situations do not simply ask for the player to take out all enemies; other times, players must escort a character safely across the battlefield, stop someone from escaping, recapture an area, etc. This adds a definite element of strategy of the game. Furthermore, battles can be completed without fulfilling the primary objectives, which leads to the possibility of multiple outcomes. You can choose to save someone or let that person die.

+ Many events, many possibilities. It’s simply impossible to see every even that the game has to offer the first time through the adventure. Interacting with characters opens up a wide array of options. If you speak carefully and are perceptive of character traits, it’s possible to have many of your teammates open up to you. Doing so not only makes them more prone to like you, but also gives you the chance to unlock unique events. Between major story events, you can take the time to relax and enjoy a nice furlough period. Doing so will give you time to talk to characters, go to an art gallery, take in the sights, enjoy a play, etc.

Sometimes, these bonus events actually open up interesting side quests and special events. Learning about a character’s past gives insight on how to significantly change that character’s fate, hopefully for the better. This is personally one of my favorite parts of the game, because it makes the characters and the adventure more personal and more genuine. Fans of the Persona series should especially enjoy this element of the game.

+ Length and replayability. As stated before, there are 40 possible endings, many alternate story routes, and many options for character interaction. The main scenario is rather straightforward, but each successive play through will provide new insights on many of the game’s characters (of which there are many)! Not only that, but the game will take a significant amount of time to complete even once. It’s easy to spend about 50 hours just to complete the game one time. That’s nothing to scoff at.

+ Excellent characters, character designs, and artwork. Satoshi Urushihara’s artwork is one of the many, many reasons to appreciate this game. Character portraits are intricately detailed and given a wide variety of expressions; the animation is limited, but the character portraits and special scenes are a joy to look at. All of this would be moot of course if the characters were dull and uninteresting in conversation, but thankfully they contribute frequently and I genuinely wanted to talk to the characters.

The So-So:

+ Music is good, but somewhat forgettable.

+ Character sprites are decent. They lack the punch of the remastered Final Fantasy games, but they at least stand out from the blurry backgrounds.

The Bad:

-The game starts slow. As a word of warning to everyone considering playing this game: make sure you stick it through. The beginning of the game is interesting, but the first act does drag a bit (at the academy, for instance).  However, once new characters are introduced and some of the drama unfolds (and some more of the game options open up), everything gets much more interesting. It would be sad to dismiss the game because of a slow start, because at the end of the game, I found myself attached to the game world and the characters in it.

-Some battles can be plagued with slowdown in some of the more hectic battles.

The Ugly:

-The field graphics are a blurry mess. It can be hard to distinguish some pathways because of how crowded the areas can be, especially if there are objects, foliage, etc., in the way. Many times, the areas are just rather bland and uninteresting to look at. The artwork is absolutely fantastic and is certainly one of the game’s selling points, but the same cannot be said for the field graphics.

The Lowdown:

Wayfarer of Time is definitely worth picking up if you need a reason to keep your PSP around or if you’re looking for content on the Vita. The series is one of my cult favorites because of its compelling blend of tactical strategy and simulation gameplay. If you’re a fan of JRPGs, especially the Persona series, this is one worth your time.

Score: 8/10

Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault = November 27th @ $19.99

The title says it all folks, Insomniac and Sony’s latest Ratchet and Clank game will hit the PlayStation Network on November 27th for $19.99.  For those that don’t know, this isn’t your typical R&C game, it’s actually a tower defense game.  Full Frontal Assault is also cross-buy and cross-save compatible, meaning if you purchase the PS3 version you get the Vita version for no additional cost.  The cross-save feature allows you play start the game on your PS3 and continue on your Vita, or vice-versa.

I can’t speak for everyone else here, but I’m in.

Growlanser IV: Wayfarer of Time Impressions

Growlanser IV: Wayfarer of Time (Available only on PlayStation Portable and PSN)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Strategy RPG
Publisher: ATLUS
Developer: Career Soft
Release Date: July 31st, 2012

Note: This game is playable on PlayStation Vita.

So far, I’ve poured about 15 hours into Growlanser IV. I plan to play for quite a lot longer. My experience thus far has been very favorable, because Wayfarer of Time has proven to be an addictive, engaging handheld role-playing game. Fans of the strategy genre will have a lot to work with her and people who enjoy the “dating sim lite” approach in games like Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and 4 will be thrilled. Even if you’ve retired your PlayStation Portable, you may want to dust it off or download this gem for your Vita–because it’s looking great.

What is Growlanser? Growlanser is a strategy role-playing game series. Most of the games have an isometric perspective and 2D character sprites. Think of like like a combination of Final Fantasy Tactics and a dating-sim. Outside of battles, the player can talk with characters, go to shops, engage in events (like going to see plays), and so on. There is an extensive relationship system that permeates the whole game. The player can form relationships with characters in the game, becoming close friends and possibly more. There are extensive dialog trees and the experience is highly customizable and personable. In battles, players fight enemies in a real-time, menu-based system.

I’ve never played a game in this series before. Can I play this one without experiencing the others? Yes! Wayfarer of Time stands on its own. If you’ve played Growlanser Generations, you will have a good understanding of how this game works-both are similar. They have the same battle system and general mechanics.

What makes this game unique/worth playing? The character customization make this a unique, lengthy, and engrossing adventure. There are multiple endings and many different options, depending on how you play. Are you kind and caring? Or are you cold and ruthless? How you act determines how characters will interact with you and treat you. You can also meet different characters based on how you act in the game; certain characters may live or die by your actions, as well. The battle system is also highly engaging and should be fun for any role-playing game fan, with its clever blend of real-time, turn-based, and tactical elements. Characters do not move on a grid nor is it a “wait-based” system. Battles require quick thinking and a level of preparation.

Is the story any good? Yes, and it’s lengthy. Characters are memorable and interesting. The high-level of of character interaction means that you get many opportunities to learn about each of the characters, but it won’t be the same way for each person. ATLUS has proclaimed that there are over 40 possible endings in the game. I won’t include any spoilers here, but here’s a rough primer: You play as Crevanille, a young boy taken in and raised by a mercenary brigade. His leader calls him the “key” and believes he will be instrumental in defeating the angels, who had destroyed human civilization ages ago and apparently threaten to do so again.

Expect a full review from me soon! 

Capcom Announces Release Date for Marvel vs. Capcom Origins

Marvel vs. Capcom Origins, which collects Marvel Super Heroes and Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes, will be available to download in North America on PlayStation Network on September 25th for $14.99 and on Xbox LIVE Arcade on September 26th for 1200 Microsoft Points.  I already informed you all of this game a while back, but at least now we have a release date :)  Here’s a little tidbit Capcom wanted me to pass along.

These two classic games are kept arcade-perfect, while adding a host of features sure to tap into arcade nostalgia while meeting today’s online needs.  MARVEL VS. CAPCOM ORIGINS is jam-packed with Marvel and Capcom fan-favorite characters and crazy, beloved gameplay that throws a powerful punch.

MARVEL VS. CAPCOM ORIGINS offers both the one-on-one gameplay of Marvel Super Heroes with its unique Infinity Gem system and the two-on-two carnage of the original Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes, featuring a tag system, assists, and the wild Duo Team Attack. Bringing forth a host of features never before seen in these games, MARVEL VS. CAPCOM ORIGINS adds GGPO-enhanced online play with 8-player lobbies and spectator mode, HD graphical upgrades, dynamic challenges and replay saving.

How many of you are looking forward to capcom’s latest brawler?