Tag Archives: PlayStation Portable

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

Legend of Heroes Trails in the Sky Review

Legend of Heroes Trails in the Sky (Available exclusively on the PlayStation Portable)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of players: 1
Genre: RPG
Publisher: XSEED
Developer: Nihon Falcom Corp
Release Date: March 29th, 2011

Parent Talk: Trails in the Sky is a Japanese role-playing game with colorful characters and a thoughtful story. There are abundant alcohol references and some mildly suggestive content, but this is a game that is suitable for almost any player. Younger players may not like all of the reading that is necessary though. You do not need to play other games in the Legend of Heroes series to understand or enjoy this game.

Plays Like: Trails in the Sky is a mixture of classic roleplaying games like Final Fantasy and strategy games like Growlanser. In combat, players must move characters around a battle field screen and plan out attacks in turn-based order. Outside of battle, players talk to characters and take on quests.

Review Basis: Completed the main adventure and all quests. Played for roughly 50 hours.

The Great: A wonderful adventure. A decent role playing game may engross you in an adventure, keeping you occupied for hours just because the gameplay is fun or you feel compelled to “beat” the game. A great role playing game compels you to finish because you want to finish the adventure, because it actually pulls you into the experience, making you feel attached to the characters and the world. Trails in the Sky is the latter. Many people today criticize modern Japanese role playing games of losing touch with gamers, especially compared to the masterpiece JPRGs from previous console generations. While I don’t fully agree with that claim, Trails in the Sky does bring to mind the great old adventures from the SNES and PlayStation 1 era.

The story is about personal growth and family, which makes it personal and relatable. Estelle Bright is the daughter of legendary Guild Bracer Cassius Bright, a man who has made a legacy out of helping people across the land. Bracers are sort of like mercenaries, people who are paid for their services. However, they take the creed to help those in need whenever they are able, prioritizing helping over reward. When she was young, Cassius brought home a boy named Joshua, who soon became a part of the family. Now, Estelle and Joshua are traveling across the country, visiting different Bracer Guilds to gain enrichment, learning about the people and the customs of the land and to grow as Bracers. It’s an adventure worth playing because the characters are rich and they grow over the course of the game.

The Good:

+ A long game. The game’s packaging advertises that it takes about 50 hours to complete, which is no exaggeration. This is a lengthy game! Seeing all of the different lands, taking on all of the different quests, and tackling all of the challenges takes quite a bit of time. Of course, reading through lines and lines of text also takes a while, so don’t expect that you will be enjoying 50 hours of straight play. Old-school enthusiasts should feel right at home though. If you’re looking for a portable game you can commit to, this is an excellent choice.

+ Wonderful characters. Most of the game is dedicated to exploring and developing Estelle and Joshua Bright, a brother-and-sister pair who are traveling across the country to become Bracers like their father. They meet a variety of interesting teammates, each of which brings unique personalities and perspectives. The journey is really about Estelle’s feelings, her family, her relationship with her adopted brother Joshua, and how she grows. Seeing characters develop so well makes the game more fun to play. Even the other characters, like the seemingly cold-blooded Agate and the eccentric young inventor Tita, make their mark without wasting much time. Every character is important.

+ Colorful artwork. Character portraits really help bring the game to life. The animated cutscene in the beginning of the game and the character portraits featured in battles/menus help give the adventure more personality. The character design is definitely one of the game’s strong suits.

+ A deep but not overly complex battle system. Trails in the Sky adopts an easy-to-learn turn-based combat system with some twists. Characters take turns attacking and moving, with the turn order displayed on the battle screen. During that character’s turn, he or she can move across the field, attack, use an item, use magic, or use a special attack. You can move and attack in the same phase if an enemy is in rage, but you cannot move and use an item or special ability. Certain spells and abilities can be used to stop enemies from moving around the board or using attacks.

The game gradually increases the difficulty, giving you plenty of time to figure out all of the nuances to battle. As you progress in the adventure, you learn new magic skills (depending on what gems you equip onto your character) and new abilities. Characters can even equip super moves, which can be performed at any time once they fill the “CP Meter.” By mastering super moves, magic, and arts, you can handle a variety of enemies in a number of ways. The game isn’t held back by complicated information systems, making it easy to jump into.

+ Character customization and management. Besides giving characters the standard weapons, armors, helmets, shoes, and accessories, players can also outfit characters with orbments. Orbments are basically magic gems, like Final Fantasy VII’s materia system, that gives characters magic spells and statistic boosting effects. Depending on where the orbs are placed and what orbs are paired with them, characters can gain access to new spells or different power boosts.

+ An abundance of quests. In each area of the country, there are different Bracer Guilds. By checking the bulletin boards at the guilds, you can read about and accept a number of odd jobs. They offer extra incentive to explore the towns more thoroughly before moving on to the next part of the story.

+ Great writing and dialog. Some gamers hate reading lines and lines of text, but you shouldn’t dismiss Trails in the Sky. The plot is well done and the characters show a wide range of emotion. Characters can be genuinely endearing or funny, which makes reading through the dialog all the more fun.

The So-So:

+/- The music is good, but not much else can really be said about it. I didn’t find many of the tracks memorable.

+/- The graphics are decent, but lack the punch and vibrancy of other PSP role playing games. The art style is wonderful though.

+/- The orbments system is robust, but it’s difficult to figure out the pattern for how magic and stat boosts work. I played around with equipping different orbs on characters (in varying order) and never found a concrete pattern, but perhaps I just didn’t understand it properly.

The Bad:

-This may contain some spoilers for the game’s story, but it should be known that the game ends rather abruptly with a serious cliffhanger. Trails in the Sky is intended as the first chapter of a trilogy. There is no word on whether or not the sequels will be localized and released in English though. Supposedly, XSEED is working on the Second Chapter though.

-The pacing is kind of slow. Some parts of the game tend to drag on, but the end result is worth it.

The Lowdown:

Trails in the Sky is a great throwback to classic role playing games, with excellent characters, witty writing, and a fun combat system. Gamers who dislike lots of reading or a slower, turn-based combat system may be turned off by this adventure, but if you want a seriously long, committed adventure, then Trails in the Sky is a wonderful choice. Just as long as you don’t mind waiting for future installments.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Gungnir Review

Gungnir (Available exclusively on PlayStation Portable)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of layers: 1
Genre: SRPG
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Sting
Release Date: June 12th, 2012

Parent Talk: Gungnir is rated T for teen by the ESRB because of alcohol references, fantasy violence, mild language and mild suggestive themes.  It’s a sprite-based strategy role-playing game filled with colorful characters, and lots and lots of cartoonish mystical violence.  Not very damaging if you ask me.

Plays Like: This is one of those tactical strategy RPGs that plays very similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, Vandal Hearts, and Tactics Ogre.

Review Basis: Finished the main storyline.

The Great:

Gungnir is one of the deepest SRPGs released in a while.  Featuring a wide assortment of customization options, brilliant ‘think before you make a move’ mechanics and so much more.  The gameplay is far closer to Final Fantasy Tactics and Vandal Hearts for those looking to know the finer details.  If you’re looking for a game that you could play for months, this is it.

The Good:

+ Fantastic production values.  Sting knows the PSP hardware and that’s evident by their work here.  Sprits look sharp, and even with tons of special effects the PSP never slows down.  The audio is equally impressive.

+ War gods are awesome.  You can summon a war god during battles, but unlike a typical summons these powerful characters not only attack the enemy, but also anything around them including your troops.

+ Tactical advantage.  By collecting flags on the mission maps you can slow down the tactical meter, which allows you to sneak in another attack.  This can also be useful when trying to launch a magical attack before your opponent moves out of the way.

+ Excellent translation from Atlus.  The humor hits all the right notes, and the drama work just as well, although can be slightly heavy handed at times.

The So-So:

+/- Gungnir is a more advanced SRPG, and as such not one I would recommend to beginners.   While it becomes straight forward after a few hours, newbies will likely find it overwhelming.

+/- The story follows Julio who meets a young woman during a terrible war.  He’s eventually given the Gungnir (a divine spear) and goes on become the savior of the land.  Fairly standard stuff, right?  The story does loosely tie into Yggdra Union and Knights in the Nightmare, so fans of those games be sure to take note.

The Bad:

– For a portable SRPG, missions can take up to 40 minutes to complete, without the ability to save mid-way through.

– Doesn’t break the mold, in fact it doesn’t really do much ‘new’ at all.  Longtime fans of the genre might feel Sting played it a little too safe with this one.

The Ugly:

Getting to the boss of a mission, only to have to him take an elixir, while you only have two characters left, and realizing you’re going to have to redo the entire 50 minute mission all over again…for the fifth time.

The Lowdown:

Gungnir is a really fun strategy RPG, but it doesn’t bring very much new to the table.  If you’re a veteran you might find yourself loosing interest quickly, or just the opposite.  This is one of those genres that typically skew towards the ultra hardcore and there aren’t all that many out there.   Atlus needs to be commended for delivering a perfect translation, a game with really fun gameplay, and helping to support a niche genre.

Final Score: 7/10

Getting in on the PSP Today, for the Vita Tomorrow

Sure the PSP is pretty well dead in North America and Europe right now, but that doesn’t mean its software library is suddenly out of style.  If you enjoy RPGs in particular, this is a platform you should have been playing for years now, but if not it’s not too late to get onboard right now.  Below is a short list of some of the biggest releases to hit the PSP since its release.  Keep in mind this isn’t a complete list, just a bunch of titles I thought of off the top of my head.  I’ve broken the prices into two sections, one for the current PSN price and the other is the average asking price for a brand new sealed copy of the game.  Keep in mind many of these releases can be found at your local Wal Mart bargain bin for significantly lower than what’s listed here.  The other day I saw a copy of Dark Mirror for only $4!

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles – $14.99 (PSN) / $14.99 (UMD)

Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness – $14.99 (PSN) / $24.99 (UMD)

Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days – $19.99 (PSN) / $24.99 (UMD)

Dissidia Final Fantasy – $19.99 (PSN) / $9.99 (UMD)

Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy – $29.99 (PSN) / $19.99 (UMD)

Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection – $29.99 (PSN) / $19.99 (UMD)

Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions – $9.99 (PSN) / $9.99 (UMD)

God of War: Chains of Olympus – $19.99 (PSN) / $9.99 (UMD)

God of War: Ghost of Sparta – $29.99 (PSN) / $9.99 (UMD)

Killzone Liberation – $15.99 (PSN) / $4.99 (UMD)

Lord of Arcana – $19.99 (PSN) / $14.99 (UMD)

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony – $14.99 (PSN) / $19.99 (UMD)

Resistance: Retribution – $19.99 (PSN) / $9.99 (UMD)

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona – $39.99 (PSN) / $29.99 (UMD)

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2: Innocent Sin – $39.99 (PSN) / $29.99 (UMD)

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 – $39.99 (PSN) / $24.99 (UMD)

Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow – $9.99 (PSN) / $4.99 (UMD)

Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror – $15.99 (PSN) / $4.99

Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together – $19.99 (PSN) / $19.99 (UMD)

The 3rd Birthday – $19.99 (PSN) / $19.99 (UMD)

Valkyria Chronicles 2 – $39.99 (PSN) / $39.99 (UMD)

Ys: I & II Chronicles – $24.99 (PSN) / $59.99 (UMD)

Ys: The Oath in Felghana – $14.99 (PSN) / $29.99 (UMD)

Ys Seven – $14.99 (PSN) / $19.99 (UMD)

Oh I had some good times with you over the years

That’s a healthy amount of games for those looking to start a digital collection.  That would be the wisest move to make if you’re planning on purchasing a Vita next month as the portable doesn’t have a UMD drive.  Sadly that’s also a limitation because there are several real gems that are only available on UMD; all of them listed here are Square-Enix titles.  Take a quick look at what is missing from the PlayStation Store.  I’ve included the average asking price for a new copy.

Final Fantasy – $9.99

Final Fantasy II – $9.99

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII – $9.99

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep – $19.99

Star Ocean: First Departure – $9.99

Star Ocean: Second Evolution – $14.99

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth – $19.99

It sucks that this isn't available on the PlayStation Store damn it!

There are some really good games in that list, like all of them.  I’m not entirely sure why Square-Enix refuses to put these titles on the PlayStation Store considering how easy it would be for them to do so.  It also allows another revenue stream, especially for those purchasing a Vita looking to jump in on all the classics they may have missed on the PSP.

For those with a keen eye may have noticed there are quite a few discrepancies between the physical copy and digital version.  In some cases the digital versions are significantly overpriced like most Sony-published games.  Other companies like XSEED offer their games are nicely reduced prices, and then others still like Square-Enix that are pretty much on par.  Be wise with whatever you purchase as the prices are likely to continue to go down as time goes by, at least for the digital versions.

Obviously if you’re already an owner of the PSP, or one of its many incarnations than you’ll likely own a whole bunch of UMDs and be none-to-happy about the fact the Vita doesn’t offer true backwards compatibility.  Sony has said there will be a program where you can place the UMD into your PSP, sync up to the PlayStation Network and they’ll allow you to download the digital version for a reduced cost.  That essentially means you’re going to have to pay for something you already own.  Bizarre.  The other problem with this method is that games that aren’t currently on the PSN will obviously not suddenly appear just because you put the UMD version in your system and synced it with the Network.  Games like Birth by Sleep will remain UMD-only releases unless Square-Enix decides to release the game on the Network before the Vita launches…which I seriously doubt will happen.  Sadly there is no workaround for those of us with large PSP libraries, outside this method.

The Vita will likely be the absolute best way to get in on the PSP action because of improved controls and that incredible OLED screen.

If you’re looking to get into the PSP game at this point in time there are many avenues available to you.  You could purchase a PSP-3000 and either download your games or pick them up via your nearest retailer, or you could skip out on the PSP entirely and wait for the Vita to launch and go the digital-only route.  Whatever you decide to do, if you skipped out on all these games you’re really missing out.  Given the asking price is so low for the vast majority of these titles, I think now is the best time to see what the fuss is all about.

Corpse Party Review

Corpse Party (Available only for PSP)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Horror/Adventure
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Team GrisGris
Release Date: November 22nd, 2011

Parent Talk: Corpse Party is a dark, violent, disturbing horror-themed video game. The grim tone, profane language, and horrifying subject matter make this game completely inappropriate for children.

Plays Like: Old Japanese role-playing games from the Super Nintendo era (i.e. Final Fantasy IV, etc) mixed with elements from the visual novel genre (i.e. Phoenix Wright, 999, etc).

Review Basis: Completed every chapter and saw the game’s “true” ending.

Details: Corpse Party is only available via the PSN store and is only playable on the PSP.

The Great:

Corpse Party may not look like the most intimidating horror game available. Compared to modern horror games like Dead Space, how can this be considered scary? The truth is that Corpse Party is far more disturbing and creepy than you imagine. The grim tone and absolutely cruel atmosphere make this game one of the most memorable and haunting game experiences available on the PSP. At first glance, it’s easy to mistake Corpse Party for some kind of retro-throwback role-playing game, complete with pseudo 16-bit visual design. The truth is that there are no battles or combat here at all. The goal is to simply survive—and not lose your mind in the process.

The cast is comprised of defenseless children who must try to find an escape from the hell they’ve stumbled into. No one is exempt from harm though. In addition to murderous ghosts and dangerous traps, the entire school is out to kill you—making the adventure far creepier and more stressful than you may imagine. Like any good adventure game, Corpse Party strongly encourages you to be curious. You never know what may be around the corner. The exit may be right down the hallway. However, the developers also punish curiosity in equal doses. That seemingly-harmless newspaper may in fact cause you to be cursed. That switch may result in the death of your teammate. Death here is visceral and upsetting.

The Good:

+ A solid story. It could be argued that making a legitimately scary game is one of the most difficult tasks for a game developer. To elicit a sense of fear, the player must have some kind of connection with the experience—it’s not enough to be simply afraid to “fail” the game. Thanks to a strong narrative and an interesting cast of characters, Corpse Party draws you in and doesn’t let go. Though it pays strong attention to introducing all of the characters, the game frequently reminds you that no one is invincible. For the sake of this review, spoilers will be avoided, but take note that the story is particularly grim and terrifying.

At the start of the game, a group of eight children and their homeroom teacher meet at school after hours to engage in a little harmless fun. After performing what they assume to be a childish game, they wind up in the horrifying halls of the supposedly destroyed Heavenly Host Elementary School. Within its walls, many of died either through starvation, murder, cannibalism, suicide, or worse. Scribbles on the walls and notes scattered about give the grisly details of the building’s history, which includes how many of the victims met their ends.

+ A fantastic soundtrack. Corpse Party has excellent music. The music perfectly sets the right mood for the story.

+ No gimmicks. The developers did not tack on any unnecessary “mini-games” or unwelcome features, making the adventure as seamless and pure as possible. Corpse Party is an excellent lesson in minimalist game design. You don’t “need” to have action or battles in a horror game. Simply exploring and surviving is core to the experience. Though the game could benefit from an interesting hook or new gameplay concepts, Team GrisGris has proven they can do a lot with only a little. Sometimes the text alone managed to upset me more than a dozen onscreen deaths in more “advanced” games.

+ Multiple endings. Death is a frequent visitor over the course of the game, but the severity of your loss will vary significantly. There are technically over two dozen endings, with hardly a “happy” moment to speak of.

+ Extra chapters. In addition to the nine characters introduced at the beginning, there are many others who have been trapped inside Heavenly Host. After unlocking the “extra chapters,” the player can gain some perspective on other characters stuck in the cursed school.

+ Great character artwork. Character portraits are detailed and perfectly convey what emotion the character is feeling. The more humble character sprites are not quite as effective, but the simplistic animation does a surprisingly effective job at delivering expression.

The Bad:

-Not much to interact with. Gameplay options are rather limited. Most of the time, you will walk around and explore the building, read text, or pick up objects. The amount of puzzles or actual interaction is rather limited though. If reading copious amounts of text just puts you to sleep, then Corpse Party may not be for you. It’s considered a niche title for good reason. The specific audience for this game may be small, but it’s perfectly tailored for people who enjoy visual novels and horror games.

-Slow paced. Corpse Party takes some time to get going. You will need to invest time in the story, which means this game is not ideal for quick pick-up-and-play sessions.

-No interesting hook to the gameplay. Games don’t need gimmicks, but an interesting gameplay system goes a long way. Ghost Trick has a unique and compelling story, but it also has an innovative puzzle game system. 9 Doors, 9 Persons, 9 Hours doesn’t have any combat scenes either, but survival hinges on the ability to solve context sensitive puzzles (finding keys, making an escape route, etc).

The Ugly:

-Some of the death scenes are beyond unpleasant.

The Lowdown:

I’ve used a lot of hyperbole in describing this game, but it really is something that sticks in your mind. Corpse Party does an excellent job of preying on your mind and turning your imagination against you. Subtle bits of text have never been so terrifying. I’ve played quite a few “scary” games, and this managed to surprise me thoroughly. Despite the slower pace and limited amount of interaction, this is a horror game worth visiting. If you have $20 to spare and want a good horror story for your PSP or PSP Go, buy this game. If you find text boring and don’t have patience for something with a slower pace, pass on this one.

Score: 8/10

Why Persona 5 is My Most Anticipated RPG

I won’t lie. I easily sunk in 120+ hours into Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES for the PlayStation 2. It was, and still is, an amazing role-playing game and one of my personal favorite games. Persona 4, surprisingly, managed to be even better and has completely captivated me. Moreso than many other RPGs this generation, the Persona series has remained a close favorite of mine. After playing both games on the PlayStation 2, I can say with complete certainty that Persona 5 is my most anticipated role-playing game for this generation.

That’s right. Forget Mass Effect 3. Give me Persona 5.

Persona may have had far more humble origins than other juggernaut franchises out there today, but it has a certain charm that cannot be topped. Here are the reasons why I am so in love with the series and so incredibly impressed with the development team at ATLUS.

Unlike other JRPG characters, you actually HAVE to go to school. Knowledge is power!

1)      The modern day setting. The Persona series has one very special element going for it: the present day story and setting. Although it is based around fantasy elements, with a tinge of horror for good measure, the modern day setting gives it a story angle most other RPG developers fail to grasp. The vast majority of role-playing games try to immerse the player in either a swords-and-sorcery Tolkien-esque fantasy world or in a Star Wars-like science fiction world. There may be some discrepancies here and there, but for the most part, developers seem to ignore a modern day setting (Earthbound/MOTHER series notwithstanding).

The modern day setting challenges so many of the conventions inherent of the genre, which makes the Persona series both refreshing and engaging. Characters that exist in a present day setting are far more believable and attractive to us, because we can connect with them. Their challenges and concerns closely parallel ours. The characters in Persona 3 and 4 are engrossed in a fantasy story, but they also have to deal with their families, friends, school work, job, and so on. They speak and interact in a manner that makes them easy to engage with. Characters in more medieval or sci-fi settings tend to throw around a lot of inherent fantasy jargon or techno-babble, which creates a rift with the audience. Also, characters that exist in these other fantasy worlds are not as easily relatable, for a variety of reasons.

Consider a character in the Mass Effect universe. Technology in this universe has advanced to the point where interstellar travel, cloning technology, and medical applications are no longer the stuff of dreams. Even death isn’t truly permanent. It’s difficult to care about and truly connect with characters in this kind of world; why should we mourn the death of anyone if someone can simply say “Oh, we have this amazing new device to reconstruct him, so it’s ok!” In the Persona series, there is an element of fantasy, but the characters are firmly rooted in the realm of the everyday. They are not superhuman. They are susceptible to death. They are also susceptible to the problems of human emotions and everyday living.

You need to balance time for friends, dating, school....and fighting horrible monsters, of course.

2)      The social RPG. Think about how you typically progress in a role-playing game. Do you immediately think of performing a series of quests? Or do you think about fighting enemies in a dungeon in the hopes of preparing to engage a giant boss? Or do you think about simulation-style gameplay, like Harvest Moon?

The Persona series brilliantly combines all of the examples above. This not only keeps the game interesting and varied, but it also perfectly ties into the theme and setting. The developers recognized that using the modern day setting would carry a set of implications. Among those, we can assume that a character would have a lot of social obligations, regardless of age. In the Persona series, you play as a high school student, so you have a lengthy list of items to consider. Not only do you have to attend school, but you also have to worry about preparing for exams, hanging out with friends, joining school clubs (band, drama club, soccer, basketball), maintaining a part-time job, keeping ties with your uncle and cousin, and engaging in a variety of extracurricular activities.

The developers recognized that gamers like to be rewarded frequently, but they also enjoy activities that have both substance and relevance. By measuring relationships with the “Social Link” meter, gamers can treat them all as specific quests. Not only do these relationships yield well-done, often emotionally-charged scenes, but they also endow the player with additional powers and rewards. Maintaining and pursuing Social Links grants the player the ability to make “Personas” related to that specific Social Link. Players can then use those Personas during fight sequences. However, what makes these scenes so successful is that they actually encourage the player to pursue them. The characters are endearing, so the game purposefully tries to make you care about what these characters go through.

Of course, Persona is more than just a social simulator. These elements work in conjunction with the “investigation” part of the game, which fit at the core of the narrative. In Persona 4, your team is a part of an elusive murder mystery that only you and your allies can understand. It’s not just a matter of going in and defeating enemies though; you actually need to pursue the story and resume your life. Your character can’t simply disappear from society, especially since you have all of these obligations to maintain AND the police (and your uncle) are competing with you to catch the killer. This goes into the next point.

What other RPG series makes you actively plan out a schedule?

3)      The scheduled RPG. Persona operates on a day-today schedule that lasts for several months. It creates an air of believability that many other games don’t carry. Think about it. How much “time” passed during the events of, say, Final Fantasy VII? Chances are, you’ll measure that time with in-game hours—the time that you, the player, spent playing the adventure. There isn’t a viable measure of time in the actual context of the game’s narrative. The characters in the game all have to maintain their lives, because regardless of whatever strange occurrences going on, it’s impossible to just abandon everything. The level of connectivity that modern society has, and the amount of social and family obligations we have, are simply too great to ignore—and if we did, people would obviously notice.

In Persona, you actually have to stick to a schedule. You have a limited amount of time to work with each day; this means you can’t just go out and decide to tackle every single objective at once. You have to plan out your activities, because they actually take “time.” Do you want to spend the day exploring and fighting monsters in the TV world after school? Or would you rather attend band practice so you can upgrade your Social Link? Or would you rather hang out with your friend Yosuke, since you feel bad that you declined his offer the other day? Or do you want to take that part-time job at the hospital to take in some extra cash so you can afford new items? Time management makes the game more interesting to play for a wider audience. Even if two players choose all of the same kinds of events and characters to engage with, it’s highly unlikely that they will do them in the same exact order. Being able to maintain and change your schedule at your own discretion makes the game experience more personal and vivid. YOU are in charge of how the game progresses. This perfectly fits with the game’s setting and theme. It doesn’t just happen to be a role-playing game set in modern day, everything is planned out with this theme in mind.

Of course, you have to set aside a lot of time for keeping your home safe.

4)      Something classic, something simple, something challenging. Look at any of the battles in Persona 3 or 4. Compare them to other JRPGs or other Western RPGs. Most gamers may first respond with “A turn-based RPG? Haven’t I seen that a million times before?”

Well, yeah. That’s the point.

The battle system is classic and easy to understand. For many gamers today, the words “turn based” are synonymous with slow and dull. Remember though, whether or not a game is turn based, real time, or even shooter based, what truly matters is how well the elements are designed and integrated. A turn based game can be excellent. There are many of them out there. Turn based RPGs hardly deserve a bad reputation, as long as the game puts that system to use in an effective manner. The gameplay system in Persona is both refined and simple, no matter how you approach it.

In battle sequences, the options are fairly standard. Basic attacks, special attacks, items, and so on are all recognizable and the system should be familiar for anyone who has played an RPG since the 80s. What makes Persona fun is how it is balanced. By using a wide variety of different Personas, you are given a wealth of different abilities to use both in and out of battle. By using the right attacks, you can knock enemies down and gain an extra turn. Knocking down every enemy means you can rush in for a massive, all-out attack. This makes battles go much more quickly—if you know how to defeat an enemy, they won’t even get a chance to act.

This concept works the other way around too, though. Enemies can easily exploit your weakness, making an otherwise “slow” system into something far more tense and exciting. Rushing into battle unprepared can spell certain doom, especially if an enemy has the right attack to exploit your weakness. Because each Persona has a different set of strengths and weaknesses, you need to constantly think about what best fits the situation. Even boss enemies are susceptible to certain attacks, so the game has a unified “feel.” It’s all a matter of playing it smart.

Luckily, Persona manages to avoid the negative JRPG battle traits as well. This means no “random” encounters. All enemies are plainly visible and can actually be engaged differently depending on how the player approaches them. By striking an enemy first, the player can gain an extra attack, similar to the Mario RPG series.

Did I mention there are tons of Personas?

5)      Creating Persona and collecting Arcana cards. Persona also incorporates what makes the Poke’mon series so popular.  “Collecting” is in the game’s theme as plain as day. Throughout the adventure, you are encouraged to engage in social events. Doing this strengthens Social Links, which represent specific “Arcana” types, which in turn govern classes of Persona. By strengthening these bonds, the player can create Persona of these types, gain experience boosts, and more. The player cannot create a Persona greater than his or her level either, which means the player has to balance social events, fighting enemies, and advancing the story. Going too far in one means sacrificing the other.

Creating Personas and advancing social ties gives the player more options in battle, gives your teammates more support abilities, and opens up the possibility for rewards after battles. Once you begin to strengthen certain social ties, their respective Arcana cards can show up after battles. They can either appear in an upright position (for a positive effect) or upside down (for a negative effect), for potentially dramatic effects. For example, one Arcana card can either restore your health completely or drain it to the point of near-death. Support abilities are also varied. Teammates can gain the ability to perform a follow-up attack if you knock over an enemy, for example. The developers cleverly slipped in a variety of rewards.

This keeps the gameplay interesting at every stage of the game. Throughout every step of your adventure, you are always asked to consider your options: What Personas can I create? How many more are there? What Social Links should I pursue? Even when you chose to take a break from the game’s battle sections and story-heavy sequences, you still have a lot to think about.

The Persona series doesn't just show us what modern life is like--we get a glimpse of traditional heritage as well.

6)      A Japanese flavor. Even in other JRPGs, themes and settings tend to be more universal. They are based in fantastic worlds that try to convey common story themes. The Persona series rejects the notion of going for the common ground, and instead indulges in its heritage. It has a distinctly modern, urban, Japanese setting. Japan has had an enormous impact on how the video game industry has evolved and how video game culture has taken shape, yet there aren’t many games that give us a great glimpse of the Japanese culture. Except for the Persona series that is.

Most games try to weave a story that creates its own mythos, but Persona is unique in that it establishes its fantasy story into a more realistic world. The characters celebrate traditional Japanese holidays, like Golden Week. Even though dialog is translated into English, characters retain their original names and still hold on to use of honorifics (“san,” “kun,” etc). In Persona 4, players can visit a local shrine, reinforcing the idea of Japan’s Shinto and Buddhist heritage. Many of the Personas in the game are taken from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and Japan is definitely among them.

Granted, the game could just definitely be fun and engaging if it were made with another basis in mind. Nintendo’s Earthbound set you off in a small American town, for example. However, we have to admit that as far as pieces of gaming fiction go, there are only few instances when we get a legitimate view of an actual world culture. If it is done well, it can make a game experience feel legitimate, heartfelt, and maybe even enlightening. This helps contribute to why the series is so compelling. The developers can craft a more heartfelt adventure by using their culture, their experiences, and their ideas as a basis to tell the story.

 

What do you say? Are you as excited as I am? Or do you feel differently? Sound off with your comments!

Alpha Mission II Review

Alpha Mission II (Available on PlayStation 3 & PSP)
ESRB Rating: E
Players: 12
Genre: Shooter
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK
Release Date: December 21, 2010

Parent Talk: The ESRB appropriate rates Alpha Mission II E for everyone.

Plays Like: Any vertical space shooter.

Review Basis: Played arcade mode on the PS3, and tried online co-op.

Details: PS3/$8.99; PSP/$6.99.

What’s This About?: Originally titled ASO II: Last Guardian, it was strangely renamed for North American.  ASO stands for Armored Scrum Object, which sounds awesome doesn’t it?  Alpha Mission II is your typical vertical space shooter where players shoot everything on screen, bomb enemies on the ground and progressively collect power-ups.

What It’s Remembered For:

  • Vast superiority to the original pre-Neo Geo arcade classic.  The gameplay was tighter, the ASO moved quicker, and it was all around a much better game.
  • Bad power-ups. Not only must you collect power-ups in a certain order to pull off omega special moves, but the purple ones actually downgrade your spacecraft.  Talk about tricky!  The level of strategy involved is excellent without ever becoming annoying.
  • The armor protects you.  Collect enough parts to form the armor addition to your ship, and you may take one hit. Then the armor is gone and you need to collect the pieces again.  If you can maintain the armor, your firepower strengthens, which makes acquiring it worthwhile.
  • Currency.  You collect G while flying around the levels. Before moving on, there’s the opportunity to purchase armor power-ups for your vessel. Again, the strategy here was really something.
  • Details galore.  If only I could show you video of this bad boy in action.  SNK is known for adding tons of detail to their sprites, and Alpha Mission II is no exception. I challenge anyone to find another 1991 shooter that matches it.

Anything Else You Need To Know?

(Note that all Neo Geo Station games support PSN play, PSP play, region-selecting options for blood and added bounciness, visual smoothers, save states, bug editors, and command lists.)

  • The online co-op works surprisingly well. I wholeheartedly recommend everyone who purchases this game to get their butts online.

Bottom Line: Who Should Download This?

When I review Alpha Mission of the PSN Minis I’ll flat out say it doesn’t hold up to today’s high standards.  We expect shooters to be quick and responsive, but the original is neither. That’s not the case with Alpha Mission II.  I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the genre. It’s an all-around excellent shooter, with online co-op.  What’s not to like about that?

CLADUN X2 Review

CLADUN X2 (Only available on PSN)
ESRB Rating: T
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/Dungeon-crawler
Publisher:  NIS
Developer: System Prisma
Release Date: August 30th, 2011

Parent Talk: CLADUN X2 is a retro dungeon-crawler RPG. It plays like classic games, with some modern twists. Younger gamers may not appreciative the retro look and design. The focus on repetition and customization may be a turn off to those who like pick-up-and-play. There is some suggestive humor.

Plays Like: CLADUN X2 is an update for CLADUN. The gameplay is reminiscent of retro dungeon-crawler games from the 80s, though the emphasis on customization resembles new-age titles like Terraria. The game is presented via an aerial view, similar to classic Legend of Zelda, and combat plays similarly.

Review Basis: Played 7 hours. Finished main and random dungeons. Spent time with character editors. Unlocked bonus classes and other content.

Nippon Ichi Software has carved out a dedicated niche market with its steady stream of RPGs. CLADUN X2 is the newest addition to their line-up and promises to hold gamers over until Disgaea 4 hits the market. CX2 features double the content of its predecessor, but also inherits its problems.

The Great:

You can rush or take your time. CX2 plays much like its older brother. You can rush the game in a couple hours or spend dozens more trying to experience everything the game offers. The customization can occupy, and your playtime only lengthens when you factor in the random dungeons (called “ran-geons”), item farming, level grinding, and speed runs. Your mileage varies depending on how dedicated you want to be to a game without a plot. The dungeon- crawling is akin to Zelda, mixed with character development and level-grinding reminiscent of MMO gameplay, but shortened dramatically. It’s a dizzying concept to explain, but the mechanics are simpler than one might assume.

The Good:

+ Customization. Players can fully edit character and weapon sprites, animation cycles, character-relationship charts, character-weapon information, and more. You can even personalize the music with an MML (music macro language) editor. Most customization, especially character quotes/statuses and relationship charts, is trivial and nonessential to the gameplay. Still, the crowd who loves personalizing their games (i.e. Terraria fans) will love this. CX2 even offers customization “after the fact,” freely allowing players to change character classes, appearance/color, and more at any time.

+ Simple, easy-to-understand dungeon crawling. In the hub world or menu, you can easily choose a level to play. Most dungeons require less than a minute to complete and encourage multiple playthroughs. Taking your time may yield better bonuses and the chance to snag more chests, but running through as quickly as possible can yield “fame” points, which net unique rewards.

+ Pick-up-and-play. With the ability to save whenever, CX2 is easy to pick up or put down at any given time. The random dungeons can be longer, depending on how many floors you wish to tackle. They’re relatively small and tend to have simple layouts, but can change dramatically. By entering different gates, the enemy levels, item drop rates, and other variables change. It’s a cool mechanic.

+ Excellent music. Like CLADUN, CX2 has an eclectic soundtrack. The tunes extend far beyond what’s expected in a fantasy RPG, with plenty of jazzy songs. However, selecting the retro option from the sound menu switches the tracks chiptune-style tunes, sounding though they were ripped right out of an 8-bit adventure from the 80s.

+ Character growth. Though CX2 is a solo endeavor, it’s mandatory to create additional characters. This is because the Magic Circle System only benefits character growth if there are support characters in place. By attaching artifacts and support characters to magic circles, the main character gains enhanced abilities and the added protection of a couple meat shields. More magic circles are unlocked as characters level up, and support characters still gain EXP even if they aren’t the “main” character in the party. The main character can be switched easily, especially because character settings (like the magic circle options) are retained.

+ Colorful sprites. Those who enjoy new-age retro games like Half-Minute Hero will probably be drawn to the large, colorful, and surprisingly well-animated sprites. Backgrounds are simplistic, but the environments are more varied than CLADUN. The character sprites show a surprising amount of detail and are quite charming. The sprite editor is great too.

+ More content. CX2 boasts more classes, weapons, magic circles, spells, enemies, etc, than its predecessor. Additional classes (Ninja, Dragoon, and Shaman) can be unlocked later in the game through a special shop, along with other features.

The Bad:

– Non-existent plot. The developers tried to fashion CX2 in an unapologetically retro format, but even old-school NES dungeon-crawlers motivated you to keep playing. There are brief scenes after completing dungeons, but they’re trivial. The game’s biggest twist comes early. While legitimately interesting, there isn’t much attention paid. It would’ve been nice to have something more substantial so the player would feel rewarded after spending so much time. There is a main goal to accomplish (escape the world of Arcanus Cella by defeating an evil monster), but the quest is more like an indeterminate “middle” rather than a journey from A to B. Take that analogy how you will.

– No multiplayer. CLADUN featured multiplayer, though it wasn’t well-integrated. The framerate suffered, amongst other pitfalls. However, instead of refining the experience and making it more accessible, the developers simply removed it. Players can swap customization data, but that’s it. Why remove the ability to play cooperatively though?

– Short. If you enjoy franchises like Disgaea, which require dedication and level-grinding, this formula should be appealing. However, if you prefer to invest in a game where the priority is to advance a narrative or explore a world, CX2 won’t satisfy. Don’t jump into this expecting the length or depth of Zelda.


The Lowdown:

CLADUN X2 is a fun and quirky game. It can definitely resonate with the old-school RPG niche, but its lack of narrative, heavy customization focus, and general off-beat nature may prevent it from achieving mainstream notoriety. This is definitely worth a look for dedicated NIS fans, though it’s not Disgaea. If you’re a casual RPG player, approach it with caution. However, if you like retro graphics, ridiculous customization, old-school dungeon-crawling and solid gameplay…CLADUN X2 may be up your alley.

 

Sony Says “Welcome Back”

It’s time to head to the PlayStation Store because Sony’s Welcome Back program is now up and running.  Here’s everything you need to know.

Q: What’s in the Welcome Back Program?
A: To start, all PSN members who had signed up before the outage (April 20, 2011) will be able to select two games for the PS3 and two games for the PSP systems.

For PS3 owners, go to the ‘Welcome Back’ section in the PlayStation Store, and select 2 titles from the following list:

  • Dead Nation
  • inFAMOUS
  • LittleBigPlanet
  • Super Stardust HD
  • Wipeout HD + Fury

For PSP owners, go to the ‘Welcome Back’ section of PlayStation Store on your PSP system and select 2 titles from the following list:

  • LittleBigPlanet (PSP)
  • ModNation Racers
  • Pursuit Force
  • Killzone Liberation

 

Select your first game from “Game 1”, then return to the Welcome Back page and go to “Game 2” to select your second game out of the remaining choices available. This goes for both PS3 and PSP.

In addition, we’re giving access to our premium subscription service, PlayStation Plus, which includes games, huge discounts, exciting exclusives and added features like online storage and automatic downloads, to all PSN members for 30 days at no charge, requiring no long term commitment. As with the games above, go to the PlayStation Store and under the ‘Welcome Back’ section, select ‘PlayStation Plus: 30 Days Free’, and you’ll be given access to all of the benefits of PlayStation Plus. Note that this will not auto-renew and simply expires 30 days after activation.

Current Plus subscribers receive an extra 60 days added to their existing subscription at no charge. For current Plus subscribers, no action is needed as the 60 days are automatically added to your subscription.

PlayStation Network users will also get 100 virtual items in PlayStation Home as a show of appreciation for your patience while Home was inaccessible. Additional content is coming soon, including the next addition to the Home Mansion personal space, and Ooblag’s Alien Casino, an exclusive game.

A selection of “On Us” movie rentals are currently available to PlayStation Network customers this weekend only, where Video Service is available.

Finally, current Music Unlimited Premium subscription members will receive an additional 30 days of premium subscription plus days lost due to the outage.

Q: When will I have access to the Welcome Back Program?
A: The content offered as part of the Welcome Back Program is available for download today and will be available through July 3.

Q: I have both PS3 and PSP. Does this mean I will get 4 games all together?
A: Yes, as long as you were a PSN member before April 20, 2011, you’ll be able to receive up to 4 games based on the titles listed above; 2 on each platform.

Q: Are there any limitations to the PS3 and PSP games we are receiving as part of the Welcome Back Program?
A: None. These games are yours to keep.

Q: How long do I have to get into the PlayStation Store and receive my content for Welcome Back?
A: Access to the Welcome Back content will be expiring on July 3. Once this date has passed, the Welcome Back section in the PlayStation Store will be removed.

Q: When does the 30 days of my PlayStation Plus access expire?
A: Your PlayStation Plus 30-day access will expire 30 days from the date you activated it in PlayStation Store.

Q: When will (insert game here) be published?
A: Look forward to posts over the coming days that will show what content will be available at that point, or coming soon. We’re planning frequent store publishes offering lots of new content for everyone to enjoy.

Q: I’m getting 30 days of access to PlayStation Plus; can you refresh my memory on what I get with this service?
A: From the time you activate your 30 days of PlayStation Plus, you’ll be able to download games and game related content, purchase select store items at a discount, and have access to the exclusive features of Plus. You’ll also be able to get early access to any Plus exclusive Demos and priority Beta invitations that might be scheduled during your 30 days.

Q: Do I get to keep the games in PlayStation Plus forever?
A: Content that is free in PlayStation Plus will not be available after your PlayStation Plus time has expired. However, if you decide to join PlayStation Plus, you’ll have access to all of the content you downloaded during your 30 day access for as long as you are a subscriber.

Q: Do I get to keep any games or content I purchased with the PlayStation Plus discount?
A: Yes. Any content you purchase at a discount is yours to keep, regardless of your subscription status.

Q: Aside from the games and discounts; does PlayStation Plus offer anything else?
A: Yes! PlayStation Plus includes the Online Storage for Game Saves feature, allowing you to backup treasured game saves or access them from another PS3. In addition, you get the Automatic Download feature, which automatically updates your 10 most recently played games while the system is in stand-by mode so you don’t have to wait for updates before playing your games.

Q: What content will be in PlayStation Plus when I activate my 30 days?
A: PlayStation Plus content and discounts are regularly updated throughout the month. For up-to-date information on content within PlayStation Plus, please visit the Plus homepage.

Q: Where can I find the Welcome Back content in Home?
A: The 100 virtual items can be found in the kiosk in Home’s Central Plaza along with two personal spaces – Dragon’s Lair and the Mansion Garage. A new game – Ooblag’s Alien Casino – will be released soon (June 2011). This game will be 100% free-to-play. As an added bonus, players that access the Ooblag Alien Casino space will be rewarded an active item version of the Ooblag game that can be played in your personal space(s).

 

E3 2011 – NPG/PS Vita/PSP2 Media Gallery Blowout!

Below you will find a collection of screenshots showcasing the recently announced Uncharted: Golden Abyss, WipEout 2048, Hustle Kings, Little Deviants, Reality Fighters, Sound Shapes and Super StarDust Delta. We’ll have more information once E3 officially kicks off next week.  I should have a preview up for the new Uncharted sometime in the next few days as well.

In the mean time sit back and enjoy this media gallery.  I apologize for not being able to split the games up, but it’s fairly obvious which games are which.  Once I have some previews up, you’ll know for certain.

Enjoy!

 

PlayStation Store Back Up On E3 Week?

Updated May 31st, 2011: Sony strikes yet again. Another delay, another vague release date. The official date is now “next week”, which also happens to be the beginning of E3. Who is willing to bet that the PlayStation Store will pop back up during Sony’s own E3 press conference?

Updated May 24th, 2011 by Ahmed Mosly: Sony confirms that PSN will no longer be scheduled to be updated today or tomorrow. Instead, the tentative date is now “by the end of May”. How vague. Either way, you have one week left, Sony. Don’t disappoint.

Original news story: Everyone is reporting the same news, which originated at Gamasutra, the PlayStation Store will be open for business starting May 24th.  The site claims developers have been given this date by Sony themselves, and that the store will see updates twice a week until all the content is back on schedule.  I know I speak for everyone else when I say IT’S ABOUT TIME!  That’s a good it’s about time though.  We’ve all been patient and now our patience is about to get rewarded.  I can’t wait to see what pops up on the store.  I know there’s a whole mess of gaming goodness we’ve missed out on.

Is there anything in particular you’ve been looking forward to downloading?

PSN Breach Cost Sony $170 Million!

Just like we reported through Twitter, Sony has confirmed the PlayStation Network breach has cost the company an estimated $170 million.  That doesn’t include legal action being taken against the company.  Needless to say, this is one powerful lesson Sony learned over the past few weeks.  You can never have enough security, and one would hope that moving forward they do everything in their power to put more resources into security than ever before.

We’ve asked you all this countless times over the past month, but now that the service is back up and running, do you feel secure?

PlayStation Network Back Online

Kaz says it better than I could.

I’m very pleased to hear online multiplayer has been restored. While it would have also been nice to see the PlayStation Store online, let’s just be grateful that the full service is slowly getting back online. This is great timing as I was just about to write a MotorStorm: Apocalypse review. Now I will have the opportunity to try the online portion prior to the review. It just means the review will be delayed slightly.

So, are you back online yet?

UPDATE – Sony Responds: ‘PlayStation Network STILL Down’

In what has to be the most annoying news you will read all day, the PlayStation Network is still out of action with no sign of when it will be back up and running.  There have been reports from all over the Net that this was caused by an intruder, a hacker, piracy, and a million other reasons.

The only thing that matters to gamers right now is that they can’t get online to play their favorite games with their friends.  On top of that certain titles like Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 require players be signed into the PSN in order to play the game.  Needless to say, we’re starting to get emails from angry readers asking if we know what’s going on.  The truth is we don’t have a clue, and like you, we can’t finish a few games for review until we can get online and play.  It sucks no question about it.  We’ve been assured Sony is working around the clock in order to get the network back online, but it’s starting to sound like this may take much longer than anyone anticipated.  It’s amazing to think how often we all use this service, isn’t it?  Going without it for a few days has been annoying, more so for some than others, but regardless it’s really bad timing for this to happen what with Portal 2 out and all.

More info as it breaks, or once Sony lets us know what’s going on.

Update

SCEA has officially responded to the current situation affecting the PlayStation Network.  Needless to say, they had a lot to say about those who would try and steal people’s credit card information and otherwise hack the network.  Below you will find the full letter Sony asked us to pass along to you.

Valued PlayStation Network/Qriocity Customer:
We have discovered that between April 17 and April 19, 2011, certain PlayStation Network and Qriocity service user account information was compromised in connection with an illegal and unauthorized intrusion into our network. In response to this intrusion, we have:

  1. Temporarily turned off PlayStation Network and Qriocity services;
  2. Engaged an outside, recognized security firm to conduct a full and complete investigation into what happened; and
  3. Quickly taken steps to enhance security and strengthen our network infrastructure by re-building our system to provide you with greater protection of your personal information.

We greatly appreciate your patience, understanding and goodwill as we do whatever it takes to resolve these issues as quickly and efficiently as practicable.

Although we are still investigating the details of this incident, we believe that an unauthorized person has obtained the following information that you provided: name, address (city, state, zip), country, email address, birthdate, PlayStation Network/Qriocity password and login, and handle/PSN online ID. It is also possible that your profile data, including purchase history and billing address (city, state, zip), and your PlayStation Network/Qriocity password security answers may have been obtained. If you have authorized a sub-account for your dependent, the same data with respect to your dependent may have been obtained. While there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility. If you have provided your credit card data through PlayStation Network or Qriocity, out of an abundance of caution we are advising you that your credit card number (excluding security code) and expiration date may have been obtained.

For your security, we encourage you to be especially aware of email, telephone, and postal mail scams that ask for personal or sensitive information. Sony will not contact you in any way, including by email, asking for your credit card number, social security number or other personally identifiable information. If you are asked for this information, you can be confident Sony is not the entity asking. When the PlayStation Network and Qriocity services are fully restored, we strongly recommend that you log on and change your password. Additionally, if you use your PlayStation Network or Qriocity user name or password for other unrelated services or accounts, we strongly recommend that you change them, as well.

To protect against possible identity theft or other financial loss, we encourage you to remain vigilant, to review your account statements and to monitor your credit reports or outsource this services to private firm, there are many out there like the North Shore Advisory for example. We are providing the following information for those who wish to consider it:

U.S. residents are entitled under U.S. law to one free credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus. To order your free credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call toll-free (877) 322-8228.

We have also provided names and contact information for the three major U.S. credit bureaus below. At no charge, U.S. residents can have these credit bureaus place a “fraud alert” on your file that alerts creditors to take additional steps to verify your identity prior to granting credit in your name. This service can make it more difficult for someone to get credit in your name. Note, however, that because it tells creditors to follow certain procedures to protect you, it also may delay your ability to obtain credit while the agency verifies your identity. As soon as one credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the others are notified to place fraud alerts on your file. Should you wish to place a fraud alert, or should you have any questions regarding your credit report, please contact any one of the agencies listed below.

Experian: 888-397-3742; www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
Equifax: 800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
TransUnion: 800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

You may wish to visit the web site of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or reach the FTC at 1-877-382-4357 or 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580 for further information about how to protect yourself from identity theft. Your state Attorney General may also have advice on preventing identity theft, and you should report instances of known or suspected identity theft to law enforcement, your State Attorney General, and the FTC. For North Carolina residents, the Attorney General can be contacted at 9001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-9001; telephone (877) 566-7226; or www.ncdoj.gov. For Maryland residents, the Attorney General can be contacted at 200 St. Paul Place, 16th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202; telephone: (888) 743-0023; or www.oag.state.md.us.

We thank you for your patience as we complete our investigation of this incident, and we regret any inconvenience. Our teams are working around the clock on this, and services will be restored as soon as possible. Sony takes information protection very seriously and will continue to work to ensure that additional measures are taken to protect personally identifiable information. Providing quality and secure entertainment services to our customers is our utmost priority. Please contact us at 1-800-345-7669 should you have any additional questions.

Sincerely,
Sony Computer Entertainment and Sony Network Entertainment

I hate writing entries like this, but these things do happen and only go so far as to solidify the very nature of online networks.  Hopefully none of our readers have had any of their account information stolen.  The same goes for the staff and yours truly as well.  Only time will tell.  Sony has said they are doing everything in their power to restore the network before the end of the week, but considering this attack was able to penetrate all of their defences let’s give Sony all the time they need to restore the security and integrity of the PlayStation Network.  We’ll be waiting.

Could It Be? Sony Gearing Up For PS2 Downloads Via NGP?

After all these years the PS3 has been on the market, the one thing that still annoys me is the removal of backwards compatibility with the PS2.  It was without a doubt one of the very best consoles in history, and yet you can’t play your PS2 games on the PS3.  That is, not unless you happen to own a launch model or one released around that time frame.  Does that even make any sense?  It never sat well with me no matter how many conferences I went to.  Today, it appears as though Sony is looking to at least partially fix the mess they got themselves into. 

According to the Official PlayStation Magazine UK, the PSN is about to get upgraded to allow PS2 games to be downloaded from the store, and therefore be playable…on the PSP.  Yes, I doubt very much they mean the PSP1 because the system isn’t powerful enough to handle that, but the NGP sure would be.  So this begs the question, will the store also be available on the PS3?  What if you already own a copy of the game you’re looking to download, will the disc work?  These are all very interesting question, all of which we have no answers to and don’t expect to hear any until after the upgraded features are added to the PlayStation Store. 

This would make for a killer feature for the NGP, but to keep it on that platform makes no sense whatsoever.  At this point I’m hoping Sony realizes the error of their ways and puts in full PS1-PS3 playback in the eventual PS4.  I hate seeing potential squandered, but that’s exactly what will happen if something like this doesn’t migrate over from the NGP to the PS3.

If the service was officially announced, what would be the first PS2 game you’d download?