Tag Archives: Portable

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Problems Continue to Plague Sony’s Fledging Portable

The Vita has had it rough.  I think everyone can agree on that.  While it had a super impressive launch, the system has virtually disappeared from the headlines since then.  Sure we hear about the odd announcement, and yes last week’s news was awesome, but before that it was as if Sony was in silence mode.  It appears gamers didn’t like the silence as new sales figures have been released and they paint an extremely ugly picture for the PlayStation Vita.

As of June 30, 2012 the PlayStation Vita has sold 2.2 million units worldwide.  On March 31, 2012 Vita sales stood at 1.8 million worldwide.  What does that mean?  It means only 400,000 systems were sold worldwide in April, May and June.  In that exact same timeframe the PSP sold very close to one million units, meaning the older portable is outselling its big brother by a factor of 2:1.  How many people do you know are actually buying a PSP?  Yeah, I don’t know anyone who is either, which is exactly the point here.  If no one you know is buying the PSP, that means even less people are buying the Vita.  Ouch, not a very good way to kick things off.

Thankfully the future looks much brighter thanks to all the Gamescom announcements, but with news like this it does make you wonder what Sony can do to rectify the situation.  The company has sales have been “acceptable” and that they’re having a very hard time convincing third parties to choose Vita over mobile offerings such as the iPhone and Android-based smartphones.  Meanwhile the 3DS has been a sales powerhouse after Nintendo dropped the price of the portable.  The last official numbers we have are from September 2011, and they paint an even uglier picture for the Vita.  Back then the 3DS was at 6.68 million units sold.  So just imagine how far ahead the 3DS is now.

So now it’s your turn to chime in.  It’s clear Sony is at DEFCON 1 with the Vita.  Imagine if you were in charge, what would you do to try and turn things around?  Do you think this will have any impact on what Sony might try to do with the PlayStation 4?

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Afterthoughts

I, just moments ago, completed Spirit Tracks and thought I’d review it just for the heck of it. A good friend of mine (you may know him here as AppetitePat) told me I should try Phantom Hourglass a few years ago, as he knew how much of a Zelda fan I was. I always thought the stylus controls would turn me off, but it turns out Pat was right and PH became one of the few games in the series I completed in just a few sittings.

When it comes to The Legend of Zelda, I tend to think there are two different types of games in the series, 2D and 3D. The reason I differentiate them as such is because the dungeons are so completely different from the games in 2D compared to the 3D ones. Although I adore the 3D games, I slightly prefer the 2D. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no better adventure in 3D than going through a dungeon in Zelda. However, I was born and raised with The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link on the NES.  After that I fell completely in love with A Link to the Past. At one point, a friend of mine came home with a curious Game Boy game with the Zelda logo on it and I never looked back. I love OoT, Majora’s Mask (one of my favorite console games), Wind Waker and Twilight Princess as much as the next guy but the experiences I had playing ALttP and Link’s Awakening as a younger child, will always be the ones most revered.

The reason I mention all of this is that I believe there are also two types of Zelda fans. The ones that only play the 3D games, and those who play all of them. I really think that people who fall into the first category are doing themselves a great injustice by not trying games like Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass. The stylus controls alone make for a fantastic portable experience. If there is something that could turn non-fans away from Spirit Tracks however, it’s the linear-train gameplay. I have to admit, if I weren’t a hardcore fan, I would have put the game away after a few hours. I’m pretty sure fanatical Zelda fans will defend this to their grave, but there’s no way that the train aspects added anything to the actual game. Don’t get me wrong, they could have made this work by actually adding useful upgrades like more powerful bombs or faster trains (this seems like a no-brainer). Navigating the whole game becomes a chore. Taking part in side-quests is a pain in the ass, because of all the backtracking you do while you basically sit there and do nothing while the train rides itself. It’s almost like an on-rail Zelda.  Does that sound all that appealing to you?

What’s wrong with exploring? Heck in the original Legend of Zelda, you could basically do the dungeons in any order you wanted with a few exceptions. In recent Zelda games (TP included to a certain degree), there’s not much incentive nor room to explore Hyrule. It’s a sad trend that the franchise has followed for a few years now and unfortunately; it doesn’t look like Skyward Sword will change this.

Another reason why fans are discouraged from exploring is thanks to the ugly visuals when riding that train. I’m surprised Nintendo couldn’t come up with anything prettier. I didn’t really enjoy the sailing in Wind Waker, but I sure found it awesome in Phantom Hourglass. Still though, if you can live past this, you’ll have yourself an awesome portable adventure that I highly recommend.

Another small drawback is the game’s storyline. I really enjoyed it, even made me laugh in multiple scenes. However, although it starts nicely, you get barely any advancement until the ten-hour mark. Phantom Hourglass had cut-scenes every hour or so and they would last pretty long. It was refreshing to have a Zelda game that took its time to tell a story. The plot is very touching in Spirit Tracks, but it does push your patience. I’m not a gamer who usually cares much for storylines; I think that it can sometimes break the mood when you have too many cut-scenes. Is it too much to ask for both?

The stylus controls for some reason are almost always criticized. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I did have some problems with this game from time to time but it’s hard to be perfect. In Phantom Hourglass, I don’t recall ever being frustrated or troubled by the stylus. In Spirit Tracks, there were a few bumps along the way. You will sometimes roll when you want to attack and attack when you want to roll. It’s no big deal as the game isn’t exactly hard.  Your health can take quite a few hits, which has been anther trend in the series for the past several games. However, there is one part I would have lived without. Spirit Tracks introduces a flute item in which you need to blow into the microphone in order to play notes. While doing so, you also need to change notes with the stylus. Most songs are easy to play but there are a few that will test your patience. I really don’t think the challenge was intentional during those sequences. The flute segments simply don’t work very well.

It’s way easier to point out the things you don’t like about a game, than to mention the aspects you do. Even with the faults mentioned above, Spirit Tracks is still one of the best portable games out there, and a must own on the DS. The dungeons are simply amazing. Using all your different items to solve puzzles will not only be challenging, it will also be mandatory. Every item you gain will be used during the entire adventure, not just once and a while as per usual. The weapons are pretty cool too, made much more fun thanks to the stylus controls. If you have never played a 2D Zelda before, this is the perfect game to start. Some of the temples feature some of the best puzzles I’ve ever solved.

There’s not much else to say here. If you have time on your hands, and can enjoy a relaxing portable experience that will challenge you, by all means pick up Spirit Tracks if you haven’t already. To all those so-called Zelda fans that always skip out on these “inferior” 2D games, try this (or Phantom Hourglass) just once and see for yourself. The train navigating might be a bit too much, but you could always just go straight to the dungeons and not do too much “exploring”. Now that I’m done with Spirit Tracks, I can finally play OoT 3D! I do hope that this is not the last we get of 2D Zelda games. I do want a remake of Majora’s Mask, but a sequel to Spirit Tracks with an overworld would be even more fabulous.

 

It’s GO Time As Sony Officially Launches The PSPgo.

Yes I write it as PSP Go instead of PSPgo, but whatever, that’s just me. Today Sony has officially launched the PSPgo for $249.99US/CDN. John Koller, Director of Hardware Marketing for SCEA, updated the PlayStation blog with a great post highlighting the system’s launch. If you listen to our podcasts, watch our videos, or follow us on Twitter, then you likely know how we feel about the new system.  While we certainly love the way it looks and feels, we have a few issues with the system’s overall price.

Today isn’t about us though, it’s about the PSPgo (or PSP Go if you prefer).  So for those of you picking up the new system, please let us know what you think about it.  I personally plan to pick the system up ASAP so that I can put together a nice comparison video for you guys to enjoy.

So without further adieu, I give you Mr. John Koller…

Hi everyone! We’ve been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the new PSPgo and today it’s finally here.PSPgo is now available in “Piano Black” and “Ceramic White” at all major retailers in North America for $249.99 (MSRP). In addition to its sleek, pocket-sized design with sliding screen, the launch of PSPgo marks the first time in the industry that complete, full-length portable games will be available in an all digital format. With the strongest software lineup ever available on the PSP platform in 2009, there’s no better time to pick-up the sleekest, most portable handheld entertainment device on the market.

PSPgo with Rockband

When we launched the PSP-1000 in 2005, it was clear that there was a huge demand for not only a great portable gaming system, but a complete portable entertainment device. Since then, the PSP has sold more than 15 million units in North America and 53 million units worldwide – that’s no small feat! We’ve taken great strides to listen to your feedback and make improvements to the PSP system along the way, including a smaller, lighter form-factor (PSP-2000) and brighter, more vibrant LCD and built-in microphone (PSP-3000). Now, with the launch of PSPgo, we’ve taken the best portable handheld gaming device and made it even more suited for the mobile lifestyle.

To coincide with the launch of PSPgo, we’ll have a lot of great, new content available on the PlayStation Network . From highly anticipated first-party titles such as Gran Turismo and MotorStorm Arctic Edge to some of the best known franchises from our publishing partners, virtually all PSP titles going forward will be available on the PlayStation Store to download anytime, anywhere via Wi-Fi, your PC (via Media Go) or through your PlayStation 3. You’ll also have a huge number of new and exclusive game and video content to download from the PlayStation Store, including:

The recently introduced PlayStation Network Game Cards, which give you an additional option to purchase your favorite digital games at retail, will also be available starting today at participating retailers.

POSA card Gran Turismo POSA card MotorStorm Arctic Edge

In addition, the PSPgo system will have a number of peripherals available at retail to compliment your entertainment needs.

  • Memory Stick Micro M2 – Amp up your memory capacity and save even more games, videos, music and photos
  • Cradle – Dock your PSPgo system to charge it, sync content with your PC or use video-out to view on a big screen
  • Carrying Case – Store and protect your PSPgo system with stylish, durable carrying cases
  • Screen Protective Film – Save the ultra-crisp LCD screen from surface scratches
  • In-ear Headset – Listen to games, movies, and music with this premium quality headset
  • Use with DUALSHOCK 3 Wireless Controller and Bluetooth Headset – Use PSPgo with these PS3 peripherals
  • AV Cables – Enjoy games and videos stored on your 16GB flash memory on the big screen
  • AC Adaptor and Car Adaptor – Charge your PSPgo at home or in the car

As we mentioned before, included with the PSPgo system is a voucher to download a starter version of MTV Games’ Rock Band Unplugged from PlayStation Store. You’ll also receive a demo ofPatapon 2 pre-loaded onto the system’s memory, along with an interactive ESRB application that explains ESRB Ratings and Content Descriptors and provides instructional videos on how to setup the PSPgo’s parental controls.

We’re extremely excited for you to try out the newest addition to the PSP family. Don’t forget to update your firmware upon purchase to ensure your system has the latest and greatest. As always, let us know your thoughts and enjoy!

Remember, let us know what you think of the new system!

Source: PlayStation Blog

Persona 3…for the PSP…You See?

Everybody’s favorite sim-dating, demon-infested cult RPG is on its way to the PSP. That’s right; one of the PS2’s best swan-song games will have another chance to live according to Famitsu Magazine. Our resident Shin Megami Tensei fan Tim MacKenzie should be excited, as he scored the original PS2 version a 9/10…and rightfully so.

Expect various additions and changes made to this PSP port…not to mention localization plans from Atlus USA. This is simply too good to keep it exclusively in Japan.

In the meantime, look forward to the PSP’s remake of the first Persona game…hitting North American shores next month!

EDIT: more news as GamesCom develops. This port will be released as a PSN download in Japan on November 1st…so it’s considered as a PSP Go launch title. No word on if there will be a retail version or international plans. Considering it’s going to be a download in Japan, I can’t see why Atlus USA would not do the same for North America.

Source: Famitsu Magazine (via Siliconera)