Sunday, September 28, 2014

Now Playing: Assassin's Creed IV - Black Flag

 A pirate I was meant to be, trim the sails and roam the sea!
 Alright, my Assassin's Creed break is over, let's get this over with! AC IV is the same old AC as before, get to the synchronization spots, gather items and collectibles from around town. Parkour is still top-notch, and combat as smooth as ever. Same old, same old.

 I'm up to Havana right now, and I've already collected everything on the initial Island, and collecting as much as I can in Havana. Oh, and it suffers from the same issue as AC 3, you can hunt... before Edward gets the hidden blade, which means right now he is slaying animals by hitting them with his naked palm, turns out Edward is a master of Kung Fu, must run in the Kenway bloodline!

 The first person Abstergo scenes... man, was that cheesy, I cringed a bit when you met the director. I think they meant to do it that way on purpose, but... eh, Ubisoft you really don't need to explain the "technological" HUD, at least not to me, seriously, don't force yourself to add present-day sections just because.

 Oh well, I'm having fun, Edward is a fun character and I love the fact that he dual wields swords, finally!

Review #155: Borderlands 2 - Game of the Year Edition

 Time to raid a new vault!
 BORDERLANDS IS BACK BABY. I loved, and I do mean LOVED Borderlands 1, which is why waiting for the GOTY of Borderlands 2 was so tough, since I want to have everything on a disc. The waiting paid off, mostly, Borderlands 2 is awesome.

 Borderlands 2 sees the arrival of six new Vault Hunters, led by the same "Angel" that drove the past vault hunters. Unlike the past game, this game has a ton more characterization, there's a lot of conversations, notes and a bit of development, at least when it comes to NPCs. Almost every character from the last game returns, even the playable characters who have now been degraded to supporting cast, and they became much more fun than before. The game also features a fantastic new villain in the form of Handsome Jack and the Hyperion corporation, Jack himself spending a lot of time taunting you through radio("Echo"). While the story has its fair share of serious moments, it's almost 90% humor, most of it being actually funny. Basically, don't expect a serious storyline.
 The game plays just like Borderlands 1. When you start the game, you pick from one of six characters, each with 3 unique skill trees and a unique action, for example, the Commando can deploy a Turret for a few seconds and the Gunzerker and dual wield for a while. Borderlands 1's archetypes more-or less return, some Actions are similar, while one of the six characters probably has a skill tree that allows you to play more or less as you did the last time(For example, Zero the Assassin can be used similarly to Mordekai from 1, or if you want to be a combat medic, Roland the Commando supplied that role in 1, but now it's Maya who has the skills needed). If you are not happy with you build, you can just spend some money to respec your skill points at a few specialized stations. While the first game only allowed you to change your character's colors, you can now find, from enemy drops, more color palettes or different heads for your character, being a first person shooter, only other players will be able to see you, but it's still a nice touch.

 The rest of the game remains unchanged, it's First Person-meets-dungeon-crawler. You can find a ton of sidequests(Over a 100!) from NPCs, or just carry along with the main story missions, your choice. The biggest draw of the game being the randomized weapons that you can find. Instead of the boring weapons from most FPSs, here you can very well find a pistol that shoots rockets. Or a shotgun that shoots swords that explode into other swords. Or pistols that shoot tracking, corrosive needles. Admittedly, the loot system has seen a few changes that only the most hardcore fans will notice, as the drops aren't as random as they used to be, personally, I didn't mind it and I kinda like how this time around I saw myself switching weapons far more often. As for the small changes, firstly, you now get a mini-map on the corner of the screen which is a godsend. There's also a new currency in the form of Eridium, that you can use to upgrade the amount of Ammo you can carry, or the size of your backpack. They also introduced a great new feature, Badass ranks. Completing certain challenges(Like "Kill X amount of Psychos", "Get X amount of criticals with a Gun") will earn you badass points, amassing badass points nets you Badass Tokens which you can then spend to get small boosts to your stats. Pretty neat, and is a great incentive to try out different weapons or go out of you way to fulfill the requirements, plus, you'll earn a ton of them just by playing the game, so it always feels like you are working towards something.
 This is probably as good a time as any to bring this up... this is basically Borderlands 1.5 Quite literally, if you see Borderlands 1 and 2 side to side, the only way to tell that it's the sequel is the HUD. Mind you, Borderlands 1 was so  good, that I wanted more Borderlands and I got just what I wanted. If you didn't like Borderlands 1(What's wrong with you!?) you won't like Borderlands 1. If you liked Borderlands 1, you will almost certainly like Borderlands 2, even if you hate the change to the loot system. Another issue I found, which probably only applies to the Normal difficulty, is that enemies can be quite dumb. Get-shot-and-not-notice-until-two-thirds-of-your-life-bar-is-gone kinda of dumb, it's not a common occurrence, but it does happen occasionally to a very few, singled-out enemies.

 The GOTY edition of the game includes four DLC packs(Scarlet's Pirate Booty, Mr. Torgue's Crater of Badassittude, Hemlock's Hunt and Tiny Tina's Dungeon Keep(Not the actual names, but pretty close)), and all four of them are fantastic additions to the game. They are definitely not as tightly built as the main game, but I enjoyed all of them, and together, if you like doing everything, will last you over 15 extra hours. OVER. 15. EXTRA. HOURS. Gearbox has always provided quality DLC(At least as far as Borderlands is concerned) and these are no exception.... However, the GOTY edition doesn't include "every" piece of DLC, you'll be missing some of the DLC heads and colors, and all 6 "headhunter" packs. While Borderlands 2, by itself, offers hours upon hours of gameplay, and the four DLC packs adds over 10 more, it's kinda disappointing not getting every DLC. If Gearbox ever sees to release the missing DLC on a disc, I will be buying it. Just saying.
 Remember how I said that this was basically Borderlands 1.5 and looked exactly the same? Well, yeah, graphically it's exactly the same. Borderlands was a very colorful and good looking fame, so this isn't exactly a bad thing, and to be fair, guns now look much better. Specifically, Borderlands 1 had mostly realistic looking guns, now Borderlands 2 has very colorful guns with a ton of weird geometrical shapes and what have you. I think they fit the tone of the game much better, and they are just so cool to look at, which is why it's a bit disappointing when your shiny new gun looks similarly to your old one!(Which is a very rare occurrence). Voice acting is top notch, aided by a great script that has references to everything and anything. Which makes characters and their voices and speech style very memorable. Handsome Jack is particularly good and convincing, he has great lines and the delivery is excellent. Music is usually drowned by the gunfire and screaming, but it's fairly good, the DLCs having some of the best tunes in the game(Seriously, the Tiny Tina's DLC's soundtrack is amazing).

 Borderlands 2 was made for me. Well, kinda, all it needs now is specialized melee weapons and I'll have a new favorite game ever. REGARDLESS, Borderlands 2 is one of my favorite games ever, improving a lot on the already great Borderlands 1. Oh, and it's best played in Multiplayer, having split-screen is awesome and the local play is handled extremely well, players can shop or enter their menus without pausing the game for the other player. Genius.
 10 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review #154: Deadly Premonition - Director's Cut

 THIS GAME IS AWESOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOME.
 I like weird, I like quirky, I love insanity, there's a reason Suda 51 is my favorite Videogame Director. After playing Deadly Premonition, and seeing D4's trailer, I'm starting to really like this Swery 65 guy, guess people with numbers on their names are really cool!

 In Deadly Premonition you take the role of Francis York Morgan, an FBI agent with a nicotine addiction and a second personality of sorts whom he calls Zach. Hot on the trails of the "Red Seed" murders, Anna Graham is killed in the little town of Greenvale, and York is sent to investigate. The story is remarkably good, but what really makes the game are the numerous inhabitants and their quirky personalities. There's a ton of side activities, and you should do as many as you can, since they delve deeper into each of the townfolk and their uniqueness. The dialogue also tends to fall into the category of "So bad it's good", while a lot of the lines would, normally, be cringe worthy, in this game, under this context, they work oh so well.
  Deadly Premonition is a survival horror game, kinda. It adds an open-world for you to explore, alongside a clock-element. Y'see, townfolk have their own routines every day, and in order to progress with the story you might be tasked with getting to a certain location at a certain hour. Most of the time, you get plenty of time to explore before tackling the next objective, and if you miss the deadline, you can just attempt it the next day. If you don't want to explore and do the numerous sidequests or find collectibles, which you totally should as these characters are what makes the game so charming, you can go to sleep or smoke a cigarette to pass the time faster, but remember to keep an eye on your hunger meter, if it drains you health will start to lower! And there's more little details like that, York can actually grow a stubble... or you can shave it, and your suits will get dirty, so you must send them to the cleaner. And this might be the only Open-world game in which cars actually run out of fuel! One very minor complaint I had with how this works, is that if you get to an objective before the allocated time-frame, there's no way to instantly fast forward the time, so you have to smoke a cigarette or find somewhere to sleep.

 As for the horror elements, monsters only appear early in the morning or inside "corrupted" zones. Enemies are very dumb, slow and easy to kill, plus, the game gives you a gun with unlimited ammo, but combat can grow repetitive so might as well carry stronger weapons. There's not a whole lot of "surviving" to do. It doesn't really matter, the game wasn't supposed to have a "combat" element, and all in all, it doesn't really hinder the experience, and it's a nice break every now and then from the town. You can also hold R2 to hold your breath, so that enemies can't detect you, while it sounds superfluous, certain areas have zombies that respawn infinitely, so you can just hold your breath and avoid them. And it bears mentioning, the game has its fair share of glitches. One time, I opened a door and fell to nothingness, until the game killed me and forced me to restart. And Quint, whenever he is driving around town, hovers next to his car. Hilarious.
 The presentation is terrible. TERRIBLE. Textures are muddy and look horrible no matter where you look at them from, character models are fairly stiff, with a ton of reused animations that never manage to look quite right. And don't even let me get started on the hilariously bad facial expressions they have. And what's the best part about it? When you couple the graphics with the rest of the game... they actually add up to the charm of the game. What doesn't add up to the charm are the horrible framerate issues that plague the game, grabbing items on the open areas of the game will produces massive framerate drops that make you never want to pick up an item ever again. The music is phenomenal, for a change, and the voice acting... is decent. A lot of times the voices don't match the way characters are reacting or behaving, which is a bit jarring.

 Deadly Premonition is phenomenal, it's also proof that great ideas can triumph over production values. This is definitely not a game for anyone, some people won't "get it", and I can't really blame them. It's not a good game, from a technical standpoint, but it passes with flying colors in every way that matters. Except the framerate, damn the framerate!
 9.5 out of 10.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Review #153: Shinobi

 The swell guys at Google actually unlisted my blog for a little while....
 Shinobi is one of Sega's longest running series, I believe, they usually revolve around different protagonists and settings, but they all share one thing in common: You play as one badass Ninja.

 The story while not particularly deep, serves its purpose well, and I really liked the lore. You play as Hotsuma, the leader of the Oboro clan, a role he achieved by beheading his brother in battle. As soon as the game starts, the entirety of the Oboro clan is killed offscreen, and their corpses are being used to hunt Hotsuma. Later down the road, Akujiki, Hotsuma's blade, awakens and now craves the blood of his enemies... if not, it will consume Hotsuma himself. While most enemies are rather simple, and bosses aren't much to talk about, there are a few outstanding designs, like Hotsuma who is one of my favorite Ninjas ever created, or the Evil Ninja the evil guy's head honcho employs.
 Gameplay is very action oriented, with a couple of platforming sections. Hotsuma has a rather varied assortment of moves at his disposal. Square provides the Katana slashes, targeting an enemy and holding back while attacking produces a kick that break guards, and he also has Kunais, that deal negligible damage, but stuns the enemies. Hotsuma can also double jump, and by jumping towards walls he can cling onto most of them, and move alongside it, attacking if needed. There's also a Shadow dash that can be used to dodge or quickly move behind an enemy. Sometimes you'll run into scrolls that allow Hotsuma to cast one of three spells, the offensive Ka'en fire spell, Kamaitachi that lets Hotsuma fire lightning slashes and Raijin that gives him invincibility for a few seconds. Lastly, holding R1 allows Hotsuma to target an enemy, but slows him down to a walk, I found that R1 was useful to track where the next enemy was in order to better approach him. Controls are spot-on, and moving around while Ninjaing around feels really good.

 The game's main mechanic revolves around the Akujiki, as previously stated, this sword craves for blood, even if it's Hotsuma's, basically, go on for too long without killing enemies, and the sword will begin sapping Hotsuma's health. Killing enemies restores a moderate amount of the gauge, what you really want to do is "Tate" kills. After killing an enemy, he will remain dead, but standing, for a little while, and every time you kill another enemy, so will they, the more enemies you leave in this stage, the stronger Akujiki becomes, until they fall dead. Killing every enemy in the vicinity before any one of them falls will produce a Tate, the camera will freeze at an angle, while Hotsuma strikes a pose and the enemies all fall together, restoring a huge amount of the Akujiki gauge.
 The game is moderately challenging on its normal setting. I read that the game was supposed to be "incredibly hard", but at least on the normal setting, it's pretty manageable. The game has 10 stages, and I didn't have to retry any one more than four times, same goes for the "incredibly hard" last boss, whom I defeated on my third try. This isn't me boasting, I don't boast over videogames, this is me saying that, while not easy, it isn't as hard as everyone makes it out to be. One thing to keep in mind though, is that levels don't have checkpoints, die and it's all over. And botomless pits? Sorry, back to the start of the level. Which wouldn't be so bad, but there's a fair amount of platforming required, and the platforming isn't up to snuff. The camera, while fine while fighting, doesn't aid you in aiming your jumps, and getting used to how Hotsuma jumps takes a bit of time. That said, level 8, the one filled with botomless pits over which you must jump around as you break seals and enemies, was one of my favorites.

 The game is rather short, while Stages are divided in two sub stages(Say, 1-A and 1-B), they are fairly short, and the latter "B" levels are simply bosses without preceding stages. Levels have hidden coins for you to find, and find 30 and 40 of them will unlock two different playable characters with their own strengths and weaknesses, which is pretty cool and a great incentive to play the game again on the higher difficulties. While the game left me wanting more, I found the length, for the type of game, just fine, the issue was that I liked the game so much, I wanted it to last even longer!
 Presentation is Shinobi's weakest asset. Enemies are very simple and not much to look at, and the stages look rather bland. I loved going through the stages, but they felt a bit generic, with very few remarkable landmarks. There's the level in the city, and the one underground, and the one with lava, and so on, not much to talk about. Textures are also fairly muddy. On the flip side, Hotsuma looks really cool, and the scarf makes him look even cooler. Music was fairly good, I loved most tracks, but the voice acting was mediocre, even the Japanese one.

 I'm gonna say it straight, I loved Shinobi. My biggest complaint is the platforming, which is merely adequate and could've been handled a bit better. The second one being that I wanted even more Shinobi. Everything else about the game, I enjoyed, easily on my favorite PS2 games ever created. And Hotsume is hands down the most badass Ninja ever created, no wonder Hibana and Jiro borrowed so much from his design(And mixed it with Joe's colors).
 9.0 out of 10.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review #152: Blazblue ChronoPhantasma

 Because we all enjoy having DLC shoved up the wazoo.
 ChronoPhantasma is the latest installment in the Blazblue serie, technically it's the third title in the series, but we know better(Calamity Trigger, Continuum Shift, Continuum Shift 2 and Continuum Shift Extend). This version introduces a couple of new changes to the formula, new characters and a new story.

 Previous games featured individual storylines for each character, this is not the case in this game, now you have a selection of three branches, taking place in different time periods, that has you playing as the character the story demands. While this new approach should've been better, since it makes the "canon" path clearer, I have more than a couple of gripes with it. For starters, the story continues to be a very cliched mishmash of anime tropes, nothing, absolutely nothing that you'll see here is new or original. You'll hear lines like "I must get stronger to protect those I love" or "I'm not even using my full power" and the like, lines you've heard over and over again. Another thing to keep in mind, is that the game's forefront is... fanservice. Characters will be crying, but the game will still shove a female's butt up your face, taking the story seriously is nigh impossible. The story doesn't pace itself very well either, you can't follow an entire branch all the way through, instead, the game will force you to go through other branches in order to unlock other sections for all three branches, its obnoxious and a can get confusing, not to mention that the fight-to-reading ratio is very tilted towards reading, there's barely any fights in this mode, and there's a lot, a lot of fluff when it comes to writing. Conversations that serve no purpose, not even to further character developement, and there's not a ton of CG images to aid the narrative, at least we get more anime cutscenes than in the last game. At the end of the day, the story wasn't an enjoyable aspect of the game, but you can skip all of it from the outgo.
 Since I just mentioned the story mode, might as well unleash my rant about the DLC. There's an entire character on the disc, Yuuki Terumi, hidden behind a paywall. You fight him in the story mode, he's featured in the game's cover and in a ton of in-game images... yet he is behind an 8 dollar paywall. There's also Kokonoe who has been shown to be finished, and shown alongside the rest of the playable characters on the credits roll... yet she's behind an 8 dollar paywall. You can go through the drag that is the story mode in order to unlock the game's only unlockable character... or pay 5 bucks to get him without the hassle. The game's Unlimited versions of each character are unlocked by beating Unlimited Mars Mode, hiding rewards behind the hardest modes is OK, what is not OK is "offering" the alternative of paying for them, it looks tacky and greedy. The game feels like it's trying to fight you for your money all the time, it also feels as if stuff is missing since it's constantly being thrown over your face. It's not cool, it's not OK, it's disgusting.

 Now that that's over, let's talk about positives, of which there are many. I loved the new gameplay mechanics, first we have "Overdrive", tapping all four buttons at the same time will engage Overdrive mode, which is unique for each character. Some characters had Supers transformed into their overdrives, while others get unique new buffs while in Overdrive. Overdrive lasts as long as a new gauge lasts, the less health you have, the longer it gets. Bursts, pressing all buttons while blocking all receiving damage, now shares the same gauge as the Overdrive, so you'll have to think twice before using either, as it takes a while for the gauge to refill. Guard Primers have been removed, and Guard Crush got changed into Crush trigger, by spending 25 heat you can use it to break the enemy's guard. A new small, but most welcome, feature is that you can now see how your character's colors will look on the character selection screen.
 Besides Story, Arcade and VS Modes, you also get a revamped Abyss Mode(It's now divided into different abysses, with different depths and difficulties), Score Attack(It's basically Arcade Mode, but on default settings), Unlimited Mars Mode(Play different courses of Unlimited versions of characters on the hardest setting), a 30-Challenge course for each character and the staple Tutorial mode. It's a decent variety of modes, coupled with a Gallery in which you can unlock art. Most of it is, you guessed it, of a fanservicey nature, doesn't matter how old the character is supposed to be, Japan's gonna have'em wear the skimpiest clothing they can. Because Japan. Ishiwatari's art is pretty dope though. The five new non-DLC characters are actually pretty good additions to the roster, offering their very own styles to the table. All previous characters have been rebalanced, some play very different than they used to(Like Jin), while others saw changes mostly in their numbers(Like Ragna)

 ChronoPhantasma, gameplay wise, is a very good addition to the Blazblue series, it might be the most balanced installment yet, but it's hard not to feel as if ArkSys is trying to force the cash out of your wallet, which really hampered my enjoyment with the game. Story Mode wasn't very entertaining this time around either.
 7.5 out of 10

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Now Playing: Shinobi

 Another day, 'nother Shinobi.
 Sega really needs to start adding some kind of subtitles to their multiple Shinobi games. Shinobi on the PS2 was a game I was really fond off, it was challenging but very fun. And so far, so good. Admittedly, I don't have a ton of spare time at the moment, so I only just cleared Stage 1(Which means Akujiki's nature has been awakened, but Stage 2 would be the first one to have it zapping Hotsuma's health), but I was having fun. The music is phenomenal.

 Oh, and Hostuma is such a badass. He has a rather simple design, and while a bit too flashy for a Ninja, due to the Red scarf, it looks so good in motion that you can forgive it.

Review #151: Def Jam - Fight for NY

 Back when EA used to be cool!
 Grab some of the biggest Rap and Hip Hop artists of the moment and make a fighting game surrounding them. It should've been the biggest bust the world had ever seen since Shaq Fu, and yet, Def Jam Vendetta proved to be a great game. So of course, it paved the way for a sequel, however, since it's been a while since I played Vendetta, I can't really compare them, not that it matters since this one can stand on its own two feet.

 The story takes place right after you defeated D-Mob. Just as the police take him away, a car crashes into the police van and takes D-Mob away. You play as the new recruit who took part in D-Mob's rescue, as you try to take over the different avenues, by fighting Crow(Played by Snoop Dog)'s yesmen. The story is all kinds of ridiculous, which is what makes it so damn good. Try to take the plot seriously, and you won't get as much enjoyment out of it as you would otherwise. Picking up a lass is a matter of approaching them and fighting their dude, earning respect is done by, well, beating up other dudes. Everything is resolved by beating rappers senseless. This is my kind of game.
 The game borrows many elements from wrestling games, but with better strike play. Battles take place in arenas, usually surrounded by a crowd. Arenas are more than decor, you can throw your enemy against the crowd to have them hold him for you, or throw them against various objects and punish them with them. There's three basic attacks: Punches, Kicks and grabs. Blocking beats striking, while a well timed strike will break a grab. There's five different styles(Martial Arts, Street Fighting, KickBoxing, Wrestling and Submission), but characters can know up to three styles which vary their movesets, so technically, there's more than five different styles. The objective of each match is to knock out your opponent, which is done by dropping their health to "Danger" level and hitting them with a weapon, an object, an special move or a style-depending move. All in all, fighting is very simple, but very fun. It's not the most involved of fighters, or the deepest, but it's easy and fun to play, with no glaring unbalances between styles.

 There's a ton of modes, but they all involve fighting. You can do one on one, Team matches, Free for all with up to four fighters, Window Matches(In which you must throw your opponent down a window in order to win), Subway Matches(Throw them into the rails when the train comes by), Demolition(Destroy the opponent's car by using, well, the opponent itself), Inferno(A battle surrounded by a ring of flames that hurts whoever steps on it), Cage Match and Ring-out based matches. Quite a handful! There's also the Story Mode, which is a bit more involved as it follows a storyline and a custom-created character which you can customize by buying him clothes, raising his stats and learning finishing moves or other styles. Story Mode lasts about 2 hours on the easiest setting, but could potentially last 4 on the medium setting(My older savefile has 4 hours logged in, and a couple of losses which probably made for the longer time. Easy is pretty easy!)
 Presentation is top-notch, high production values all around. There's over 70 unique characters(Even if a lot of them are, technically, clones with only their special move being unique), most of them based on real rappers. They all look fantastic thanks to the very stylized look the game went for. Characters look very realistic, but with a sort of cartoonish flavor, it's hard to describe. Whether you dig the style or not, the quality of the graphics is undeniable, lighting effects are sublime and textures look great. Animation is silky smooth as well, with some painful looking moves. As far as custom characters go, most of the clothes don't seem to fit them very well, making them look a bit fat, a bit of a minor complaint, but worth noting. Music.... It ain't a secret that I dislike Rap and Hip-Hop, so as far as I'm concerned, the soundtrack is terrible. Voice overs were done by the rappers themselves, and they all pulled very convincing performances.

 Def Jam: Fight for NY is a great game, if you are into Rap and Hip Hop, I assume you'll get more out of it, but even for someone who dislikes the genre, the game is a blast, you don't even need to know who these characters are based on to enjoy the game.
 8.0 out of 10

Friday, September 12, 2014

Now Playing: Def Jam Fight for NY

 I used to love the prequel.
 But for some reason, I never got hooked with the sequel, or rather, I don't have many memories of it, since it seems I've got a 100% savefile on this game! Regardless, I chose to start a new with a fresh new fighter. The first thing you notice, is that the game looks amazing. Lightning is impressive, graphics look incredible, textures are fantastic and the animation is impossibly smooth.

 But graphics mean jack if you ain't got gameplay, and this game aces that regard as well. Combat is a bit simple, and I don't ever see it being played competitively, but man does it feel good. The soundtrack sucks though(I dislike Rap and Hip-hop, sue me).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review #150: Spawn Armageddon

 This gets to be my review 150? I'm disappointed.
 Spawn hasn't had a good game. The SNES game was ambitious, but ultimately not very good, the GBC game wasn't very good either, and the PS1 game... the least we say about that one the better. There was also a Dreamcast game that looks really good, but sadly I don't own one, so I can't speak about that one. The one I can speak about is Spawn Armageddon, a third-person action game/shooter from Namco that while being on the right track, ultimately falls short of its goal.

 Notice the title? Armageddon. The game takes place sometime after Al Simmons gets betrayed and killed by a former associate, then resurrected as the Spawn by Malebolgia, the ruler of hell. All of this is told in a beautiful FMV cut-scene at the start of the game, one of two(The other one being the ending). After Spawn finishes narrating his origin, a green light engulfs the city, signaling the beginning of the Armageddon. The rest of the story is told via text-cut outs before each stage, or mission as the game calls them, pretty lame. They did borrow this from Devil May Cry 1, but at DMC complimented the text with a ton of in-game cutscenes, and while this game has a very few of those, most of the stages feel very disjointed. I am supposed to believe that "fallen" angels, which never appeared in game min you, led Spawn to another place in the world? I'm not such an easy sell!
  Spawn has plenty of tools to deal with his enemies. Firstly, he gets his axe, but you can't do much with it. You have a basic three hit combo, an airdrop slash and an upwards slash that allows you flip a certain enemy type, and just this one and only enemy type, which makes you wonder why even bother with it, this little nuance does little to alleviate the repetitive nature of the combat. Spawn, having being a former soldier and a contract killer, knows his way around fire-arms, of which he'll get plenty. Sadly, long-range shooting isn't very fun, if you want your shots to hit their mark, you gonna be using the sloppy targeting system that never manages to target the enemy you want to hit, but at least you can cycle through enemies. Targeting also slows down Spawn to a walk, for some reason he can't run and gun while targeting. This needs to be said, the game really needed a block function, Spawn's mobility really isn't up to par with his enemies who will assault him relentlessly. You do get side jumps, but they are very slow and barely move him to the side, it's only useful on certain situations. The last tools on Spawn's arsenal are his Necroplasmic powers, he has five of them, and they are pretty useful most of the time. They run on Necroplasm, which you restore by collecting green orbs. All in all, the action has a very DMC vibe, without the combo system and without everything that made the combat so good in that game.

 The game also borrows the upgrading system from DMC, defeating enemies will provide blue orbs which you can then use to upgrade fire arms, your health bar or your Necroplasm bar before each missions. And that's about all that the game has going for it, the rest isn't any good. Firstly, the camera is atrocious, many a times it feels as if you are fighting with the camera just to get it to look where you want. Once, I moved inside a tunnel before I was supposed to(Not that there's any indication of that, as you are given enough time to enter it when it starts spinning), and the camera got locked in its place, forcing me to restart the mission. Fun. Oh, glitches. At least twice Spawn got locked in the moving animation... without moving an inch from his spot, the first time an enemy was nice enough to knock me out of it, but the second one I was forced to restart the mission. Fun times. Rounding up the flaws, we have the targeting reticule that sometimes likes to glitch out and target thin air, and the terrible, terrible platforming sections that the game forces upon you. The camera wasn't built for platforming and neither was Spawn's movement.
 The game has 23 stages, but they aren't very fun to explore. Most of them are pretty plain, and nothing really stands out. The game isn't very hard if you spam your chains, the only ranged weapon that doesn't use ammo, in order to save up ammo for the bosses. There's a couple of levels that are a bit harder than the rest, one which is incredibly cheap that has lasers falling on you, as claw demons tackle you while you try to kill the lamenting demons which make projectiles spawn over you, and another one that is a very long section of terrible platforming.

 The graphics aren't very good, Spawn himself could've used more detail, and while the game is based on spawn, it seems as if you are getting attacked by generic enemies that could've come out of Quake. Animation is passable, but Spawn's three-hit combo looks so off for some reason, must be the way he has to throw his body forward for every motion. On the other hand, the soundtrack is really good, seems it was composed by Marylin Manson? Regardless, it's very fitting and very good. Surprisingly, voice acting is really good... most of the time, Spawn's reaction in the ending wasn't convincing, I almost laughed at how much it made me cringe.

 While it doesn't do anything particularly well, it isn't a terrible game. At times, it can be fun, but for the most part, it feels like it lacks a soul.
 4.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review #149: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha VS The Soulless Army

 Name's quite a mouthful, eh!
 Shin Megami Tensei is a series that has a ton of spin-offs, from the massively popular, and sadly over exploited, Persona series, to the more unknown Demi Kids. Regardless, I'm not here to write about either, instead this is about one of the offshoots from the Devil Summoner spin off(Yes, a spin off with its own spin offs!), featuring Raidou Kuzunoha the 14th first adventure. Full disclosure, I had played the sequel before playing this one, and consider the sequel polishes everything about this game, I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I would've had I not played the sequel first.

 The game takes place in the 20th year(1930) of the Taisho Era in Japan, when Japan was in the first stages of westernizing itself. It makes for a very unique setting, both in locales, and the NPCs that populate the area. Raidou in particular is one of my favorite characters in the Shin Megami Tensei Universe, even though he is almost a carbon copy of a famous Japanese villain.... Regardless, you play as the aforementioned Raidou Kuzunoha the 14th, a devil summoner and a trainee detective working for the Detective Narumi, who specializes in unconventional cases. Raidou's adventure begins after meeting a girl asking Raidou to kill her, and then she gets kidnapped by soldiers in red. As much as I loved the locales and the characters, the story isn't paced very tightly. Y'see, the game is divided in 12 chapters, and the early chapters are, usually, about slightly connected cases, they all tie up in the end, and the story does move more smoothly in the latter chapters, but it gets a while to get going.
 Unlike most Shin Megami Tensei games, this is not a turn-based RPG, while it does have Random Encounters(With a, sadly, rather high encounter rate) battles take place in a small arena where Raidou and his demon can move about as they engage the enemies. Raidou himself only has access to a three hit Katana combo, a thrust and a spin slash, or he can use a gun, that while weak, can be used to shoot elemental bullets and stun opposing demons. Hitting an enemy with its weakness will stun then, making any further attacks deal critical damage, or, if Raidou's level is high enough, you can press circle to engage in a mashing mini-game to confine the Demon in a tube and add him to your ranks. Demons level up very slowly, so your best bet is to confine as many new demons as you can and keep fusing them to get better, stronger demons.

 Demons are Raidou's strongest tool, as he himself can't use magic, they are the ones that can heal him with magic or attack enemies with their weaknesses. One annoying thing to keep in mind, is that you have to reissue commands before every fight. Don't want your demon to waste its MP? gonna have to select "Don't waste MP" from the order menu before each and every fight. Demons don't just serve as weapons, there's about 10 different "orders" a demon can belong to, and each order has a special ability that Raidou may need to use in order to advance, or sometimes just to get fun dialogues. One thing to keep in mind is that if you don't have the type of demon that you need for a dungeon, you are out of luck, you are gonna have to go back to town and fuse/hire a new demon. Most of the time, there's a demon of the order that you need in whichever dungeon that needs one, but it is not always the case.
 The game isn't very hard if you exploit enemy weaknesses and keep an updated roster of Demons. While you'll be amassing a small fortune as you play through the game, costs for hiring demons is rather high, so think carefully before fusing a demon or releasing it. It's also recommended to take at least one demon with healing skills, as healing services are very expensive. It's also disappointingly short, with very few, and short, sidequests and only a single optional dungeon(Technically five, but four of them are so short and meaningless...). All in all, I clocked about 20 hours in it.

 The game has a rather subdued color palette, but it fits the game very well. All the different demons look very good, as does Raidou himself, perfectly capturing the artwork's style. The game uses pre-rendered backgrounds coupled with fixed camera angles(Duh), but it's easy to forgive them as the environments are so appealing and different from most other RPGs. As for the music, in typical SMT fare, it's all very good, with some very memorable tunes(Tsukudo-Cho's!, or the Boss Battle theme!), and it manages to be somber when it needs to, for some very fitting music to whatever is happening on-screen. There's no voice acting, sadly, but when important dialogue takes place, 3D animated cut-outs of the characters will jump to the forefront of the screen, and given that there's no voice acting, it looks kinda funny how they gesticulate and move their lips as the text appears.

 Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha VS The Soulless Army is a very fun game, with some rather obvious, but minor, issues. And, guess what, the sequel polishes or fixes most, if not all of them, which makes this first game pale in comparison. Regardless, it was a good start for Raidou's adventures.
 7.0 out of 10.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review #148: Zenonia

 Eh... at least it's cheap.
 Zenonia started its life as a Mobile action RPG, but I never played that version, instead I played the DSi version. Not gonna lie, it's a very underwhelming port that does little to hide its mobile roots, and it's all the worse for that.

 You play as Regret, the adoptive son of an ex Knight named pardon. Yes, every major character is named after a word "Sun", "Charity", "Virulent", etc. Yes, it's pretty dumb and serves no purpose, except maybe one them. As expected of a mobile game, the story isn't a very strong point, but at least it gives you a goal to strive for, and there's two different "paths" you can take(The good ending and the bad ending) depending on which actions you take upon certain objects. Worth mentioning, the game is full of typos and grammatical mistakes, the whole "Red Sword" line is called "Red Swrod", seriously.
 At the start of the game you can pick between three classes, Paladin, Rogue or Warrior, and each one uses their own weapon, their own spells and their own passive skills tree. The game is fairly linear, you go to a town, find the major quest, and then fill your subquest tab with the sidequests from the townsfolk, then you set out to the dungeon, clear your sidequests, and go to the next town. Every time you level up, you earn 3 stat points to distribute among your stats, and a point to spend either on a new spell or a new passive skill. You also get a palette on the lower part of the screen to place four spells or four items, the item and spell palette are actually different and you switch them at the tap of a shoulder button. For some reason, sometimes when trying to use a potion, I'd use the skill associated to that shortcut, which was a bit annoying and weird.

 Still, that's the least of the control's problems. The game is a Mobile game and it shows, movement feels very weird, if you ever played a mobile game you know what I mean, and it takes a little time getting used to. Collision detection is also very off, sometimes missing attacks that should've hit, or getting hit from rather long distances. And don't even try to attack while close to a pushable block, as Regret will try to grab the block instead of swinging his sword, even if you aren't holding a direction. The game does start of pretty decent, you slay monsters, earn money, gather loot from fallen enemies or by equipment from shops, but by the end of the game, it becomes a grindfest. Enemies become too strong, and give off too little exp, you are gonna spend a lot of time grinding in order to be able to survive the latter dungeons, but the worst part is that by that point, every new equipment piece and every new stat point feels negligible. Oh, and by the end of the game you are gonna be finding tons of loot that you probably won't be able to equip, and there's no "personal stash", can't carry it? Gonna have to drop it.
 Another thing you are gonna have to endure is having most of your attacks missing. By the end of the game, I had as many "Accuracy up" items, and a maxed "Accuracy" passive skill, yet only seventy percent of my attacks didn't result in a "miss", just because the RNG hated me. As mentioned before, latter enemies get really strong, and you are gonna have to be on the move, repositioning yourself as you dodge moves in order to minimize the damage, and having a miss is fairly annoying. Particularly aggravated because even with a maxed "Evade" passive skill and tons of "Evade up" items, enemies only missed twenty percent of their attacks, it was pretty annoying. Oh, and if enemies gang up on you, might as well call it quits, as they can end you in a couple of seconds. Pretty vexing. Still, as I said before, this happens in the game's last stretch, early in the way, and a little past its midpoint, it's pretty manageable, fun even.

 Graphics are very colorful, and have a certain charm to them, but animation is pretty lame, moves consisting of as little as one frame. I know it's a mobile game, but they could've dolled it up a little. Music is just as bland, and the sound effects aren't very good, for some reason Critical Hits do not produce a sound.

 Zenonia might've been a good game on Mobile phones, but on the DS it's a very lackluster, underwhelming game. But for five bucks, it's alright.
 4.0 out of 10

Friday, September 5, 2014

Now Playing: Blazblue - Chronophantasma

 It continues.
 Yes, Devil Summoner 1 is finished, but I'll be writing about it after I return home. So, Blazblue Chronophantasma.... I loved Guilty Gear, it had fantastic designs, fantastic music and fast paced gameplay. Blazblue was always the little brother that tried so hard to be as good, but never got there. So, what can you expect? even more fanservice, with Bullet having one of the most awkward stances ever conceived just so that we can get a look at her breasts, a trap because we needed a Bridget, and two new guys that sport too many belts, just because. Now we have Hazama who wears two belts, Azrael who wears two belts, Kagura who wears THREE belts, and I'm like, yo, bring back Ishiwatari, he knew how to make belts look cool(I mean, just compare the way Sol Badguy wears his belts and straps against Kagura, one looks very stylish while the other one looks like he tries too hard.)

 Anyways, I've completed about 10 chapters of the Story Mode, it moves sooooo slowly, it's incredible. Why so much attention to detail? There's so many lines of useless dialogue, I appreciate the effort, I do, but when I play a game I want to PLAY or at least watch, not read hundreds upon hundreds of lines of text with little to no gameplay in-between. And it's not like the story is particularly good, as the character designs themselves, it's a potpourri of as many anime tropes they could get a hold of.

 Still, at the end of the day the gameplay is very solid, and they introduced a couple of new mechanics that seem fairly interesting at first glance(I don't know their name yet, you press all four buttons and you enter a special mode, Jin for example freezes everything he hits). Speaking of Jin, they have changed him oh so much. He lost a ton of moves(Like the Weak and Strong variation of the ice car, the Medium and Strong variations of the Ice Dagger, the Mash on Strong attack...), but he got a couple of new ones, like the air Iai-strike which is actually useful, still, he feels VEEEERY different, hopefully I can get used to him. Know who I didn't feel had changed as much? Rachel. I dread to play as Rachel, her style is not my style.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Now Playing: Spawn - Armageddon

 I used to think this game was hella good, turns out it's hella bad.
 No, I did not give up on Devil Summoner, in fact, I just cleared a chapter today and plan on clearing one chapter per day(Assuming I don't get homework or stuff like that). And Spawn Armageddon was taunting me, I had to open it.... only to realize that my memories were rose-tinted, and the game actually blows.

 Grab Devil May Cry 1, now imagine if Dante had the mobility of a slug, only had one melee combo and a launcher and the neat combo system was gone, that's Spawn Armageddon in a nutshell. They even copied the "Splash image before each mission" thingie were you can upgrade before setting out. It's Devil May Cry without what makes Devil May Cry fun.