Thursday, March 31, 2016

Month Overview: March 2016

 Tally:
Super Mario Land 2 - 6 Golden Coins(Virtual Console)          6.0
Devil May Cry HD Collection                                                  9.0
Devil May Cry 4                                                                       8.5
DmC - Devil May Cry                                                              8.0
Dishonored - Game of the Year Edition                                   9.0
Bioshock Infinite - The Complete Edition                               8.0
Fist of the North Star - Ken's Rage 2                                        2.5
Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs Force                                  4.5
Under the Skin                                                                          5.5
Ar Tonelico Qoga - Knell of Ar Ciel                                        3.0
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale                                          8.0
Digimon Story - Cyber Sleuth                                                   8.5


 Despite a few blunders and a few disappointments, it was an overall strong month. I finally went over the entire Devil May Cry series, finished my adventures on Bioshock and came upon Digimon Story - Cyber Sleuth, which was a fantastic RPG... when you weren't grinding like a degenerate.


 Game of March:
 Devil May Cry 1 is fairly dated, but it's still rather good. Devil May Cry 2 is not as good as DMC 1, but not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. And then there's Devil May Cry 3 which is one of the best action games I've ever played. Combat is fast and furious, the story... the story is dumb, but cool dumb, so even if what's going on is dumb, it looks cool.

Runner-up:
 I really wasn't expecting to like a Stealth game so much, but lo and behold, Dishonored held me by wrists and never let go. The amount of ways in which you can tackle each mission, and the variety on how you clear them is staggering. Then there's the freedom you get when developing and equpping your skills, making it easy to tailor Corvo to your playstyle.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Review #315: Digimon Story - Cyber Sleuth

 Looks like the finally got a winning formula for Digimon.
 Digimon is a franchise that has had a bit of an identity crisis, not unlike Sonic, reinventing itself with each iteration. Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth is the latest RPG of the franchise, and I think Namco finally got itself a winning formula.

 Cyber Sleuth takes place in Modern Day Japan, with a twist, digital interaction has advanced so much that you can kinda project your consciousness into an avatar. Playing as a somewhat mute hero, that can be a boy or a girl, you meet up with your friends in the digital world, where you get attacked by an Eater. Now your body lays comatose, but your conscience managed to arrive into the real world as data-only. Fixing yourself a temporary body and employed by the detective Kyoko, it's up to the hero to solve the mystery behind the Eaters and the apparition of Digimon. It's a rather fun story, with some very Shin Megami Tensei-ish touches, like a S&M inspired boss, and the story can get rather dark, with suicide and even implied organ trafficking. The supporting cast is pretty engaging as well, albeit rather plain; there's Nokia, the girl that keeps talking about her 'hot bod' but is considered, in-universe, as not all that pretty, and Arata, the loner that actually cares about his friends, and the shy girl with a quirk to her personality. But that's alright, even though the supporting cast is a bit plain, the story is very engaging. That said, the localization leaves a lot to be desired. The most notorious problem is that the heroes sometimes refer to the Eaters as 'Bakemonos', or monsters in English, but the translators thought they meant 'Bakemon' as in the Digimon 'Bakemon', so now they refer to Eaters as 'Bakemons', which is such a dumb, hilarious oversight. There's also a few non-issue issues, where 'multiple dialogue choices' are made up of a single line of text divided onto two or three lines. These mistakes are rather surprising, since the text is very colorful, they clearly had fun writing the text for the game.
 The game is divided into 20 chapters, and on each you have to solve a few cases. While there's about 2-3 mandatory cases per chapter, you are free to tackle side-cases as well, with randomly generated green quests that.... are rather dull and repetitive. Yellow and Blue cases are much more fun and won't advance the story, while red cases are required in order to advance. The hero's unique physiology allows him to 'connect' onto the Digital World, and travel through digital roads, which serves him just right as his quests usually involve Digimon. You've also got access to a few skills, which change depending on your party set-up, that are needed in order to solve puzzles. 'Decipher' allows you to read data that contains clues to the puzzles, 'Copy and Paste' is used to copy colors and paste them on special platforms, 'Wall Break' is used to break walls(D'oh!) and there's a few others like increasing the amount of random encounters or forcing one.

 Not only does it employ random encounters, but fights used the tried and true turn based system. While you active party is comprised of three Digimon, you can carry up to eight reserve Digimon, and you can change any number of them on just one turn. You can also use your turns to use items, attack, defend or use mana-consuming spells. Party composition plays a big part to how battles play out, there's a rock-paper-scissors system around Digimon types(Vaccine, Virus and Data) that halves or doubles damage taken and received, as well as a fourth, neutral type. But there's also a secondary elemental affinity(Like Fire, Water, Light, etc) that could make the difference between dealing/receiving 0.5 or 0.75 times the damage against a Digimon with an advantageous type, or between 2 or 3 times against a weak type. Fighting the same Digimon many times will 'capture' their data, allowing you to 'load' them on the Digi Lab, and add them to your party. Digimon also come in different ranks(Baby, In-Training, Rookie, Champion, Ultimate, Mega, Armored and Ultra) and each one has a different weight. Weight comes into play due to the memory limit, which means that if your memory limit is 10, you can't bring a Mega(18) Digimon with you. While I understand that it was probably done for balancing issues, so that you don't curb stomp the competition too early, I thought it was a bit limiting. And, luckily, once you get further into the game, memory upgrades are easier to come by.
 But Memory Capacity is alright, ABI is what really takes the cake when it comes to annoyance. ABI is a stat that only increases when digivolving or devolving your 'mons. Why would you want to devolve a Digimon? Besides the required ABI, you can take your Digimon through another evolution line and thus earn more skills! That should've been a rewards in itself, but nope, they had to make it annoying. Y'see, you won't be able to reach most Megas on your first time evolving your 'mon, so you will have to devolve it once or twice. And then get them back to Ultimate, which means relevelling them back to level 30... it's a huge, annoying time sink. ABI is the one thing I truly, decidedly disliked about the game. And to add insult to injury, sometimes your 'mon won't reach the minimum stat requirements for a Mega Evolution, which means sending your 'mon to train on the DigiFarm, which can take from 30 to 60 minutes of real time, and it might need multiple sessions. Does that sound like fun to you? Honestly I can't see what they were thinking when they came up with this whole system. Oh, and lest I forget, the stat upgrades you get through the Digi-farm? They are limited by the amount of ABI your Digimon has, so maybe you'll need to devolve even further in order to then spend time to level it up, and then spend time on the Digifarm. The truth of the matter is: getting your party up to the point where you want them to be can get a while, a long, long while. These were the only moments I didn't like about the game.

 While the game is a bit flawed, this is easily some of the most fun I've had with a VITA game(Although, sadly(?), this is not an exclusive). Heck, this is easily my favorite Digimon game I've played(Which, frankly, is not a lot, but still). For people missing the good old days of Japanese RPGs, like I was a few days ago when enduring Ar Tonelico 3, this is a fantastic oldschool JRPG that gets almost everything right.
 8.5 out of 10

Monday, March 28, 2016

Now Playing: Digimon Story - Cyber Sleuth

 They almost got it right! Almost!
 While Pokemon has kept the same formula since it's creation, Digimon has always struggled for an identity, reinventing itself with each game. Heck, while the Pokemon anime has been kept stagnant since, like, forever, recycling the same formula over and over again, Digimon has had clearly defined seasons, with its own concepts, heroes and stories.

 And now we get to Cyber Sleuth, and I'd say Namco finally got it right. Kinda. Y'see, the battle system is fantastic, it flows fast, but has depth and it's actually fun to play. I also love having my 'mons running behind me, it helps that I've always loved Digimon's designs far more than Pokemon's. The game's story is surprisingly dark, with a few rather mature themes mixed with the more lighthearted otaku-culture centered set-up. The supporting cast is a bit bidimensional, but I can forgive that.

 But where the game falters is with how raising Digimons work. Firstly, the memory capacity is a total downer, since Digimon have different 'sizes' and you can't go over the memory capacity, and each digievolution makes them heavier. It sucks. It's specially annoying when 'Hacker Skills', which are needed to progress through dungeons are tied to how many Digimon and of which type you are carrying. To add insult to injury, there's an 'ABI' stat that rises every time you digivolve or devolve your 'mon. Chances are you won't be able to reach Mega on your first time through, so you'll have to devolve your mons, which translates into a ton of grinding. I just spent about 5 hours grinding, and even after meeting the ABI requirements, some of my stats didn't, which meant I had to train my 'mons on the Digifarm, and training requires at least half an hour of real time. It's really annoying. Specially because De-volving should be a reward in itself, since you can go through alternate evolution paths and get different skills this way. It works really well, but the ABI requirements are just ridiculous. FIVE HOURS GRINDING. FIVE.

 I actually got jealous of an NPC, while I had to devolve my Metalgreymon. TWICE(Which meant getting Greymon to level 30 three times total, which isn't fun) in order to meet the ABI requirement, and NPC gets an Agumon turned into a Wargreymon. For free. FOR FREE. Like, seriously? I've to grind my butt off and she just gets him for free? SERIOUSLY?

 What I liked:
- The story. It's relatively interesting, with surprisingly mature themes thrown into the mix.
- The combat. It's fast and fun.
- The Digimons. They look badass and you can have them running behind you.
- The presentation. The game looks beautiful, both character models and environments.

 What I didn't like:
- The ABI stat. It translates into grinding, and that's its only purpose.
- The translation. They... they goofed a lot. For instance, there's a Digimon called Bakemon, and Bakemono means monster in Japanese. Well, when talking about the Eaters, a special kind of enemy, sometimes characters refer to them as 'Bakemono' or 'Monsters'... the translators didn't get the memo, and call them Bakemon. They.... they really screwed up. I also came around about three different instances of having to pick an option from between two or three... except that it's only ONCE sentence that takes up two to three lines on the text box. Seriously? And it's a bit surprising, since you can tell that they had fun writing the dialogue.
- The DLC. Getting the Asia version means that I couldn't get the BlackAgumon and BlackGabumon DLCs, but even worse, there's paid DLC Digimon. Just imagine if Pokemon started selling their mons? At least they've patched some free Digimons, but still....

 What can I say, after playing the horrible Ar Tonelico 3 I kinda lost all hope on modern JRPGs, but Cyber Sleuth is really good. Like, REALLY good. Sure, some of the character designs are a bit pandering, but they don't go overboard with gratuitous camera angles or anything of the sort.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Review #314: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale

 The first worthy rival to Smash?
 When it comes to games trying to be like Super Smash Bros, I feel like none has ever come close. And then came Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale. What is PASBR? It's four on four fighting game, with simple controls, stage hazards and items to grab and cause havoc on the arena. Just like Smash, there's no life bars here, but instead of having to throw combatants off the platform, you have to land Special attacks to score points. Something to keep in mind, buying the PS3 version allows you to link the disc to your account, which nets you a free downloadable copy on the PSVita!

 When it comes to modes, the game skimps out a bit when compared to the competition. There's Tournament Mode, which is online only and seems to reset every few weeks or so, Offline and Online VS, which can be played against up to three CPUs as well. As for Single Player, there're Trials, a 'general' set of trials as well as trials specific to each character... although they are more or less the same to be honest. Then there's Practice, Tutorial and Arcade, Arcade having unique, fully voiced, intros and endings for each character, even the four DLC characters. Mind you, their stories are nothing to write home about, but they bothered to do them, which is nice. I didn't play the Arcade Mode on the PS3 as much as I did on the Vita, but on the Vita version, every now and then, the Arcade Mode would glitch and I would get no voice overs during the intros, endings and rival cutscenes, and no music during fights.
 The game offers 20 characters, plus 4 DLC characters. As far as DLC characters is concerned, the first two were free for a limited time, and the latter 2 could be gotten for free by buying one of the God of War games, so it's not too bad. Each character also comes with an unlockable costume, as well as purchasable costumes. Normally, I wouldn't complain about cosmetic DLC, like costumes, but Sony went out of their way to be as much in-your-face as possible with it. Going to a character's profile will have the costume listed, with the unlock condition being 'purchase at the Store'. Selecting a character will allow you to go through a character's DLC costume, alongside a conveniently placed button that takes you to the store. CPUs may wear DLC costumes during battles as well. It's incredibly tacky, and feels like Sony is constantly tugging at your wallet, trying to make you cave in and purchase those costumes, which I find it to be ArkSys-level disgusting. That aside, the character roster leaves a bit to be desired as well. Where's Crash? Spyro? They defined Playstation during its first console. And what is a Big Daddy or Isaac Clark doing here? If you were gonna have third party characters at least add characters like Lara Croft, who was synonymous with Playstation back in the day(Even though her games were on PC as well!), So yeah, the roster could've been better, plus, I feel like none of these characters have as much star power as Nintendo's classics, though maybe that's just the Nintendo fanboy in me talking.

 When it comes to gameplay, you have three attack buttons at your disposal: Triangle, Square and Circle, and holding different directions when pressing the buttons performs different attacks, for a total of 15 different attacks per character, not counting the aerial attacks. Something that I thought was genius, due to how simple yet fun to perform is, was having throws being done by tapping the right analog stick! IT works fantastically and made throws fun to use! L button guards, and tapping a direction in conjunction with it performs a dodge, there's even aerial dodges! Lastly, the R button performs the special attacks. Controls, as a whole, are spot on, and characters have diverse movesets. Plus, the overall 'feel' of the game is very, very tight. No other Smash-like game has gotten the physics so right before, movement is as fast and as loose as a game like this requires, and the physics are floaty enough as to allow for aerial combos, but it doesn't feel awkward. It's hard to explain, but if you play... say, Cartoon Network Punchtime Explosion and then Playstaton ASBR, you'll notice how much better it feels.
 Landing attacks doesn't cause damage, but instead increases your AP meter, which has three levels, each one corresponding to a different Special Attacks. And landing these are the only way to score points. Special Attacks are very different between each other, but as a general rule, Level 1 Specials are hard to land, and easy for enemies to hit you before you land them and thus cancel them, Level 2 Specials are instantaneous and cover a wide area while Level 3 affects every enemy. Honestly, I felt like Specials were a bit uneven, both between character and between the specials themselves on a single character. Take Heihachi's level 3, he instantly kills everyone for a total of 3 points, and that's it. While Isaac's or Sackboy's gives enemies a chance to avoid it, but allows you to score even more points! But let's go back to Heihach, his level 2 has the potential to net you more than three points, since it's active for a while, in which Kuma comes to aid you, and any enemy he attacks, he instantly kills for an extra point. And if you have two levels on the AP gauge, you can't just use a level 1 special twice, you have to use the level 2. Still, it's a bit of a conundrum, I feel. If you make all the Special attacks identical between characters, then you lose individuality, but in this case some Specials are blatantly better than others. And you could argue that Smash Bros Final Smashes have the same issue, which is true, but Final Smashes aren't as integral to scoring points as specials are on this game. But I digress, I think, considering how the game works, they did the best they could.

 And you gotta give them bonus points for the Stages, each stage is a fusion of two franchises. God of War and Patapon, Parappa the Rappa and Metal Gear, Ape Escape and Killzone, etc. And yes, there's a ton of clashing between visual styles, but it's not jarring, it's fun, specially if you know what comes from what franchise! And using a character nets you points, and as you 'level up' your rank, you unlock an extra costume, more taunt, more victory music, more victory poses, etc. It's a lot of extras for each individual character!
 Alright, so the PS3 is the ideal version to play the game, but only because it looks better. And offline multiplayer. And I mean that, the Vita version, while it doesn't look as good, runs very smoothly, and it has everything the PS3 version has, only that the graphics aren't as good. Loading times, on the Vita, can also be a bit long, but it's not too bad.

 I feel like Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is the first worthy rival to Smash Bros. It feels really good, controls are tight, and a lot of creativity went into the different stages and character movesets. The Character roster could've been a bit better, there're a bit too many guns(Radic, Drake, Dante, Ratchet, Jak, Isaac and Sweet Tooth all have guns as part of their movesets!) and not enough iconic characters(Big Daddy? Isaac? New Dante over Classic Dante?(And I liked new Dante!) Raiden? Gimme Crash, Lara Croft, Solid Snake, how about a Final Fantasy rep?) Still, overall it's a fun Smash-like fighter, with a bit less party, but a bit more 'fighty' feel to it.
 8.0 out of 10

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Now Playing: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale

 Surprisingly good.
 So, funny story, I actually bought the PS3 version, but it comes with the Vita version, for free, so I kinda downloaded it on the Vita, and started playing it there and... it seems that's the version I'm gonna play until I dabble into multiplayer!

 I've played a ton of Smash clones, and they always get the 'feeling' wrong. Movement always feels too floaty, too loose or too stiff, and it happens to every single one of them. Onimusha - Blade Warriors, Cartoon Network's Punchtime Explosion, Jump Ultimate Stars, TMNT Smash up, TMNT - Melee, Tales of Vs.... none get it just right, unless they do their own thing(Like, say, One Piece Grand Adventure, the Godzilla Gamecube games(Which, although I disliked it, at leas movement felt right) or Powerstone). Bottom line is, Smash Clones always feel off, always.... Until Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale came along. Damn, they got the movement just right. It's tight, but fast, the jumping is just the right amount of floaty to allow juggling without feeling weird. So right off the bat, extra 10 points for getting it right.

 Still, my biggest beef comes with the roster. Playstation's most iconic? Big Daddy, the guy from the multiplat Bioshock franchise? Is Fat Princess really that important to Sony? Raiden over Solid Snake? And Reboot Dante? I like new Dante, and I understand Capcom had to promote their new game, but classic Dante, the 'iconic' one, not even as an alternate costume?? And where's Lara Croft? Crash? Spyro? But more importantly, who thought giving Cole two different spots was a good idea? If he has a 100% different moveset from regular Cole I'm gonna be a bit bothered, since it means that he could've taken the spot of another character(Even though reusing a character model is cheaper than making a new one from scratch) Something named 'Playstation's All Stars' carries a certain expectations, and those expectations are not met. Not for people following the brand since its roots. Or since the Ps2, like I did(I've always been more of a Nintendo dude).

 As for the overall gameplay... I liked it. I only did the tutorial and a few of Dante's trials, but they gave me a clear idea of the overall gameplay, and I like it. It's similar enough to Smash Bros so as to make Smash players feel comfortable, but different enough as to maintain interest. Did you know? There's three attack buttons here, even though there are not tilt attacks(Or rather, Smash attacks?). As for the special attacks, I think it could've been handled better. Giving each character different Specials means that not all specials are equally as useful, but the problem surfaces when it comes to a character's specific specials. Take Dante, his level 1 is much more useful than the second one, since its easier to aim, but if you've built 2 bars of specials, you can't use the level 1 move twice, instead, you have to use the level 2 special.

 Still, overall, I'm impressed, I like it.

Review #313: Ar Tonelico Qoga - Knell of Ar Ciel

 A sad reminder of what JRPGs have turned into.
 A few years ago I played Ar Tonelico 1. While I was bored with it every now and then, it wasn't too bad. Then again, Ar Tonelico was one of the Japanese Fanservice waifu moe games™, which is the kind of games I dislike, so I skipped the second one. And then I saw gameplay from Qoga(Ar Tonelico 3), and damn, it looked just like Tales of! I had to play it. And play it I did.

 The story.... the story is Ar Tonelico 1 gone full Japan. Seriously, I felt like I was playing Ar Tonelico 1 all over again. Let's start with the three Reyvateils(Basically, Songstresses), Finnel(The brunette) is a flanderized version of Mischa from AT 1, Saki is a flanderized version of Aurica, and the third Reyvateil looks exactly like the third Reyvateil from AT 1. Even their backgrounds are VEEEEEEERY similar, only more moe. There's also an Ayatane look-alike, because why not. It's hard to explain, but the way the story progresses also feels a whole lot ton like Ar Tonelico 1. Then we have the 'Vanguards', also known as the 'three other guys that form the party'. there's the main character, Aoto, who's your generic 'I WANT TO PROTECT X!!!!' anime hero with not a single drop of originality to him, there's Tatsumi, who's plot twist is given away 4 hours into the game, and then there's Gojo who barely gets any development, and what little development he gets, its during non-voiced cutscenes, because who cares about Gojo? As for the dialogue, it was laughable, I found myself laughing out loud at times, due to how cringy or stupid it all was. It's also filled to the brim with generic Anime situations, like the accidental boobgrab and what not. Not to mention the plot threads that are mentioned but kept.. dangling never to be addressed again, right Aoto? The cosmospheres are back, which are basically sidequests which delve deeper into a Reyvateil subconscious... which can be funny, but they are a way to simulate character development, except that at the end of the day, its just filler, the girls will behave like they've always behaved. They don't grow, they don't evolve, they stay as generic waifu stereotypes. Did I mention that this game goes full Japan? The girls get stronger as they get rid of their clothes. Yup. And instead of costumes, now the girls get 'personalities', which is a way to get even more generic waifu stereotypes into the game, the 'mature sexy lady', the 'sexy secretary', the 'sexy assassin', the 'sexy cat-like nekomimi girl', etc. Which, y'know, there's definitely an audience for these games, except that I'm not part of it. Now then, if you happen to like this type of game, there's about 8 different endings depending on when you finish the game, and a few choices you get to make throughout the game.
 I've stopped talking about graphics when it comes to games because it's something entirely subjective, and unless I want to note how much I enjoyed the visual style, or the art direction, I don't usually bring it up. But Ar Tonelico 3 looks incredibly underwhelming. I hate it when people say 'it looks like a 'insert a console' game', but Ar Tonelic Qoga does look like a PS2 game, a very sharp PS2 game, but a PS2 game nonetheless. Environments are simple to a fault, while dungeons are fully 3D, the towns are completely done in 2D, so you've got 3D models running around 2D planes, which looks terrible. The character models are disgustingly simple as well, with little in the way of shadows on them, and are very non-detailed. Dungeons are pretty bland as well, not only will they bring back memories from AT1(Which might be a good thing?) but sometimes they are even interchangeable with each other, with little to set them apart between each other.

 It doesn't stop there, the game feels fairly amateurish as a whole. When moving around dungeons, you'll notice a few hiccups. For instance, the jump button will have a hard time working when you are walking down a slope. Or running down stairs will have your character running on air for a few seconds. And try to aim a jump towards an object, it's not unusual to be able to stand on the side of an object. These aren't very annoying, since they have no negative, or positive, impact on the gameplay, but.... on battles, your attacks may not come out if you are too close to an ally. Y'see, when you press square, your character automatically runs towards the enemy before executing an attack, but if an ally is in the way, instead of running around him, your character will stop dead on his tracks in front of said ally. Fun. Once, my CPU ally stopped moving after I run onto him, and I had to move out of the way in order for him to remember how to move. This doesn't happen on Tales of games!
 And it's a valid comparison to make, seeing how it seems to borrow so much from its combat system. Battles are engaged through good, old, random encounters, and they take place in real time. Your party is made up of three vanguards and one Reyvateil(There's only three vanguards, but you can switch the Reyvateils, from each of the three girls... and their personas), the Reyvateils starts singing automatically at the start of a battle, and she confers passive bonuses to the rest of the party, although you can order her to shoot her magic at your will. As for the Vanguards, you can play as any of them, and they deal close-ranged attacks, their job being to protect the Reyvateil. Except that there's not much  they can do to keep enemies away from the Reyvateil. Y'see, in a Tales game, you can usually see everything that's going on, not so much here, the camera is zoomed in too close to your character, so you'll never have a clear picture of where is each enemy. I mean, you could press X to freeze the action, since its the 'Use Magic' button, see where is everything, and then cancel out of it. The targeting system is terrible as well, because there's none. When you press Square, your character will choose an enemy to attack, based on... I don't know what. Vanguards have a basic three hit combo with the square button, and holding a direction on the directional pad while pressing Square will produce a special attack. It sounds decent, but there's no combo system, no nothing. There's no nuance to the combat. Oh, wait, pressing Square according to the songs tempo will enlarge the heart gauge faster, allowing you to 'purge' the Reyvateil's clothes faster, which makes them stronger. Yeah... Japan. Except that you purge by holding a shoulder button and shaking the joystick, which isn't very responsive.

 Did I mention that your vanguards have a hard time keeping the enemies away from the Reyvateils? That's because A) The camera is terrible, so it's easy for enemies to get to them while you can't see them. B) The AI is terrible, so you can't count on them, nor can you tweak their strategies. C) Your attacks have no knockback. If you, and the CPU, decide to gang up on an enemy you can stunlock him in place though, but if an enemy decides to ignore you and make a run for it, they are gonna get to the Reyvateil. Mind you, the circle button is an 'emergency attack' that will knock back the enemy, but it has a cooldown period. Still, the combat is so easy, that even if they get to the Reyvateil, you'll never be in danger of losing a battle. But I don't mind the combat being easy, I mind it being so limited and dull. The combat is not fun, there's no strategy, and there's no style, which turns combat into a chore. I found myself longing for Ar Tonelico's 1 combat, at least it had more substance to it.
 The exploration is dull as well. Towns have very few secrets, if any at all, so exploring them isn't very fun. Dungeons are dull and tedious, sometimes with labyrinthine roads, probably to make up for the tedium of them not having any sort of puzzle or stuff to solve. As mentioned previously, they aren't even interesting to look at or memorable. The only thing that made them stood out was how much they reminded me of Ar Tonelico 1's dungeons. And for whatever reason, when buying equipment, you can't compare the stats between the item on the store and what you've got equipped. It's Final Fantasy 1 all over again, where have all those years of evolution the JRPG genre went through gone to?

 I've admitted that Ar Tonelico 1 bored me at times. This is Ar Tonelico 1 all over again, times ten. It's even worse thanks to how dull the combat system is. How boring dungeons are. How stupid the story and its characters are. How creepy the premise is. Ar Tonelico Qoga is nothing more than a sad, sad reminder of what JRPGs have turned into. Breath of Fire IV, I'm sorry for calling you 'ordinary', compared to this, you were a shining diamond.
 3.0 out of 10

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Review #312: Under the Skin

 What the...
 I've made it abundantly clear that I absolutely dislike most forms of modern Japanese multimedia, due to their undying focus and need of fanservice, and their over reliance and overuse of the same plot points and dialogues, there's only so many 'THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP' storylines I can take, while the main characters talks about protecting this girl, or his friends or 'those precious to him', or how he needs to get stronger, or how the bad guy is unforgiveable... Which makes the fact that my favorite videogame director is Japanese all the more hilarious, but y'see, Suda 51 is not like most Japanese developers. He dares to be different. He doesn't confine himself to standards, he doesn't restrict himself to cliches unless it's to put a twist on them. Under the Skin is a quirky Japanese game that's fairly unique, which makes it right up my alley.

 This is a very arcadey game, the kind I like, very easy to pick up and play, fast gameplay and based around scoring points. You play as an Alien(Called 'UFO' by the game), actually, you can pick from about 11 aliens, all of them equipped with the same abilities(Although their 'special pranks' differs between each other), but most importantly, with a Scan Gun. Y'see, aliens are pranksters by nature, but they are fragile and scare humans into attacking them, that's when the Scan Gun comes into play, with it you can disguise yourself as a human and play pranks on them! Pranking the humans makes them drop coins, the objects you must collect. Pranks come in very different flavors, from basic guns(Yeah, the pranks can get hardcore), to fireworks, bad singing, farting or tornadoes and... I don't know why some of these are called pranks. Regardless, pranks, even the deadly looking ones, only incapacitate humans for a while, and they also anger them, which makes them chase you. As a human, you can only take two hits before reverting to your Alien self, and taking hits without a disguise makes you drop coins. But it's alright, because you can scan humans even while disguised, and by walking below an UFO you can disguise again.
 When you first boot up the game, only 'Story Mode' is available, comprised of 8 different stages. Your goal on each mission varies, from gathering 500 coins while avoiding another alien, gathering more coins than the other alien or co-operating with another alien to collect 500 coins. Each mission has a time limit of 10 minutes, which means that you can finish the game in under 60 minutes. I played the game on Normal and got an A on my first playthrough, which unlocked the three other modes: Trial, in which you must collect as many coins as you can under a set amount of time, VS, which lets you compete against another alien(CPU or Player) on any of the 8 Story Mode stages and Co-Op, which lets you cooperate with another alien to collect 1000 coins on said stages. Beating the game also unlocks your Master as a playable character, and beating the game again as the new character unlocks the 11th alien. Basically, you can see and get everything the game has to offer in under 2 hours.

 I give Under the Skin props for having an original idea, but it's far from a hidden gem. While the game's box boasts about '40 different pranks', the game itself gets old pretty fast. I think it has to do with how slow the game can be, while the gameplay is relatively fast-paced, the amount of coins you must gather is rather high, and considering you are competing against another alien, it can turn into a power struggle, which makes 'matches', or 'stages', go by relatively slowly. It also doesn't help that there's only 8 stages in all.
 Under the Skin is what it is, a quirky Japanese game that's fun for about as long as it lasts, which is about 2 hours. The extra multiplayer modes might get you some extra mileage out of it, although the split-screen felt a bit too cramped for my taste.
 5.5 out of 10

Friday, March 18, 2016

Review #311: Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS - Force

 Bandai Namco misses the mark.
 It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the Gundam VS games, Extreme VS and Full Boost being among my favorite games of the past generation. Extreme VS has received two major revisions, Maxi Boost and Maxi Boost ON, but us console gamers have been left in the dust. We've waited years for the next console port, only to be greeted with... this.

 What is the Gundam Vs games known for? For the 2 on 2 fighting. Every console port of the series has included at least Arcade Mode and Offline VS(Player and CPU), ever since Federation VS Zeon on PS2, and most of the time, they also included lengthy Missions Modes for Console players. Extreme VS Force only has Mission Mode.  Oh, there's offline VS too... but not against CPUs, only other players via ad hoc. What the...? They made a mode that's always been an extra, that's been a diversion, the main course. The only course. And it's only 93 missions long. Extreme VS' mission mode had over 100, and I think Full Boost had almost 100. But they also included Offline VS CPU, Online VS and Arcade Modes with multiple routes. This is a problem.
 So, what's 'Force Mode' all about? It's a collection of missions with various goals. Usually you have to defeat every enemy, defeat the enemy ship or capture all bases before your ship is destroyed or the enemy captures all bases. Missions have different requirements, depending on the missions you'll be allowed to take up to five units with you, divided into four teams of twos, and sometimes, even a ship unit. The A.I, when engaging in fights, is decent, but they won't move unless you tell them to, which you do by tapping L. You can't tell'em to go after a unit, but you can pinpoint them to key spots on the map, and they'll fight anything that comes their way, which is a bit weird to say the least. Destroying enemy units will net you Force Points which can then be used in the Strategy Menu, which range from temporary damage buffs to healing. There's no real depth to the game, but it can be fun.

 It can be fun because the engine was not made for this type of game. For instance, the camera and the lock on target is terrible. This works in the 2 on 2 battles the engine was meant to run, but when there's up to six targets on the screen, locking on to your desired enemy can be a bit of a pain. Sure, you can use the right analog stick to direct the lock, but it's still not very efficient. While not locked onto a unit, you can rotate the camera with the right analog stick or press R+O to set it behind your back. R+O is also used to release the lock. It's a bit cumbersome, but it can be managed.
 Finishing missions grants your units experience points, which makes them stronger as they level up, and grant you GP. GP is used to unlock certain missions or to buy buffs before missions. They are also used to restore your machines. Y'see, the game wants you to play as the other units, so using the same machine more than once in a row will lower its max HP for the next mission. It's dumb, because it's counter-intuitive. You want to level up your units, so you have to use them, but if you use them too much they deteriorate. And why did they do it? Because this is the only way to play the game there is, and they don't want you to get bored by relying on the same units over and over again. Which would've been fixed by having a VS CPU mode, like every other game in the series, because even the word 'Versus' is on the title, but Namco just couldn't be arsed. So many times did I unlock a new unit and thought to myself 'Cool! Now let's try out on a fight!'... only to remind myself that I had to play one of the missions. To be faire, there's a few 2 on 2 fights among the missions, but it's always against the same units.

 And then there's the character roster. Vanilla Extreme VS had over 60 units. Full boost had over 90. Let's go even before that, Gundam VS Gundam on the PSP had over 60 units as well. Extreme VS Force only has 40. The other games also had more modes as well. And the saddest part is I could've done with the reduced character roster if only it had had offline VS CPU at least.
 On its own, Extreme VS Force is a decent game. On its own. But as part of the Gundam VS franchise, this is so underwhelming. So lackluster. It's not up to the series standards. All that said, the game is receiving a steady flow of free patches with Arcade, Offline VS and more units. But I don't have any of those yet, so I'm reviewing the game as is. Once there's more meat to it, I will come back to it and rereview it, because I love the series, but as of now, this is shameful towards the franchise..
 4.0 out of 10

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Now Playing; Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS - Force

 I hate Sony's Vita account system.
 The way the Vita account system makes it a hassle to get to play with the pre-order bonuses, goddamn it Sony. The PS3 had an excellent account system, but now? Get Sony'd.

 That out of the way, EXTREME VS IS BACK! Kinda. And I'd rather have Maxi Boost, but I'll take what I can get. Anyways, Extreme Force is a bit weird, because it uses the 'Extreme Vs' brand but doesn't even have an offline VS CPU mode. There's only 'Force Mode' and Ad-hoc mode. Because the Vita is so popular. There's also about one third the amount of playable mobile suits Full Boost had. A THIRD. And I could've dealt with the reduced roster if I could've had Offline vs. Which makes this a rather polarizing game...

 ... is what I would've said. The Japanese has been patched, and the Hong Kong version is gonna get the patch in about a month as well, to add offline VS CPU. And it includes 3 more units. And then there's patch 1.03 which adds another 3 units. Which means we'll be getting more free units in the future. And there's offline VS now as well! And I think they promised an Arcade Mode as well.

 Anyways, the game works well on the Vita, after getting used to the shoulder-button shortcuts for the special attacks it's a bit weird going back to double button presses, but it's not too bad. The missions themselves are OK, but it's very clear that this engine was not made for this kind of game. Which means that this could've been a great extra mode, like Mission Mode on Vanilla and Full Boost, but not the main --and only, mode. But it's being fixed now with the addition of other modes via free updates.

 And I'm not in favor of 'fixing', or 'completing' games after release, I actually hate when companies release unfinished games because 'they can patch the rest down the line', y'know, like Capcom and Street Fighter V. But this is Gundam Extreme VS, dammit!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Now Playing: Ar Tonelico Qoga - Knell of Ar Ciel

 Now this game is borderline creepy.
 Oh, Japan, you crazy bunch of perverts you! Taking creepiness into the next level, Ar Tonelico is a game where waifu moe girls that look 10 years old or younger get stronger as they lose clothes. Yeah, they went full Japan. As years went by, Japanese Media has centered around fanservice, and there's no escaping it, it doesn't matter what show you are watching, what manga you are reading or what game you are playing, if it comes from Japan, chances are it's gonna have fanservice. And I got tired of it. Which means we're already off to a bad start.

 But here's the deal, I wasn't the biggest fan of Ar Tonelico 1, so I never got the sequel, and even if I considered it, the game breaking bug surrounding a certain boss was a huge turn off. But then I came across some footage from Ar Tonelico Qoga, and 'OMG IT LOOKS JUST LIKE THE TALES GAMES!', so I decided to give it a try! And here I am, rather disappointed.

 The combat is a shallow shadow copy of the one from the Tale's games. Battles take place in real time, while three combatants run around dishing damage and protecting a fourth, a girl that sings magic. It's a bit more complex than that, timing your hits with the tempo of the song will make a gauge, in the form of a heart, fill, and then you can purge their... you can purge their clothes, to make them stronger. Welcome to Japan. And that's the gist of it, it's simple to a fault.

 And then there's the story, it feels like I'm playing Ar Tonelico 1. There's substitute characters for the two Reyvateils, and the third 'secret' one is a carbon copy of AT 1's secret Rv, there's even an Ayatame look alike too. The 'Diving' works exactly like the one from AT 1 and follows the same lame generic Japanese waifu-related situations. And while the plot is slightly different, it still plays out in the same way, as a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure the brunette Reyvateil works for the bad guys, just as the brunette Reyvateil did on the first game.

 Basically, if you like waifu, fanservice fests, this is your game. If you liked Ar Tonelico 1 and don't mind more of the same, this is your game. Because there is an audience for this game, one that I'm not a part of. Everyone else, like me, would do better to skip it. Except that I already bought it, so I'm gonna follow this game all the way to the end, even if it kills me.

Review #310: Fist of the North Star - Ken's Rage 2

 This is not the true successor.
 Let me tell you a bit about myself. I love Dynasty Warriors and I love Hokuto no Ken, which means than when Fist of the North Star - Ken's Rage was announced I was static, and when I finally got to play it... I adored it. It's among my favorite Musou games. And then Ken's Rage 2 was announced, and I got even more hyped, and then I played it.... Godammit, Koei.

 There's two modes, Legend Mode and Dream Mode, let's cover the former first. It's an extended redux of sorts of the previous game's Legend Mode, covering the Raoh, Shura and Final arcs from the series. 'More' is not always better, case in point, Shura is the worst thing to ever happen to Hokuto no Ken. Us fans have a saying 'What happened at Shura stays at Shura', it's a mess full of plot holes and stupidity. And Hokuto no Ken is filled with ridiculous, sometimes even stupid stuff, but it's good stupid, while Shura is just dumb stupid. I could've sword that Koei said that they would rewrite Shura alongside Ohara and Buronson, but its the same mess it's always been, with one of the stupidest things to happen to Rin, where she is basically turned from a badass into an object. 'Hah! I pressed this pressure point that will make her fall in love with whoever she sees first!' and then a couple of guys take turns 'She must see Kenshiro!', 'Nah, you keep her, I got better stuff to do.', etc, etc. God, I hate Shura.
 But, y'know, Shura is just one arc, even shorter than Raoh's, and then there's the Final arc which is rather good and as emotional(Manly tears will be shed) as Raoh's arc was, so it's not such a wash, is it? Wrong. The presentation is both lazy and laughable. They 'reenacted' the manga panels with the 3D models They are barely even animated. Let's play devil's advocate, let's say that they were huge fans of the manga and wanted to redo it in 3D, fine. Then why not simply use the panels from the manga? Look, these character models look fantastic in motion, but on 2-D stills? They look terrible. These cutscenes look straight out of something like Garry's mod, with laughable gestures on the characters' faces, it looks terrible. And you have to actually watch them play out or skip them, it'd been just fine if I could just tap X to advance the dialogue, since I can read faster than they can talk Japanese. Eventually I started skipping these, since nowadays I don't like having my time wasted. To be fair, there's still a few cutscenes, some are from the previous game, some are new and some have been edited a bit, and they are still fantastic. These are a joy to watch, reenacting the scenes from the manga oh so beautifully, which is a stark contrast to the other, more common manga-like cutscenes. But the problems with Legend Mode are more than skindeep, the way the levels play is a bore. Why do I play Warriors/Musou games? To bash dozens of heads in. It's cathartic, it's fun. But the game wastes your time with unskippable 'Event' scenes, where characters stand awkwardly while talking in a very drawn out way, it's so damn boring, since I can read the text oh so much faster than they speak, and it's not like it's trying to immerse me into the game, since characters look so awkward as these moments play out! But not only does the game waste my time, it also forces the player onto awkward objectives like half-baked stealth missions. Stealth missions? I'm playing a Warriors game, I want to fight, I don't want to go around stealthily, I've Dishonored for that, goddamn. And the rest of the objectives are just dull and restrictive, I lost count of how many times the game locked me onto a tiny area for two minutes with a 'kill as many enemies as you can' objective. Where's the freedom that Warriors game give you when going through battlefields? I loved going through the previous game's Legend Mode, but this time around I couldn't wait for it to end.

 Then there's 'Dream Mode' where each of the 20 characters get about 8 stages each(To be fair, some are repeated) alongside a what-if story(Told via those awful manga-like cutscenes). And... I couldn't take it. I played 5 stages with Ryuga before calling it quits and uninstalling the game. But why is it so bad? Warriors games, even those based around capture points, like the Gundam DW games, always pepper the stages with moving enemies and allies, so that it feels like a battle. Here it's you and the bases. There's no moving enemies, although every now and then an enemy commander will spawn and chase you(While not even bothering with the bases), and sometimes you'll get allies. Oh, and capturing bases makes allied NPC fodder arrive. But where's the moving enemy fodder? It's so dull, boring... Lifeless. I've never, ever had had so little fun with a Warriors game. I clocked about 60 hours, and even got the Platinum Trophy, on the previous game. I clocked over 120 hours on DW: Gundam 3, which I platinum'd as well, not to mention all the other Warriors games I've played, to say that I love the franchise is an understatement. But Ken's Rage 2 gravitated between being a chore and being a bore.
 And the saddest part about it? There's been noticeable improvements to the previous game. The previous game had only 7 characters or so(Albeit all of them very different from each other), now we get 20. There's grown up Bat, there's Shachi, there's Shew! Although, on the flip side, not all characters feel as... 'complete'. Some characters have very, very limited movesets, like Rin and Juda. Jumping has been removed entirely, which I didn't like at first, but you get used to it, and in its place now you've got a dodge, and by using energy you can use it to dodge any kind of attack. I objected to the increased speed at first, but then I popped the first game in, to compare, and.. as much as I loved the first game due to how heavy it felt, the new one feels much better thanks to the increased speed. I've read that some people said that this game looks worse... and they are wrong, no two ways about it. As I said before, I actually played the previous game again, to compare, and... the textures were hideous, PS2-level, if not worse. This time around, character models are much more detailed, much more defined and with proper textures. The special effects have been enhanced as well, there's more variety on the environments and on NPCs, and this game looks better in almost every respect.

 The way you level up your stats has also changed, while the previous game had the Meridian Chart, which I really liked, now you must collect scrolls and equip up to five of them. It's... it's not a terrible idea, but it pales in comparison to the Meridian Charts. Special Moves also work a bit differently, previously, after executing it, the game would freeze and show you multiple camera angles, while your character said the name of the technique. It was very accurate to the anime, and look really badass. Now... they work as in any other Dynasty Warriors game, without the extra fanfare, which is disappointing to say the least.
 The beauty of the Warriors games is that the pit you in large scale battles, while you get to pummel dozens upon dozens of enemy fodder before arriving to an enemy general, which actually poses a threat. They are fun, relatively mindless, but fun. Ken's Rage 2 feels like a parody of these games, like what most people think the games are. Instead of large battlefields, populated by both fodder and generals, you go through dull, lifeless corridors, searching for 'bases', the only areas where enemies spawn, and then you have to defeat 50 of them. Maybe, every now and then, an enemy commander will spawn and chase you, or sometimes one will pop up from a base. It feels so mechanic, so soulless. It feels like it was made by people that were told 'make a Warriors game' but had never played one before. Then there's the 'Legend Mode', which feels like a chore, since you are restricted even more than in the corridor-based Dream Mode, to smaller areas, with repetitive objectives. And the game loves to waste your time, with dull unskippable 'event scenes', were they state the obvious, or with half-baked 'variety missions' like the aforementioned stealth sections.

 Ken's Rage 2 is a mess. And it's a shame, because they actually improved on the combat elements, but due to its restrictive, messy nature, these changes never get the chance to shine. And it's hilarious, because in Japan it was named 'Shin Hokuto Musou', 'True Hokuto Musou'. Because it was supposed to improve upon the previous game. And the saddest part? If they had kept how the previous Legend Mode worked, how the previous Dream Mode worked, they could've had something really, really good. But they decided to fix what wasn't broken.
 2.5 out of 10

Friday, March 11, 2016

Now Playing: Fist of the North Star - Ken's Rage 2

 Oh boy.
 And the disappointment train continues with Ken's Rage 2! Ken's Rage was one of my favorite Warriors game out there, partly because it felt relatively different, partly because it nailed the feeling of the series so well.

 So, where to start? The cutscenes. The previous game had amazing cutscenes that were a treat to watch. They were faithful to the manga and looked really nice. Now we've got seconds long cutscenes like those, and the rest are some very weird, sparsely animated manga-panel like scenes using the 3D models. And they are laughably bad, the character models look fantastic in motion, not in stills, where it comes across as some creepy Garry's mod shenanigans. Who thought that these were acceptable? I hope, HOPE that they only went this route with what the previous game covered, and instead will get proper cutscenes once we get to the Shura arc.

 Then there's the gameplay... it's been sped up. And, usually, I like fast paced games, but in Ken's rage, it made every move have extra oomph, which made it extra satisfying. Also, when using special moves it would freeze the screen and show the aftermath through various still camera angles. That's gone. For whatever reason, jumping is gone as well, which got changed into dodging. And the story mode is a drag, I understand they went for variety, but us Warriors fans want to bash enemies, not go through poorly made stealth sequences that offer no challenge or fun whatsoever.

 And... Yeah, I'm strangely hopeful for the game to get better once I unlock more characters and tackle dream mode. Maybe it's the story mode that's giving me a bad first impression. I hope. I mean, the Meridian chart leveling system was fun, right? Right? Well, it's gone, and now we have some weird scroll equipping system...? What?

Review #309: Bioshock Infinite - The Complete Edition

 Get the girl and clear the debt.
 Bioshock Infinite was kind of a big deal when it came out, as big, if not bigger, than the original Bioshock at its time. And... I kinda can't see why.

 You play as Booker DeWitt, a man swimming in debt due to gambling, who is offered a deal he can't refuse: Get the girl and wipe away the debt. And so Booker embarks towards the city of Columbia, a dystopia flying over the skies, where not everything is as it seems(It is a dystopia after all). Previous Bioshock games had had mute heroes, but very memorable villains. These time around, we have memorable heroes and supporting cast, but not much in the way of villains, not in the traditional sense anyways. For starters, Booker actually speaks, although he is a bit of a generic gruff guy that's just trying to do his job, but then there's Elizabeth, the girl in question, who will accompany you throughout most of the game. She's alright. I will concede that she is fairly expressive, the big eyes do help, but I wouldn't go as far as to call her a memorable character. As far as the rest of the characters go, it's pretty much Bioshock: You'll hear about all these important figures, be it heroes or villains, on audiologs until you finally meet them, just as in the previous games. The game also has a quirky sense of humor that pops up every now and then, just as in the previous games. It also has 'arc words', just as in the previous games(Bioshock 1 actually). To be honest, while the plot twist is entirely different, in many ways it felt like another take on Bioshock 1, even the setting is similar in its differences(It's a bit of an opposite to Rapture). Plus, the story is kinda... kinda plain and somewhat dull until the last stretch of the game, which, mind you, is totally worth it to follow all the way to the end.
 With a gun in your right hand, and a Plasmid... erm, 'Vigor', on your left, you'll go on your way through a somewhat linear path. Just as in the previous games. There's no longer passive skills to equip, but rather 'clothes', five pieces in all, which can grant you different bonuses. You also carry a regenerative shield now, which is kinda nice since you can't carry health packs any more. Oh, and you can only carry two weapons, but in an ironic twist of fate, ammo is way more plentiful this time around, since most enemies are armed, so if you run out of ammo, just swap one of your guns or wait for Elizabeth to pass you another clip. Oh, yeah, Elizabeth comes along for the ride, and she's not a burden since enemies just ignore her, and while she won't attack them, she will give you health packs, salt('mana') packs, ammo clips or even money every now and then. Remember how Bioshock 1 had a few horror elements? They are all gone now, all of your opposition and run-of-the-mill soldiers. And there's a ton of them at every turn of a corner. There's no tension, no fear, no nothing as you know a shootout is coming as soon as you arrive to the next open area.

 There's a new gameplay element in the form of 'Skylines', rails that lie above ground onto which you can use your melee weapon to hook on to. Rails felt like a gimmick to me, they are frequent, but not too frequent, and they double as both defensive and offensive tools. Once hooked, you can traverse them at fast speeds to avoid damage, but you can also drop down from them onto enemies and deal massive damage, if not outright kill them.  Oh, and when outside of combat, you'll sometimes have to use them to go to different places in Columbia. Not that there's a lot of to do besides going towards your objective, that said ,there are a few sidequests, and exploration often yields rewards in the form of Infusion tonics that can be used to upgrade your shield, health or salt reserves. And just as in the previos games, you'll scavenge for food to heal yourself and money to buy upgrades for your Vigors and guns.
 It seems like I'm giving the game a lot of hell for being 'more of the same', but I'm not. I mean, the game was so well received that I was expecting something revolutionary, but all I got was... more of the same. The same kind of writing, the same kind of environment, the same story structure(Even if it plays out in vastly different ways), the same kind of gameplay.... it almost felt like 'another take on Bioshock 1'. And mind you, when you are a game like Bioshock, being 'more of the same' is actually a good thing, it's just that I was expecting something game-changing.

 The Complete Edition includes all the DLC. Some which is just baffling, as it starts you off with 5 free infusion tonics and 2 entire pairs of clothing. Why? Why are you giving free stuff, and very useful stuff at that, just for preordering the game? That's just wrong. Then there's the 'Clash in the Clouds', which I didn't care for, that is an arena-based DLC, where you must survive wave after wave of enemy, having a small respite in between waves to prepare. You get to unlock art, but... eh, it's just an arena. Lastly, there's 'Burial at Sea 1' and 'Burial at Sea 2'. I loved Burial at Sea 1, it's a throwback to Bioshock 1, with returning plasmids and returning weapons. It's relatively harder than the main game, since ammo is more limited, and it delves deeper into Booker and Elizabeth. Kinda. Burial at Sea 2 pits you as Elizabeth, and while it offers a whole lot more story, with a few bits that actually contradict Bioshock 2, it was a bit more dull, since for whatever reason Elizabeth isn't as good as combat as Booker, so she has to rely on stealth. It's much slower paced as well, but it does give new insight on some of the NPCs from Infinite. Both of them are really good, but part 1 was more up my alley.
 I liked Bioshock Infinite, I had fun with Bioshock Infinite, but to call it slightly underwhelming is an understatement. It feels like something I have played before, like it's got little more to offer than its plot twist. And I must insist, even if I felt disappointed, the game is not bad by any means, Bioshock's gameplay is really good, so even if its more of the same, it's still welcome.
 8.0 out of 10

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Now Playing: Bioshock Infinite - The Complete Edition

 I already booked my flight.
 Starting classes means more time locked up in my house, which translates into more time which means... 'first impressions' are back! Which is something I've always liked, to compare how I felt about something before finishing it, and comparing afterwards.

 Anyways, I'm up to the Hall of Heroes and so far... it's alright. Nothing special. I mean, I come from Dishonored, which gave me oh so many options and alternatives, and while there is exploration... it feels so linear. The game itself doesn't impress me either, because it's so similar to previous Bioshock games. Sure, it was cute how the game is the opposite of Rapture(You start on a lighthouse, but it takes you up instead of down, a dystopia on the sky instead of underwater, here there's a GOD, while Rapture stated: Men, not gods, etc), but... the novelty ran off, and all I'm left with is a third Bioshock games.

 And yes, the skylines are cool, but so far they feel like little more than a gimmick or a way to traverse the sky, and that's it.

 And I'm not saying the game is bad, not at all, just that it doesn't impress me. The story so far is, well, it's there, but nothing has gripped me yet. The gameplay is solid, but it feels exactly like the previous two Bioshock games, and mind you, it's fun, but it's nothing I hadn't seen before. Oh, except that I'm limited to two guns now because reasons!

Review #308: Dishonored - Game of the Year Edition

 Where's my honor?
 The best way to describe Dishonored is: Thief meets Bioshock. This is a first person stealth game with varied combat options and a realistic, but cartoonish art direction.

 The story centers around silent protagonist Corvo, bodyguard to the Empress of Dunwall and her daughter. Dunwall is under the ever-growing threat of a deadly plague that turns people into zombie-like beings call Weepers. Back from a trip for information, the Empress is assassinated, her daughter is kidnapped and Corvo is blamed for both. But that's OK, there's a resistance group that knows about the conspiracy and sets Corvo free, in order to use him as an assassin, for the greater good. And it gets better for Corvo, the Outsider, a supernatural being, visits him and grants him powers. It's a cliche set-up, with cliched characters and a plot twist you'll see coming from leagues away. Still, there're a couple of memorable characters, like Granny Rags, that hide more than a few surprises, and so many 'books' and notes to read that enrich the overall lore of the game.
 The game follows a very simple structure: You are given a mission on your hideout, and then you get to prepare and buy all your necessary supplies, sometimes, you might even be given sidequests on that particular mission, which most of the time consists of assassinating someone. There's about 8 different missions, which all take place in different areas(Although, sometimes, they might share starting areas). Missions themselves are decently long, some contain sidequests, and all of them hide numerous collectibles: Bone charms, which can be equipped for bonus passive abilities, Runes, which are used to acquire spells. and all sorts of items from supplies to money. As for the missions themselves, they are fairly entertaining, there's many different ways to tackle them and finish them. There's always a non-lethal route as well. And your choices, whether you do sidequests or not, and how you deal with your targets, will affect the game in various different ways.

 Corvo wields his blade on his right hand, and the left hand is used for spells and long-ranged weapons. Melee combat is elegant in its simplicity. R1 attacks and R2 blocks, blocking right before getting hit will execute a parry. Holding L2 enters a sub-menu where you can equip a gun, a crossbow or the different spells that you can acquire, and are used with the L1 button. It's so simple, but it works so well and it's so much fun that it's a shame the game actually discourages the use of violence! The more you kill, the harder the game will get. There will be more guards and more weepers. As a matter of fact, a couple of sections actually feature endless waves of enemies, so you'd better not be spotted, and if you are, escape! What's more, this will also affect different facets of the game, from the behavior of certain characters, to what happens in the last chapter and how it all ends. Still, you can do away with enemies in non-lethal ways, either creep behind them and choke them until they pass out, or use sleeping bolts. Either way, they won't wake up for the remainder of the mission... but you should probably hide their bodies.
 The bone charms allow for a noticeable degree of customization towards your play-style. For instance, I always opt for brawling(Which also means I got the worst ending!), so I picked the charms that made enemies miss their shots more frequently, the ones that made it so that I would win more blade clashes and another one that made it less likely for my bolts to break upon shooting them, so that I could pick them up after a scuffle. Then there are the runes. There's simply not enough runes in the game to get every ability, so this will also factor in how you develop your character. There's both passive and active abilities, and each can be upgraded once at the cost of even more runes. Now that I think about it, you could probably get every ability, at the cost of not being able to upgrade any. Anyways, passive abilities include having enemies turn to ash if you kill them without them noticing, and its upgraded version, having every enemy that you kill turn into ash. There's extra health, faster movement and even and 'adrenaline' passive that lets you use instakill attacks after crossing a few swords. As for active abilities, there's the mandatory, and always useful Blink, which teleports you a short distance away, possessing enemies(and rats!), having rats eat your enemies and even a wind blast. There's not a huge amount of different spells, but they are enough as to allow you to customize your playthrough. I went with all the passives, and an upgraded Blink, first, since I was always getting into fisticuffs, but had enough runes left over to learn Time Bend and get(And upgrade) the wind blast ability.

 The GOTY edition includes all the DLC as well, of which quality varies depending on each. There's 7 'packs' that grant you bonuses at the start of the game, a ton of extra cash and extra, and exclusive, bone charms. Then there're the 3 major DLCS: The Trials of Dunwall, which has no story whatsoever and is just a collection of challenges and... I didn't care about it. But I know that some people do enjoy these, so there's that. Then there's The Knife of Dunwall and the Witches of Brigmore. These make up one single story, following Daud, a character that appears late into the main game, and run parallel to Corvo's story. These DLCs pull no punches, they expect that you have already finished the main game, and they are tough. As for Daud, he gets a slightly different spellset and arsenal from Corvo. Slightly. They also have a few different enemies, and entirely new environments, missions and objectives, which make them feel like more than just a retread from the main game. Naturally, them being DLCs, these missions don't offer as many alternative approaches as the one from the main game, but there's still quite a few.
 Dishonored is a fantastic game, and I think it's in large part due to how simple it is. It's a very simple, very predictable, but effective story, a very simple, but very tight gameplay that's very easy to learn and understand, but thanks to the alternatives the game provides for you to tackle each mission, as well as the many options you have to deal with your enemies, it doesn't get boring. When it comes down to it, the only reason I'm not scoring it any higher is due to personal taste, I like more action as less hiding, heh!
 9.0 out of 10

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Review #307: DmC - Devil May Cry

 Just cry already, dammit!
 This game never really had a chance, did it? As soon as Dante's redesign was revealed, fans got up in arms, and they wouldn't let Ninja Theory hear the end of it. Many of them argued that 'it's not just about the hair'... but isn't it really?

 First, Story and Characters... it's gonna be a while. This game was meant to be a reimagined reboot, so everything's almost completely different. The premise resembles the movie 'They Live', were people are being controlled by propaganda, this time by demons, and the bad guy also uses debt to control everyone. It's not a novel idea, but it's been rarely used in videogames in this way before. I liked the story, Devil May Cry has never, ever had a good story and it made up for that with cool. You saw cool characters doing cool stuff and that was the end of it, and it didn't really matter, because story was never the main draw. What isn't good, and it's something you'll realize during the opening cutscene, is that the dialogue isn't very good. It's funny, because the audiovisual presentaton nails the look they were going for perfectly, very reminiscent of those old 90s action movies like The Crow, and somewhat like the opening scenes of the first Highlander film. But the dialogue comes across as if its trying to hard to be dark and edgy, at times it feels cringeworthy and forced.
 A lot of criticism has been leveled towards new Dante, mostly because he is a 'douchebag'. And he is. Towards his enemies, that is. Y'know, kinda like old Dante. Remember when Rudra and Agni offered their help, and Dante responded by 'No talking', and then smashing their heads because one of them did? Or how about when Lady asked him if he had killed her father, and his answer was 'What if I did?'. Dante's always been a dick towards his enemies. And this Dante cares about his allies, he cares about Kat and even asks her about her past, he cares about her when she is about to get captured. He cares about Vergil, his brother, even when they don't see eye to eye. This Dante hates demons, but when he sees one being harassed by other demons he goes to help him, and then Dante asks him to take him to a certain place, which the demons answers 'I'll help you if you help me first.'. Dante doesn't complain, doesn't hurl insults back, he hears him and helps him. Does this Dante seem like a dick to you? He isn't much more of a dick than Dante, the same Dante that cracked a joke in DMC 4 after Sanctus started laying death and destruction. Something that Sanctus was only able to do because Trish decided it would be a good idea to give them Sparta. But maybe being a dick is only OK if old Dante and his pals do it. And when it comes down to it, Dante has had THREE different personalities already, who's to say that this isn't Dante either? There was a lot of complaints about a joke, when a white wig falls on Dante's head and he says 'not in a million years', some even claiming that this was NT's way of saying 'Our Dante is better than yours'... it's just a joke, particularly considering that, spoilers, Dante's hair ends up white anyways.

 Combat is like a simpler version of previous games. The skill barrier is set lower, not to say that the moveset is limited in anyway, just that making and maintining SSS combos is incredibly easy. On previous games, your combo rank would decrease over time, not anymore, now it only decreases if you get hit. Plus, repeating the same moves over and over again do increase your rank, although at diminished returns. There's plenty of finger gymnastics involved if you want to create combos, but there's a ton of options. Triangle, by itself, uses Rebellion, the sword, and circle performs an enemy launcher. But holding L2 when pressing either will make Dante attack with an Angelic weapon, or holding R2 allows him to use Demonic weapons. There's two of each, and you can switch them on the fly by using the directional pad. Basically, doing large, varied combos is very, very simple, which is not necessarily a bad thing. And it looks cool to boot, as cool as 30 fps allows anyways. It doesn't end there, Dante can use fire arms with Square, or combine it with either L2 or R2 to produce two different chains, one that pulls enemies towards him, and another that pulls him towards enemies, not unlike Nero! I can't stress this enough, there's a ton of different moves and possibilities with the combat system.
 The one thing I did find annoying was the lack of a targeting button. Let's be honest here, the lock-on reticule was serviceable on previous games, but it was there and it was helpful. There's no such thing here. And enemies require different strategies here. Some will have attacks bounce right off them unless using either a demonic or an angelic weapons. Others can't be approached haphazardly since they have super armor on, there's winged enemies that are best dealt with by shooting at them, to break their wings, and then pulling them towards you. There's even shielded enemies! So the combat is not mindless, although much easier than previous games, and a lock-on feature would've done wonders for the game. Plus, as much as I liked so many options in combat, sometimes it's easy to get confused, since there's so many different button combinations,

 Which shows mostly during the platforming sections in the game. These are deceptively simple, 'cause you see, you might have to pull, with the demon chain, objects towards your path, or grapple through certain blue orbs by using the angelic chain. It's not hard to mess up the inputs. That said, these sections look complex, but they are very easy and require little thought put onto them. Jump, jump, maybe do an air dash, pull something, air dash, grapple, air-dash, land, rinse and repeat. They are very mechanics once you properly remember which combinations gets which chain out. Previous games had a small, but existent, exploration element to them. There's none of that here, but, you are free to explore, which will net you keys to open doors(that must also be found!) in order to access different challenges, for health and devil trigger upgrades.
 Thankfully, the game borrows the best additions from DMC 4: Red orbs and White orbs are different currencies, both are earned by scoring high combos and mission rankings though. Doesn't stop there, just as with DMC 4, white orbs are used to buy moves, which can be refunded as well. Even better, the store shows you a preview video and lets you try them out before you buy them. It might be a bit too much for the system though, scrolling through the different moves makes it feel as if the game is choking, and, as a matter of fact, the game froze on me once while buying moves!!

 The level design is alright. It's made up of a lot of cyans, oranges and blacks, and that's about everything you'll see. It's mostly urban environments, which I guess makes sense according to the story the game wants to tell, but it does make for a bit of staleness. That said, there went a lot of creativity towards certain sections, namely, the boss fight against the news anchor, which is probably the most memorable part in the game, as well as a rather cool sequence in which you must protect Vergil and Kat's car, by pulling and pushing objects around it. It's much cooler than what it sounds like. The game lasts about 6-7 hours, and sadly there's not much in the way of unlockables. There's about 4 difficulty settings, a must for any DMC game, including some rather creative ones, where Dante dies in one hit!
 It may not look like a Devil May Cry game, but it feels like one and that's what matters. There's little things, like how Dante fights like a mixture between old-Dante and Nero. He can pull enemies towards him, like Nero, and even gets his aerial Roulette attack. He also gets Dante's Stinger and Million Stab attack, even the Stinger-to-Million stab move! Remember the Shotgun-fun move Dante had in Gunslinger style? New Dante gets it as well, and there's even a punchy weapon that allows you to charge any of its attacks. This may be a slight spoiler for those new to the franchise, but you get to fight Vergil and... my god, the way he fights is so similar to how he fought in DMC 3. It feels like an alternate take on that fight, as a matter of fact, this game is what it was meant to be: An alternate take on Devil May Cry.

 Do I prefer new Dante over the old one? Nope, the old one is so ridiculously funny that's impossible not to love. But I believe that both series could co-exist, kinda like Marvel's Earth 616 and the Ultimate universe. I want to continue seeing how this story unfolds as much as I want to see Nero and Dante go on. Because it's an alternate take on characters I like, because I can have both characters coexisting without throwing a fit. Because while this game could've accommodated for new and old players alike, like DMC 4 did with Nero, who could do massive damage with few hits, but if you wanted to delve deeper there was always mastering the EX gauge, and Dante, for returning players that wanted to style, instead of pandering mostly to new players, with it's easy average difficulty and easy combos, it's a fun game on its own right.
 8.0 out of 10