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Review: Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy

Oct 17 // Josh Tolentino
[Photo by Hiroshi Suga] Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy (Paperback) Written By: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono, Masuhiro YamamotoPublished by: VIZ MediaReleased: October 11, 2016MSRP: $14.99ISBN: 978-1421589084 One thing should be made clear right away, for any prospective buyers of the book: Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy is NOT a recipe book. It's not even a book about sushi, at least not "sushi" in the general sense as a field of Japanese cuisine.   Instead, Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy a book about the sushi served at Sukiyabashi Jiro. Specifically. That makes a significant difference. In some ways, one could see the whole book as something of an extremely elaborate menu or catalog for the restaurant itself. The contents of the book consist of pictures of the various types of sushi served on each , with the opposite page containing information about the dish from Jiro himself. The short paragraphs - blurbs, really - are written in a more anecdotal style, conveying insights ranging from why a given piece is served before or after other types of sushi to things like cooking methods or marketing times. In essence, each entry is a window into a Sukibayashi Jiro staffer's experience of creating and serving that type of sushi. Other, more sobering impressions can be gleaned from the otherwise brief notes, such as the occasional mention of increasing scarcity of fish available for some pieces. These admissions inadvertently highlight ongoing crises with overfishing, oceanic extinctions, and sustainable fishing practices. It might not be long before some of the celebrated pieces detailed in Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy disappear from the menu. The specificity of it all makes the book feel like a journal, a series of notes rather than a carefully organized, comprehensive guide. If Sukibayashi Jiro had a gift shop so that visitors to it could pick up a memento of their reservation, this book would be on the shelf. From the cynic's view, VIZ Media is publishing and selling a promotional brochure for a restaurant that many people will never visit.  That view might hold, if not for the quality of the book itself. [Photo by Hiroshi Suga] Putting aside concerns about the nature of its contents, Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy is an utterly gorgeous physical object. Despite the fact that it's a pocket-sized paperback, the book is constructed like a decorative coffee table centerpiece. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, reading the book feels like a genuine aesthetic act, something beyond the information contained in the text and pictures alone. The endpages are carefully textured and the whole thing gives off an aura of classiness largely absent from genuine travel guides or food books. Those readers who want to make the case for keeping and buying physical books in an age dominated by screen-based readers can file this one into evidence for their side. The content also extends past just the sushi. The main section is followed by a subsection detailing best practices for eating sushi, as well as a how-to guide for making reservations at Sukibayashi Jiro itself. In all honesty, the information detailed within isn't much more than one would get on the occasional website article. That said, having it come directly from the horse's mouth gives it an air of authority and authenticity. [Photo by Kenta Izumi] In the end, we have the answers to the dilemmas I posed earlier in the review. The purpose Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy is to be an elaborate, if heartfelt and earnest, bit of self-promotion for an expensive  very earnest, heartfelt bit of self-promotion. As for its intended audience, the gift-store patron crowd are the best fit. Beyond them, perhaps a friend who's a mega-fan of Jiro Dreams of Sushi and is planning a visit sometime soon. Genuine sushi afficionados or those less enamored of a famous little restaurant may want to hold off.
Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy photo
Slice of Life
It wouldn't be too much of a stretch at this point to declare that Jiro Ono - head chef at Tokyo's Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant - is one of the most visible Japanese culinary professionals in the world. Thanks to his and his r...

Review: Orange

Oct 11 // Karishma Roy
Orange Studio: TMS Entertainment Viewed on: Crunchyroll  Premiere Date: July 4, 2016 Orange is a character driven story and as such every single action and interaction matters. Naho, as the female protagonist, is a vexing character. She is a massive introvert verging on social ineptness. Despite knowing exactly what to do, thanks to the letter, she lacks the confidence to step out of her comfort zone and can often be found crying or running away. I felt that Naho’s growth as a character should’ve been made more evident to avoid audience frustration. Several times, I found myself saying, “Get an effing grip, gurl”, and this was especially true when she unnecessarily wastes time being indecisive or worrying about things like why her love interest might stretch out his hand with a longing look in his eyes. Thankfully her friends enlighten her on the age-old concept of hand-holding in romance. In some ways Naho’s weak personality is an advantage because it creates both internal and external conflicts that make the story eventful. She eventually gets her shizz together and towards the end appears much less timid. Kakeru, the male protagonist, may come across as playing into the trope of an angsty teenager but he suffers from depression and suicidal ideation. Episode 12, in particular, pulled at my heartstrings as it gave a gravely accurate picture of the severity of mental health issues. Research shows that Japanese people have very little understanding of depression, and suicide rates (especially among young men) are rather high, so I applaud this series for raising awareness about this serious condition. It was easy to understand Kakeru’s guilt and self-hatred and I found myself ruining my mascara as I ugly cried for him more than once. The romance between Naho and Kakeru was a bit clumsy and I’m just glad that Suwa existed - hats off to the best wingman ever! He was the most likeable character and is basically a saint. The determination with which he supports Naho and Kakeru, despite his own feelings for her, is truly remarkable. Our two main lovebirds would’ve been lost without him. The friendship is strong in this story – Hagita, Azu and Takako, along with Suwa, all come together to help Naho and attempt to save Kakeru. I appreciated that his friends noticed his depression, took it seriously and were actively doing something about it. The whole squad naturally complemented each other and I enjoyed their mundanely comical banter. Their different personalities were evident as the story played out, thankfully avoiding the need for character summations. The character design and aesthetics were visually pleasing except in episode 9 where the drop in animation quality made me gasp in shock. But, that is forgivable. Aside from that, the beautiful scenery and calm background music conveyed well the slow and steady slice-of-life feel to the story. Even though the mood is mellow on the surface, we are made aware that disaster is brewing underneath and the audience can’t quite relax. I liked the ending song, but I felt the opening was too upbeat whereas a slower and more emotional song would suit the melodramatic feel of Orange. So, should you watch it? I think yes. The overarching theme of Orange is about not wanting to carry regrets which I believe everyone can relate to. Most people tend to regret the things they didn’t do and this story encourages us all to become braver individuals who take risks. In that sense, Orange is inspiring. While I was dissatisfied with the romance mainly due to Naho’s initial characterisation, I accept that it was necessary to push the plot forward and allow the story to be told over 13 episodes. In every other way, this tale left my heart feeling full and fragile. The narrative about depression is accurate and it was refreshing to see a very prevalent mental health issue laced in with this anime. Orange is a good blend of romance, friendship, and slice-of-life with a sci-fi twist. If you find those genres appealing, then I believe it will be more than worth your time. [This review is based on a streaming copy of the series viewed on a premium account paid for by Japanator]
Orange Review photo
Would you change your past?
I was very excited for Orange, an anime adaptation of the manga, since it did incredibly well as a live-action film and there was generally a positive buzz surrounding this series. Did it meet my expectations? I enjoyed it an...

Review: God Eater 2: Rage Burst

Sep 14 // Red Veron
GOD EATER 2: Rage Burst (PlayStation 4 [Reviewed], PlayStation Vita, PC)Developer: ShiftPublisher: Banday Namco EntertainmentReleased: August 30, 2016 (NA/EU), February 19, 2015MSRP: $59.99 (PS4), $49.99 (PC), $39.99 (Vita) God Eater 2: Rage Burst is the expanded version of the sequel to God Eater, much like how the original God Eater on PSP made it outside Japan. This is a new expanded version of the God Eater 2, a sequel that the west never got that will please those who've waited years since the first God Eater in 2010, especially for those who enjoyed all the new stuff in the recent remake, God Eater Resurrection. The God Eater games are the only games that can even come close to Monster Hunter, while it is of that Hunting genre, it is much more accessible than the Monster Hunter. It's much more fast-paced all  around and lacks the animation nuances that are in most of the Monster Hunter games. The God Eater games do a good job in teaching the basics and ease players into the flow of a Hunting game, without having to spend hours learning everything as it integrates it all of into the game with a story to spice up the gameplay. A lot of the new features we saw in the enhanced remake God Eater Resurrection were from God Eater 2: Rage Burst, but that was just a small taste of all the new features that improved the formula. One thing that returning gamers might notice is there is a bit of reused content from the previous game, God Eater Resurrection. While reusing levels and assets are quite common in games in the Hunting genre, there are a bit of changes to the content that give them a different feel, though it may only be noticed by those paying close attention. This is also due to the fact that Resurrection came out after Rage Burst, so being made around the same time can result in recycling but the two games are different enough from each other in terms of mechanics and in the new content. One of the new additions to the God Eater formula are the Blood Arts, which add some oomph to each type of attack and varies by weapon, such as powering up your attacks and you can choose whichever suits the situation and/or your style. Another welcome addition is being able to add skills to weapons and shield that give bonus stats to the player which is available pretty early in the game. These are only a few of the new additions that add so much more ways to plays and more customization for weapons over the previous game. While there are a lot of ways to customize, you only have to fiddle with your gear for only a little bit and it is mostly optional. As I've mentioned in my review for God Eater Resurrection, those wanting to dive into the franchise and play the best version should just play God Eater 2: Rage Burst. This sequel is also much more friendlier to those new to the genre and is solo friendly for those not wanting to touch the online multiplayer mode. One way that it makes it easier to get into and/or play solo is to take advantage of all the new customization features to make your character stronger so you can hold your own enough to learn the basics. Though there are all these options that make the introduction to this game and genre much easier, they aren't communicated to the player in the clearest fashion. It requires a bit of digging into all the menus to actually get those 'help' explanations. It can get confusing for those unfamiliar, but with some patience, one can learn enough of the mechanics to blaze through the game. Returning players might breeze through much of the story mode and veterans might find it a bit easy, but there are a set of harder missions that are available to play early in the game for those looking for a challenge and want to try out all the new game elements. The game does ramp up later and gives a proper challenge with new enemies and harder scenarios. [embed]35233:5839:0[/embed] Rage Burst places the player as the newest recruit in the Blood Special Forces unit, a special group of God Eaters who are an elite unit that are the only ones who can fight the new species of Aragami. We get introduced to a new cast of characters and we also get to see characters and places from the previous game. You can also get to know these new characters in 'Character Episodes', which are side stories that let you get to know more of these new characters and along with some extra missions. There's a story told through many cutscenes, while the story isn't dense, it sure takes its sweet time to unfold and can be a plus for those wanting something to break up the monotony of the hunting game grind. The rate of which of the story unfolds can be a drawback for those who don't want to invest dozens of hours into the game. The parts of the story feel like episodes in an anime series, that are broken up into pieces but kind of build on each other. But the game is playable in short sessions where most missions can knocked out in under 5 to 10 minutes, so those with an hour to spare can get a good chunk of some hack-and-slash action. Those purchasing Rage Burst on Steam and PS4 near launch will also get God Eater Resurrection (along with some costumes from Sword Art Online, Tokyo Ghoul, and Tales of Zestiria), making it a good value, though playing Resurrection is not needed to enjoy Rage Burst but it helps in world building. These costumes only provide cosmetic changes, and hopefully we get more in the future (PLEASE BRING OVER THE GINTAMA COSTUMES). God Eater 2: Rage Burst is the best way to get into the hunting genre right now for many reasons; it's easy enough to pick up, it has a lot to offer, and it has online multiplayer for those wanting to play with people. This game is good for those wanting to dip their toe into hunting games for the first time. Those returning to God Eater will find enjoyment in the new variety of features in this new installment, but some veterans may feel that it's not enough new stuff especially after recently playing the enhanced remake of the first game. But there's still enough to get out of this new game, Rage Burst shines more with what's under the surface, those willing to dig in deeper will find a lot of good things and a good time.
God Eater 2: Rage Burst photo
New Look, Same Great Taste
Monster Hunter is one of the behemoths of gaming in Japan, it still sells like crazy every time and has made its own genre (Yes, I know about Phantasy Star Online). Many have tried to hunt down the same success but only one f...

Review: Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS Force

Sep 03 // Red Veron
Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme VS Force (PlayStation Vita)Developer: Bandai Namco EntertainmentPublisher: Banday Namco EntertainmentReleased: July 12, 2016MSRP: $39.99 Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS Force is the first time that the long running Gundam VS game series from Japan has ever hit the overseas markets. First thing to make clear, Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS Force is not a one of the many third person shooter games that litter the gaming landscape these days nor just a simple action game at first glance. Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS Force is more that of a competitive fighting game, and can get technical with each Gundam unit acting as its own unique playable character with its own moves and style of play. Another thing that makes this game different is that the controls are more arcade action game which is no surprise since this game first started out as an arcade game then came to home consoles. This may turn off those wanting to pick up a Gundam game expecting to be a bad ass and start blowing stuff up like in the many previous games in the franchise. The game is split between two types of play: "Versus" type, where you and a partner fight two other opponents at a time in small arenas; and "Force" type, a MOBA-like mode that focuses on different objectives to win the mission. Versus type is a head-to-head duel with an AI partner against one or two opponents, sometimes even more. This mode focuses on solely trying to defeat the enemy force until their bar depletes to zero and they cannot respawn anymore. Force type is a tactical mode wherein two sides fight to take over different points on a battlefield. Captured turret points spawn minions that provide a little bit of resistance to the enemy side but can help contribute to winning missions. Win conditions can vary from destroying all enemies to capturing all the points in the map to escorting allies to points. This mode gets even more tactical with capturing points yields force points that allow power ups that can increase your side's attack power or defense to even using your ally spaceship's large gun to attack the enemy ship. The main campaign mode new to the series in this game, Extreme Force mode, will let you go through a series of Force mode scenario missions with some Versus mode duels sprinkled in the game. The missions in the game can be replayed with mini-goals that increase replay value, these vary from finishing it under a certain time, taking no damage, not losing any units, etc.  This single player mode has a very lean story used as framing device as a way to allow you to replay various story segments primarily from the main Gundam universe, with a few from the alternate Gundam universes, and some original "remix" missions unique to the game. Each mobile suit has a unique style and weapons with most mobile suits handling differently from each other such as certain mobile suits focusing on melee combat while others excel in projectile and ranged combat. The controls do take getting used to and learning each one does take a little bit of time but sometimes new missions will drop you into the cockpit of a new suit that completely controls differently than the last and will not let you switch to any familiar suits until you beat that mission. Though this seems counterproductive to player progression, it does let the player try out the different suits and helps out in finding one that suits your style (no pun intended). The degree of learning and involvement that required to progress with the game may slow down some players, but the option to somewhat brute force your way into the game by trying different tactics or even spending extra points on some a temporary boost can help quite a bit, which I did while trying to learn the different Mobile Suits. One gameplay mechanic that is integral in surviving in the game is dodging enemy fire by using your mobile suit's boosters to dash quickly, which takes some practice to get down and can be a challenge, sometimes it seems like you need to be psychic (or a newtype) to be able to dodge the barrage of enemy fire. The lack of right stick aiming might turn off players but the auto-targeting makes all about timing your shots carefully. I'm not a fighting game fan and I somewhat steer clear of fighting games because of the sheer technicality and depth found in the genre that impresses and intimidates me at the same time because I don't think I will be ever good enough. However, this game has me hooked and has me coming back for more. The aforementioned control system is very much designed for fighting in an open field with one or two enemies, this is perfect for versus mode where this system was designed in mind whereas it might trip you up in Force mode when enemies aren't focusing on just fighting you. The lock-on also becomes a bit of problem when disengaging a lock-on with an enemy that flies past you while you still want to move forward. The whole control system reminds me of those old Gundam games on PlayStation 2, but much more refined and surprisingly works well for establishing a uniform control system for all the mobile suits despite the uniqueness of the suits. Gundam fans will enjoy this game with the lineup of mobile suits from the original series all the way to the latest entry, Iron Bloded Orphans. Gundam fans will enjoy it more than non-fans, knowing the characters and settings adds to the experience but is not really necessary for those wanting some robot action. Visually, the game looks good on the PlayStation Vita's screen while in motion (as well as PlayStation TV), the screenshots in this review do not give it justice. I don't recall any slowdown while playing this game and does keep up well with the intense twitchy action. One thing that the game does lack is an online enabled multiplayer mode with only an ad-hoc mode available for multiplayer. Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS Force is not for everyone, but do not let this scare off anyone interested in wanting a game that rewards those willing to learn all the ins and outs without much hand-holding. Nowadays, more and more games are leaning towards that direction and this game came at the right time for those looking for a bit of depth in their giant robot action game.  [embed]35190:5810:0[/embed]
Gundam EXVS Force photo
This is not an anime
The Mobile Suit Gundam franchise is a franchise known worldwide and is often dubbed as Japan's equivalent to Star Wars, this long enduring saga since its debut in 1979 has spawned a multimedia empire with thousands of TV...

Review: Japanese Tattoos: History * Culture * Design

Aug 30 // Josh Tolentino
Japanese Tattoos: History * Culture * Design Published by: Tuttle Publishing Written by: Brian Ashcraft and Hori Benny Release date: July 12, 2016 MSRP: $9.99 (Kindle [Reviewed]), $17.95 (Print) ISBN: 978-4805313510 The value of Japanese Tattoos is immediately apparent given the relative absence of substantial English-language work about the art and design of Japanese tattooing, or "irezumi" (刺青). Generally speaking, irezumi literature in English tends towards overly dry, scholarly analyses, or superficial, aesthetically-occupied picture books and feeds. Ashcraft and Benny position their book between the two extremes, delivering a breezy, easy-to-read explainer that isn't afraid to dive below the surface and uncover hidden nuggets of cultural knowledge and history amid the striking design work being etched right into the human body.Honed by years of writing as an editor for the game website Kotaku, and by previous books like Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential and Arcade Mania!, Ashcraft mixes his light, accessible style with deeply researched cultural references and engaging profiles of famous Japanese tattooists and their clients. Japanese Tattoos isn't to be taken as a piece of academic writing, but instead as an FAQ of sorts, answering key questions and providing interesting insights and background, to help those who aren't yet sure about their interest in irezumi become interested. And in this respect, Ashcraft and Benny have succeeded in spades. Part of this is thanks to the way the book is laid out. As befitting its role as a cultural primer, Japanese Tattoos starts with a general overview of irezumi, its history, and importantly, what distinguishes it from the tattooing practiced elsewhere. Historical notes link irezumi with older practices of tattooing as a form of punishment for criminals, or as protective symbols "worn" by laborers and tradesmen. The section also traces the longstanding Japanese stigma against tattoos to the 19th and 20th centuries, as the country raced to modernize after centuries in isolation. Ironically for a stigma born of attempts to "align with western morals", it turned out to be those same westerners  - particularly the occupying U.S. military following World War II - that played a part in keeping tattooing alive despite the attempts to ban it. [From Japanese Tattoos by Brian Ashcraft and Hori Benny] That leads into another important aspect of Japanese Tattoos: It's aware enough that culture isn't a monolithic, static thing, and that even "traditional" irezumi has changed over time. In rejecting the notion that irezumi is tied solely to any one thing (such as tebori, the classical method of inserting the ink into the skin with bamboo needles), the book reaffirms irezumi's uniqueness as an expression of Japanese culture, encompassing more than a specific technique but "an entire history and catalogue of iconography". Interviews with people like Horiyoshi III, Japan's most famous tattooist, reveal this progressive insight. Despite his mastery of tebori and his inspiration in classical woodblock prints, Horiyoshi III regards his work as less "traditional" than "traditionalist" thanks to his use of safer, modern ink, of mechanical tattooing machines, and the new, friendlier (and legal) conditions under which he works. It's an acknowledgement that even the most classical, "timeless" aspects of culture are subject to change and interpretation over time. That sentiment might seem in opposition to the permanence of the tattoo, but it's worth pointing out that tattoos change as their wearers do, by the virtue of being embedded on their ever-changing physiques. It's an embrace of mutability and the transitive nature of life that speaks to Japan's Buddhist influences. A tattoo may last one's whole life, but even that life ends. These reflections are woven into the other sections of the book, which cover popular and common motifs and elements in irezumi, with frequent asides and sidebars to deliver factoids that readers will want to recite back to their friends. The asides can sometimes feel a bit distracting from the chronological coherence of the book, but they're too good not to include, and so their somewhat scattershot arrangement is easily forgiven. [From Japanese Tattoos by Brian Ashcraft and Hori Benny] From classic kanji script tattoos to the natural images, mythic beasts and figures, and even avante-garde and anime- or manga-themed designs, Ashcraft and Benny look in on the iconography, symbolism, and meaning behind the many classical elements of irezumi in Japan. Other chapters, particularly one covering various examples of the full "bodysuit" design, also focus on the form irezumi can take. Bodysuits and sleeves are the most visible archetypes of Japanese tattooing, and their placement in the book highlights that association. Never again will readers see the awesome back pieces on display in the Yakuza games in the same way. The book is also chock-full of great pictures of tattoos. Even in my relatively low-resolution review copy, the quality of the art shone through, and keeps the flow feeling as brisk as the prose. It's one thing to read about the peony's place in floral language as used in irezumi, but another to see it incorporated on people's bodies as a form of art and expression. Japanese Tattoos is a must-read for anyone interested in tattoos and Japanese culture, but its greatest strength is in how easily it can engage readers like yours truly, who have no plans to get a tattoo at all. Being able to engage with all that material despite its near-total irrelevance to my personal experience is the sign of a good book, and this one will serve as an effective crash course in irezumi for many a reader to come.   [This review is based on a copy of the book provided by the publisher.]  
Japanese Tattoos Review photo
Tattoo, not Taboo
What comes to mind when one thinks of "tattoos"? Some might imagine the anchor on Popeye's forearm, the pointy tribal band encircling a local gym fiend's bicep, or the crude inkings associated with prison art.Thinking of "Jap...

Review: The King of Fighters XIV

Aug 22 // Christian Chiok
[embed]35211:5799:0[/embed] The King of Fighters XIV (PlayStation 4)Developer: SNKPublisher: Atlus USAReleased: August 23, 2016 (US), August 26, 2016 (EU), August 25, 2016 (JP)MSRP: $59.99 Regardless, I decided to be open-minded and not completely trash the game, so I was still looking forward to it, but with less excitement compared to XII, however. I definitely made the right decision of still giving the game the chance since as the months went by, and as information came in, the game was shaping up to be good, and definitely a lot more robust than one of its competitors when it came to content.   King of Fighters XIV marks the beginning of a new canonical saga for the series. Compared to previous entries, I don’t think the story is that exciting this time around since the story is more streamlined compared to other King of Fighters.  The story revolves around a billionaire known as Antonov, who claimed to be the “first champion” of the KOF tournament and bought out all of the rights for the KOF Tournament. His announcement of a new KOF Tournament created unprecedented enthusiasm around the world. From there, this excitement reached many of the veteran participants of the legendary tournament directly in the form of an official invitation. After finishing up Story Mode, which should be fairly quick, there are other modes you can try out like Versus Mode, Training, Online, Mission and Tutorial. Naturally, Versus Mode is just like previous King of Fighters where it gives you the option to do both Single and Team VS matches. After selecting your character, you got a handful of handicaps you can choose from, such as 50% health, 75% health, an extra bar of power gauge and lastly your power gauge completely filled. After that, you choose your stage and the rest is history. Practice Mode offers a variety of options that will help you on your training such as changing the position of you and your opponent, change whether they are standing, crouching, jumping, as well as have the AI completely take over. You can also set up so the training dummy guards, counters and recovers.  All of this is definitely good if you want to have great training sessions. Additionally, there’s also Tutorial Mode which shows you the ropes. It helps if you’re new to the series or fighting games in general. Mission Mode consists of Trial, Time Attack, and Survival. In Trial, you will attempt a set of challenges for each character. They usually consist of pulling off combos.  Time Attack and Survival both are self-explanatory. I personally liked playing through Trial since it helped me out practice some combos for some of the characters that I used. Now to address the elephant in the room—Online mode. The previous game, King of Fighters XIII, was known for its awful netcode on consoles. While the Steam version heavily improved this, it still wasn’t perfect.  It’s really noticeable that they actually worked hard to improve the netcode in this game. I played around 10 matches or so without any lag—I had a smooth experience all around. Additionally, the game offers some features that make the online better as well. Ranked Match takes you straight into a 3-Man Team Battle, which affects your rank depending whether you win or lose. For advanced players, it gives you the option to play 10 battles and depending in your wins, it sets you into a Rank much faster.  Free Match is most robust as it gives you more modes to play such as Team VS, Single VS and Party VS. The first two work just as if you were playing offline with another player in the same room. What I really love is the addition of Party VS, which lets six players instead in a 3-on-3 fight. If you got a group of friends, it’s definitely a lot of fun. Room settings are the same as any fighting game in general, such as making the room public or private, the number of players, the round time, and the number of rounds. Inside a room, you’re allowed to play multiple set ups, such as Tourney, Elimination and Series. Tourney removes the losing player after the fight, Elimination removes the winning player after the fight while Series allows you to face the same opponent continuously. There’s also Online Training, which allows you to train with a friend online. This is definitely helpful for those who lack a training partner outside of the Internet. Naturally, there’s also Online Replay, which you can view all the replays submitted by players, whether it’s Team VS or Single VS matches. Spectators can join to watch the match up with an integrated voice and text chat. Additionally, a "Crowd SE" option is available for spectators, which allows them to root, applaud, and boo the match current players.There's also a Live feature, but that's just a shortcut to game's Live from PlayStation menu. While the game resembles the Maximum Impact series graphically, it still remains on a strictly two-dimensional plane and keeps the same basic mechanics as its predecessors. New features have been added such as a new Max mode system, allowing players to access the EX moves, which can be activated by using one bar of the power gauge. Additionally, using three bars of the power gauge can allow players to unleash Climax supers. With the game catering to newcomers as well, the added a feature called Rush Mode, which is similar to games like Dengeki Bunko and Persona 4 Arena. Just like those games, it can be activated by repeatedly hitting the light punch button, however, will do lower damage compared to normal combo attacks. While I’m certainly not a fan of these types of things, it doesn’t really hurt the game either. Overall, I am definitely pleased with King of Fighters XIV. While the story was kind of bland compared to the previous games, and the graphics are a bit disappointing, it still offers a great experience that both King of Fighters fans and fighting game fans can appreciate. There’s just so much content from the get-go, like a game should, that can keep you occupied for a while. It definitely makes up for the game's flaws. You can bet I'll be playing this for months. 
The King of Fighters XIV photo
Burn To Fight
Since I’ve been writing for Japanator for almost a year now, some of you may already know I’m a big King of Fighters fan and it’s one of the first series I ever played as a child. Even since then I haven&rsq...

Review: Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV

Aug 21 // Josh Tolentino
[embed]35209:5798:0[/embed] Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XVStudio: Square Enix Visual WorksDirector: Takeshi NozueLicensed by: Sony PicturesPremiere: August 19, 2016 (US, Asia) , July 9, 2016 (Japan) Have you ever seen a "game movie"? The term refers to a subgenre of game Youtube videos wherein players capture recordings of various video games' cutscenes or story sequences, to be viewed by audiences removed from the context of actually playing the game. Some more ambitious versions try to edit the clips together in a coherent fashion, potentially removing the need for players who can't finish or don't own the game in question to actually play it at all, leaving only the narrative to bring things home. Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV feels like an extremely expensive, fabulously ambitious iteration of that particular trend. It's not quite the same, of course. Players who pick up Final Fantasy XV in November won't see much of Kingsglaive's actual events onscreen, as the film is a two-hour-long setup and prequel to the events of the game.  The Kingdom of Lucis is in danger. Ruled by the wise King Regis (played by Game of Thrones' Sean Bean), Lucis is the last place unconquered by the Empire of Niflheim. Its defenders are the titular Kingsglaive, a squad of soldiers that wield magic channeled to them by Regis, from a magic crystal that is the source of Lucis' power and the only thing standing between Niflheim's technological prowess and world domination.  Unfortunately, the war is coming to a close, with Regis aging and the crystal's power flagging in the face of "The Nif's" magitek weapons and demonic thralls. It's in this spirit that Regis accepts a peace deal, to marry off his son (and the game's protatgonist) Noctis to Lunafreya (played by Game of Thrones' Lena Heady), princess of the Niflheim-ruled province of Tenebrae. When all is not at it seems on the eve of the treaty signing, it's up to Kingsglaive's star fighter Nyx Ulrich (played by Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul) to save the day and have a hand in kicking off whatever's set to happen in the game proper. While the plot is barely coherent and its relevance to Final Fantasy XV is largely confined to explaining why Noctis and his buddies are on the other side of the world in the first place, Kingsglaive's most solid achievement is visual. Produced by Square Enix's legendary Visual Works studio, the film succeeds at visualizing the setting of the game, creating the kind of mental space in future players' minds that can reconcile the stylistic absurdities of typical Final Fantasy and the more grounded, modern aesthetic of the real world. The world of Kingsglaive (and by extension, the game) is the kind of place where it makes sense for contemporary office buildings, cellphones, TVs, and product placement stands comfortably alongside the overdesigned costumes, massive creatures, and elaborate magical spells and effects. To its credit, it's the most convincing iteration yet of the series' penchant for techno-fantasy flourish. Beyond that, though, Kingsglaive is hardly essential. Despite initial misgivings, the core cast do credible work in their roles, elevating the otherwise cheesy and overly self-serious script. Supporting characters, however, come across as a bit too cartoonish, the delivery never quite overcoming the tension between the realistic facial designs and otherwise very "anime" words coming out of the characters' mouths. The action itself, though, is well-rendered, if a bit difficult to follow. The Kingsglaive members all use some variation of the game's combat, wielding teleporting knives and plenty of flashy effects to burn, shock, and blast the HP off of an assortment of classic Final Fantasy beasts. Unfortunately, some ill-conceived zooms and use of "shaky-cam" effects during some fight scenes make what should be the most pivotal moments of the film an exercise in trying to puzzle out just what's happening. Final Fantasy fans can also expect some clever fan service, sighting cool callbacks to timeless franchise easter eggs, some subtle, and some overt. In the end, whether Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV will be worthwhile largely depends on one's anticipation for Final Fantasy XV. By its very nature it's skippable, but fans who plan on immersing themselves in the game come November will likely find something to appreciate.
Kingsglaive: FFXV Review photo
A Clash Royale
Let's be honest here: Few people were expecting very much from Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. Not only is it a multimedia tie-in to a game, a JRPG no less, but the long shadow of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within continu...

Review: A.W. Phoenix Festa

Aug 10 // Christian Chiok
[embed]35189:5778:0[/embed] A.W Phoenix Festa (PlayStation Vita)Developer: APLUSPublisher: Bandai Namco EntertainmentReleased: July 26, 2016 (US), July 26, 2016 (EU), January 28, 2016 (JP)MSRP: $39.99 When launching the game, you can either choose to play as Ayato Amagiri or an original character, which you can name whatever you wish. While the game doesn’t specifically state it, it is implied that playing as Ayato is easy mode since your stats are already high enough and ready for the Phoenix Festa as opposed to the original character who starts with lower stats, thus making the game more challenging, but you are given more time to prepare before the Phoenix Festa. What I didn’t like about Ayato’s storyline is that you need to find a partner for the Phoenix Festa before the deadline, which is 2 weeks after the game starts. While that may sound like a lot, time really flies fast in the game. While it’s doable to choose the partner that you want, those two weeks could push you to make a rash decision since if you don’t find a partner in due time, the game will end prematurely. While I personally do like Saya, at the same time, it as a rushed choice since I only had one day to find a partner. With the original character however, you are given two months before the Phoenix Festa thus giving you plenty of time to build up your character as well as his relationship with the rest of the cast. I felt a lot more comfortable doing his path since it gave me time to think work on who I wanted as a partner as well as build up my stats the way I desired. Though it was somewhat harder compared to Ayato’s playthrough, I definitely recommend playing his story first since it’s a lot more flexible and gives you more room for enjoyment. Like a lot of Dating Sims, the game is time dependent. You are giving a calendar in which you can set up appointments, train, go shopping, upgrade your equipment and even take on a job. There are two time slots for each day —AM and PM, and which gets fill up depending on what activity you choose to do. Setting up appointments allows you to either duel or take the person on a date.  Though I would recommend on challenging them on a duel first since it not only boosts up your stats but it also raises your affinity with that character as well. However, the battles aren’t really enjoyable, which I’ll get into later on. Training allows you to boost up a stat individually such as Life, Attack, Defense, Insight, etc. However, in return, training takes a toll on your health and body condition, which reflects on your battles, so it’s imperative not to overdo it, or heal up before proceeding to battle. Job requests are like side quests in which nets you extra money that can be used to buy weapon upgrades in the laboratory, or buy medicine or even presents to raise your affinity with the girl characters in the Shop. All in all, if you enjoyed the anime’s story, then you’ll most likely enjoy the dialogue in this one as well. However there were times where the game got too repetitive with the dialogue and kind of boring. There were times where I took Saya to a date multiple times, but unfortunately they were the same scenario most of the time, though that’s because though affinity cap isn’t really that high either. Most anime games don’t offer too much depth in their combat system, and that should be expected, however, the combat system is this game is so bland that it makes the game not so fun to play. You only have two attacks, mapped to the square and tringle button as well as a special attack which is used by pressing L1 and Triangle. While the special attack is spammable as long as you go stamina, it’s blockable, though it can make battles pretty annoying. At least since each character wields different weapons, it somewhat offers different play styles for each character. Whether we’re gaming or working on a project, we know how imperative it is to save your progress. While I appreciate that the game auto-saves your progress, I feel that as a Visual Novel, it does it excessively.  There was times where I lost matches or made the wrong choices, so I wanted to revert to a previous point but realized it was too late. Naturally there’s always the option to quit the game before the game saves your progress but that still feels like too much of a hassle, even when the game doesn’t take much to load. Considering I somewhat enjoyed the series, I really wanted this game to be enjoyable as well since it looked enjoyable from first impressions. I wasn’t expecting for too much, but something I can turn to for some quick fun on the go and don’t have to invest too much time in. Even if for some reason you really enjoyed the series, it’s hard to recommend this game, even when it hits a sale. I wanted to enjoy this game but every aspect of it it’s really weak.  [This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
A.W. Phoenix Festa photo
Bland Stories & Battles
In this gaming generation, especially with both the PS Vita and the 3DS, it’s pretty common for Bandai Namco to make a quick cashgrab of anime series currently airing in Japan. It happened to Kuroko’s Basketball, ...

Review: Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII

Aug 07 // Christian Chiok
[embed]35186:5776:0[/embed] Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII (PlayStation 4 [reviewed], PC)Developer: Koei TecmoPublisher: Koei TecmoReleased: July 5, 2016 (US), July 8, 2016 (EU), January 28, 2016 (JP)MSRP: $59.99 Right off the bat I could tell how deep the game is, and I was going to have a hard time learning the many features the game offered, as it easily one of the deepest game in the PS4 library. As a matter of fact, the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining many of the features to new players, so trying to play through the first few hours were really overwhelming. When booting the game, you get a message that it’s recommended to play through Hero Mode, otherwise known as the game’s Tutorial Mode, to get a good grasps of the game. Immediately as the game showed the introduction, it captivated me and couldn’t wait to progress through the game. At first, the game holds your hand a little bit, pointing out what you need to do and such, as well as explaining the game features. After that though, I couldn’t help to feel a little lost on the mechanics. I spent a few hours fooling around with the game so I can get a good grasp of it. With help, I was able to manage and get a decent understanding of the game, so I proceeded to the main mode, in which traditionally offers a different scenarios to play. The main goal of the game is to stabilize your territory, gain more officers, conquer more territory, and ultimately unify the land, under the flag of Han, Wei, Wu, Shu, Zhong, Jin, or another force. To accomplish this, players will be using the several options and sub-options to increase your territory domestically, which you can do so by appointing yourself or one of your men to the tasks such as Commerce, Farming and Culture. Commerce gives gold, which you can use to pay your officers. Farming feeds your men. Culture attracts people. You can also improve your territory militarily, which is done by hiring new officers. The battle system in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is similar to the previous games, where you encounters an enemy force and takes control of the battle. Otherwise, the AI will decide the outcome. When taking control of the battle, you will leave the world map and enter a more detailed battle map. How it looks depends on where you encounter your opponent, so it can be on the ourskirts, near a city, in a forest. Romance of the Three Kingdoms shares the same epic cinematics found in the Dynasty Warriors series, though not as dynamic and animated. Instead, the cutscenes are still images with little animation. However, it still has that epic feel thanks to the voice acting and the effects added to them. Though I would have proffered if the game had fully animated cutscenes. The soundtrack is also as amazing as in the Dynasty Warriors games as well. As hard as it was to get into at first, I did enjoy my time with the game, such as plotting my dominion over China as well as growing my civilization through the basics of successful commerce, culture, farming and military training. However, after investing my time into it, I don’t think it’s my type of game either. I personally think that Romance of the Three Kingdoms is far from a bad game for what it offers, and I can really appreciate a game that offers a lot of depth. However, as a newcomer to the series, it was really difficult and frustrating for me to get into it at first. According to friends familiar with the series, this was probably a bad entry to start with, and I should play ROTTK10 instead to get into the series, and if you want to get in to the series, I would advise to do so as well. Otherwise, it’s probably a good game for veterans of the series.  [This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
ROTTK photo
Expand Your Empire
Being interested in Japanese culture, learning about the Sengoku era came with the territory. While learning about the history about the era as well as its historical figures, I stumbled upon Samurai Warriors back in late 200...

Review: God Eater Resurrection

Jul 28 // Red Veron
God Eater Resurrection (Playstation 4 [Tested], PlayStation Vita [Reviewed], PlayStation TV [Reviewed], PC)Developer: ShiftPublisher: Bandai Namco EntertainmentRelease Date: October 15, 2015 (JP), June 28, 2016 (NA), August 30, 2016 (EU, PC)MSRP: $19.99 The God Eater games have always been visually unique, unlike the many medieval fantasy-like set Hunting games, God Eater differentiates itself with a post-apocalyptic, dystopian science fiction setting coupled with fashionable anime character designs that look straight off the streets of Tokyo. First released for the PlayStation Portable in 2010 in the USA under the renamed title Gods Eater Burst (to not offend those who believe in only one god), the game never had a chance to show its stuff due to the PlayStation Portable being deemed commercially dead in the US at the time. Now in 2016, God Eater gets another chance in the west with God Eater Resurrection. Don't think that this is just a simple remaster, this enhanced remake serves up a second helping that brings more than a visual upgrade and retroactively receives new content from the sequel and the recent anime adaptation. The new added content comes in the form of weapons, moves, voice acting, story elements, and new enemies as well as changes to the old enemies. God Eater is set decades in the future where creatures called Aragami have climbed to the top of the food chain and what's left of humanity fights to survive everyday. The eponymous "God Eaters" are the wielders of  special weapons are called "God Arcs", giant blade weapons that are the only ones that can slay the Aragami, and can grow a giant pair of sharp jaws that can take a bite out of the Aragami to extract temporary buffs and materials from the enemy. The "-gami" in Aragami means god (which in this case they are powerful beings), hence the title "God Eater". God Eater Resurrection is a hunting game in the vein of Monster Hunter, but with with its own take on the formula and is much more accessible than most of the older Monster Hunter games that came out before it in 2010. The combat of God Eater leans toward more of an hack-and-slash action game than the more methodical timing in the combat of Monster Hunter. God Eater's God Arc alternates between a melee and ranged weapon, both of which have different types each that allow for different combination of play styles.  The first few missions are short and ease you in to the hunting mechanics while you shoot and wail away at the enemies, it does a quick job in getting you going compared to most other Hunting games. God Eater is still true to the genre and has you going on missions to gather materials (though not to same degree as Monster Hunter) from enemies and the environment to improve your gear and learning the different ways to effectively fight the enemies. Among the unique ways to fight enemies effectively is a bullet customization system (revised in this new version) for the bullets fired from the God Arc which allows for unique ways to fight with the different combinations of elemental and projectile types. This new version also adds in new weaponry from the sequel, God Eater 2: Rage Burst, that gives players a new way to play such as the Valiant Scythe and the Boost Hammer. New additions include "Predator" moves that allow you to bite enemies in different ways to activate ability boosts. Do not let the accessibility of the game fool you, there is a lot of depth with the combat and even more with this new version. Utilizing everything at your disposal, from equipment to tactics, to give you an advantage in defeating your enemies is still paramount in getting far into this game, especially for near endgame content and beyond. God Eater Resurrection still plays very much like the original but with the added benefit of the right stick for improved camera controls and adds a host of control options. It also takes advantage of the new platform with options to use the touch controls on the Vita, which makes me favor the handheld version over the prettier console version. The corners of the Vita's touchscreen, as well as the R3 and L3 buttons on the controller enabled versions of the game, can be assigned to function as extra buttons that either let you quickly access items, team commands, or the map menu. Playing the Vita version on the PlayStation TV microconsole provides a very close core experience to the PlayStation 4 version just without the extra graphical muscle and PlayStation 4 console functionality. The Vita version does have that lack of anti-aliasing but is easily overlooked since still looks good with its nice anime art style and keeps up even in the graphically intense fights in the game. God Eater Resurrection allows cross-save and cross-play between the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita it will be easier to find people to play with, which is important and is a fun time for a hunting game. God Eater Resurrection is rather affordable at $19.99 and not bad for those wanting to check out a solid hunting game experience for not a lot of money, but do check out those special offers where you can get God Eater Resurrection for free when you preorder God Eater 2: Rage Burst on the PlayStation. These offers vary by territory and is a nice way to check out the original as well as get yourself a newer hunting game. All the new added content, better controls and visuals serve to improve the experience quite a lot from the original release. However, the game still feels too similar to the original game, it feels like an older game in the genre, along with the limitations of the original platform. Shift, the developer of this God Eater Resurrection whose prior work the year before, the impressive Freedom Wars, improves on the hunting genre in many ways but not much of those improvements made it back into God Eater Resurrection. Those wanting more of a modern experience may just want to check out the second game, which releases a little after the North American release of God Eater Resurrection. If you are a God Eater veteran and have time for a refresher before the sequel God Eater 2: Rage Burst hits, it is definitely worth it to check it out. If don't have the time to commit, you can skip this one and probably check out some summaries of the new story content out there on the internet to get you ready for the sequel and there's even that anime adaptation to supplement the experience. God Eater Resurrection is a good introduction to the franchise and the genre, overall a good game with the new bells and whistles but is showing its age in a world where newer hunting games exist. [embed]35158:5751:0[/embed]
God Eater Resurrection photo
Back for Seconds
The Monster Hunter franchise's meteoric rise in Japan in the past decade has given birth to a new genre that is still going strong in Japan with numerous contenders that spring up every so often. While many Japanese game...

Review: 7th Dragon III Code: VFD

Jul 19 // Christian Chiok
[embed]35164:5744:0[/embed] 7th Dragon III Code: VFD (Nintendo 3DS)Developer: SegaPublisher: SegaReleased: October 15th, 2015 (JP), July 12th, 2016 (NA & EU)MSRP: $39.99 The game starts off with the player going to 7th Encount, Tokyo's hottest new multiplayer VR game. From there, you will complete a virtual dragon slaying dungeon that is a recruiting tool in disguise by its dragon-hunting developers, Nodens, to help prepare for the coming of an all-powerful, world-destroying dragon, code-named 'VFD'. From there, you will prompt to create your team of three characters who will be traveling through different eras to gather as much information as you can. I found the time-travel mechanic quite interesting as you will be brought to fascinating places, such as a technologically advanced sea-kingdom of Atlantis in the past, and a medieval Eden in the future. You’ll find that the game has quite an interesting cast of characters that are quite memorable. Luckily, while you will encounter references to the lore of past games, it won’t hinder your understanding of this game. The character creation isn’t as robust as I would like but it still offers enough options to leave you pleased with your choices. You will be given eight appearances in which you can change their style by pressing the X button. They also come in different colors. Unfortunately, those are the only options you have as far as your character appearance. What I really enjoyed was the variety of voice actors and actresses that the game offered, including Aki Toyosaki, Yoko Hikasa, and Yui Horie. There will be eight classes to close from including Samurai, God Hand, and Rune Knight. Once you finish setting up your team, you’ll jump straight into the story. Noden’s Headquarters will be your main hub where the company’s time-traveling Portal is located. When using the Portal, you’ll be presented with a menu with your current available locations that you can travel in the world map. It will detail how many dragons you got yet to defeat in that location. Once you selected the area you want to travel, you’ll be teleported and that’s when your mission will start. Unlike your average RPG where you have to approach the enemy to fight it, this game has a colored gauge at the top of the screen will let you know how close an enemy is to attacking. Once it hits red, you’ll be sent to battle that monster. They are unavoidable but you can slow down the gauge by using the camouflage item. Even though the enemy approach is different, the combat is similar to your typical Turn-Based JRPG. You will be able to attack, defend, and use skills and items. The type of attacks and skills in your arsenal depend on what class you chose for your characters. The classes available are Samurai, God-hand, Agent, Duelist, Rune-knight, Fortuner, Mage, and Banisher, each which offer a different playstyle. For instance, there’s the Samurai who are adept with two different forms of swordplay: using longswords, or dual blades. Depending on their weapon of choice, they have access to a different range of skills. There’s also the Agent who keeps a low profile, staying out of the spotlight for the sake of long-distance attacks, inflicting status ailments, manipulating enemies to attack each other with skilled hacking, and setting traps to toy with their foes. With all classes having a different role in battle, this makes the experience more engaging. Always attack isn’t help you in battle, as there will be times where you would need to heal your team as well as weaken the enemy. Even with weaker enemies, it’s important to strategize instead of full on attacking to get the best results possible. Even when playing the game in Casual, the game’s easiest difficulty, it will give you a hard time so it’s still important to strategize and not spam the attack option. Each character can also develop and level up skills via a tree system though it’s recommended that you focus on skills that go according to your character’s class. Aside from battling Dragons, you’ll be able to the save any survivor wandering around the map which automatically happens just by interacting with them. While it’s almost meaningless, it’s a nice feature that makes the experience more real. The dungeon design can vary per area thus giving you a unique experience for reach era that you travel. Noden’s Headquarters isn’t your regular hub as players can customize it to their liking using Dragon Points, which you'll earn in dungeons. Once giving the feature, you’ll start with your dormitory room where your party rest, but you’ll be able to start various construction projects such as turning a basement floor into anything you like. Once of the options is the Skylounge, where it allows players to go on dates with their teammates and story characters, a common feature in various JRPGs. While it doesn’t really benefit you in combat, it’s still a nice feature that I can appreciate since I got to see interesting cutscenes with my own characters. It was definitely fun to mess with for a bit. Graphically the game looks as good as a 3DS game should, especially since characters are shown as Chibi, similar to Bravely Default. I think it’s rather lacking that it doesn’t have the 3D feature as a 3DS title but personally I barely use it. The game also runs at a steady framerate giving you a smooth experience. Additionally the game has a fantastic soundtrack to go with it as well. Overall, 7th Dragon III: Code VFD is an excellent addition to your 3DS RPG collection. It offers a unique experience no other RPG on the 3DS has offered, and has an interesting story to go with it as well. The combat system is pretty robust combat system with plenty of customization options as well as classes to choose from. It’s a lovely game and makes me wish that they brought the previous games to the States.
7th Dragon III Code: VFD photo
Dragon Slaying Adventures
By now, the 3DS has been known to be the perfect platform for gamers to get their JRPG fix. Games such as the Etrian Odyssey series, the Shin Megami Tensei series, the Bravely Default series and naturally the Pokemon games ma...

Review: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven

Jul 11 // Nick Valdez
[embed]35131:5738:0[/embed] JoJo's Bizzare Adventure: Eyes of Heaven (PS4 [reviewed] and PS3) Developer: CyberConnect2Publisher: Bandai Namco EntertainmentReleased: December 17, 2015 (JP), June 28, 2016 (NA), July 1, 2016 (EU)MSRP: $59.99 With a story overseen by series creator Hirohiko Araki, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven takes place after the events of the manga's arguably most recognizable arc, Stardust Crusaders. After Jotaro Kujo and crew defeat the evil vampire Dio, Jotaro is suddenly caught up in a new adventure. As deceased friends come back to life and start attacking thanks to the effects of a purple fog, Jotaro and the gang realize they have to collect pieces of a mystical item called the Holy Corpse across different periods of time and space. Then time shenanigans lead to an overpowered villain who can alter reality and every iteration of the eight generation strong JoJo family must band together to stop them.  Eyes of Heaven is created with fans in mind, so unfortunately, they are the only ones who can truly appreciate what the game has to offer. Other than a brief summary detailing the final events of each arc before story chapters, there is no real introduction to the game's 50+ characters (all unlocked from the jump). Assuming you already know every member of the cast, the game's central plot moves at a breakneck pace with characters constantly being introduced through its six to seven hour run time. The only problem with this being that even while you end up fighting some characters multiple times (as the game continues to pad its short plot with repetitive battles), you never learn anything new about them even when there is plenty opportunity to do so. But in that same breath, the plot itself is just a huge excuse to give into "fandemonium" and give fans situations that would not normally occur otherwise. For example, seeing 17-year-old Jotaro interact with his 20-something-year-old future daughter from Part 6 lead to some cute exchanges between the two. I know JoJo is not a show known for its plot, but the property's charm stems from it essentially making mountains out of molehills. Eyes of Heaven had the potential for a great, hilariously dramatic JoJo story but lacks the follow through of a traditional manga arc. That seems to be the problem with the title overall. Lots of Heaven's problems are rooted in poor follow through. So many interesting ideas are crushed under the weight of its poor systems. Beyond Eyes of Heaven's story mode, the core of the game is focused on its battle system. Each fight is a two vs. two affair (which can involve four players online if at least four people have the game, which I have yet to see myself or even connect to on Heaven's piss poor netcode) on a 3D map littered with pitfalls and hazards a la games like Power Stone. Unlike most arena fighters, however, each attack has cooldown times meaning you cannot spam skills as you wish. To counter these skills, each character also comes equipped with a rechargeable "Flash" gauge with allows them to either break out of a characters combo or cancel their skills mid-attack. Coupled with the team based Dual Combo system (which builds up a meter with you and your computer controlled partner's hits before a super finish) and Dual Heat Attacks (which unite both characters in a flashy super skill) and you could potentially do a lot of damage. The problem is the game is incredibly stiff and it's got quite the adjustment curve. It does not take time to learn the game's systems, but it is going to take some time to get used to how often the attacks miss.  Rather than sparking strategy, the cooldown system instead breeds frustration. To put it bluntly, battles are ugly. Each battle comes with a cluttered HUD, including giant controller symbols signifying when each skill is available. On top of that is the wonky lock-on system which leads to some terrible camera angles that caused far too many losses than they should. Which means a lot of the time, Heaven is unfair. Often times I found myself missing my opponent directly in front of me, and since each skill locks you in a single animation for some time, it gave them plenty of opportunity to do damage to me. And despite the game's attempts to balance this by incorporating RPG like skill trees, none of the skills have enough of an effect to warrant utilizing them. No matter how much you level up a character, they'll still do the same amount of damage per hit. And the computer opponent will always do more damage than you. recover their gauges faster, and you will always constantly struggle against the game's ugliness and poor design to completely catch up.  Playing through JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven is a purgatory from which I could not escape. With no attention paid to non-single player modes, it is also a battle fought alone. With no support in sight, and with no reward for the struggle other than occasionally seeing your favorite character do something you like, there is little reason to stick through Eyes of Heaven even with its occasional bursts of personality.  JoJo's Bizarre Adventure may have had its eyes on heaven, but its soul is trapped in hell. [This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
Eyes of Heaven Review photo
Sighs of heaven
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is the only property with such, well, bizarre characters, insanely disproportional art, backbreaking victory poses, operatic plot, and enough bravado to carry all of this on machismo alone. Thanks to ...

Review: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

Jun 22 // Nick Valdez
[embed]35079:5680:0[/embed] Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii U (reviewed))Developer: AtlusPublisher: NintendoReleased: December 26, 2015 (JP), June 24, 2016 (NA and EU)MSRP: $59.99 When shadow monsters known as Mirages invade Tokyo in search of Performa (which is the energy created from singing and acting performances), childhood friends Itsuki and Tsubasa get suddenly thrown into the battle as it changes their lives forever. Uniting their skills with ghosts of characters from the Fire Emblem series (like Chrom and Caeda), the two strive to become pop idols in order to strengthen their bonds with their new friends from Fortuna Entertainment (which is secretly full of other Mirage Masters) and help prevent the world from plunging into darkness. Told entirely through the Japanese VA track, TMS has personality to spare. But those who do not understand the language will miss some of the personality TMS is so proud of. It's not a huge issue, but the characters are always talking to one another during battles and 50 hours in you'll definitely wonder what they're saying.  Complimenting that strong personality are Tokyo Mirage Sessions' equally strong visuals. From the opening title screen to the final battle, it is bursting at the seams with color. The UI is clean and bright (the main menu is graced by a gorgeous spread of all the characters), the character design is typical Atlus fare marrying cuteness with style (enough so that you'll most likely have a favorite cast member), when you clear certain side stories or story chapters the player is rewarded with full cutscene performances animated with the Fire Emblem engine, and there is an overall attention to clean design. Only the battle menu and HUD feel cluttered, but that also alleviates over time the more you play it. The game's design serves to emphasize accessibility, so the over world and dungeons have checkpoints which make it easier to travel back to the home base to craft your weapons and skills and the like. Thanks to the lack of egregious load times, there is no hefty punishment for retreating from a dungeon from time to time which further encourages the player to do so.  Helping with this clean design is Tokyo Mirage Sessions' utilization of the Wii U's gamepad. Acting as Itsuki's cell phone, the gamepad occasionally receives text messages, or "topics," which keep you up to date on the character's reactions to the story (which can be a bit banal, but further build the world's personality), tells you when side missions become available (which are avoidable but help boost a character's stats and skill set), and also serves as the dungeon map. Crawling through the game's laborious dungeons is much easier since you don't have to cut away from the game in order to pull up your map. And when the story forces you to retread through many of its dungeons later in the game, you'll be glad traversal is easy. The dungeons themselves are heavily padded with frustrating "puzzles" which force you to backtrack and do not inspire cleverness. Rather than celebrate when you finally get to the dungeon boss, it's more of a sigh and "finally."  But the major draw of Tokyo Mirage Sessions, is the battle system. This is definitely where all the time and effort was placed. While there is no permadeath from the Fire Emblem series (though the punishment for a game over is having to reload your save), its weapon triangle (a rock, paper, scissors like system where certain weapons deal more damage to others) unites with Shin Megami Tensei's elemental weaknesses (a la Persona or Pokemon) into an obtuse system that takes some time to get used to. But it's a rewarding battle system to learn as there are plenty of options to do damage. Couple that with TMS's Sessions, which are secondary attacks that chain when you hit an enemy's weakness and earn you bonuses, Special Perfomances, which are super skills that deal more damage, Ad-lib Performances, which randomly take effect when you activate a character's skill, and by the end of the game the player can theoretically attack an enemy 19 or 20 times in a single turn. Unfortunately while these attacks are satisfying and stylish the first couple of times you pull them off, eventually the battles will start to feel like they are dragging on rather than engaging.  For example, to compensate for how strong the player can become when they utilize sessions, enemy weakness, weapon crafting, and character switching (which allows you switch your teammate on the fly in exchange for taking their next turn a bit later), TMS suddenly ramps up its difficulty midway through. Enemies suddenly become attack sponges and deal far more damage, so the player not only is forced back through dungeons they have already visited but they are forced to grind for experience in order to stay competitive. It artificially lengthens the game and eventually becomes frustrating since you won't likely be attached to the story enough to push on through. TMS' story just is not compelling enough to keep you entertained for its 40-50 hour length. Like its J-Pop soundtrack, the story is fun but inconsequential until its final set of chapters. Anyone looking for the level of depth seen in both Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei, will find it in its battle system and not much else.  Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is built with a very specific audience in mind. While its casual and accessible appearance may draw you in, only the truly hardcore RPG fans will dig deep enough into its battle system to fully enjoy everything the game has to offer. But on the other hand, if you do put in that work you are rewarded with a battle system full of so many options that no two people will have the same strategy.  It may be more of a game for Shin Megami Tensei fans than Fire Emblem ones as it's not a complete marriage of the two, but to bring it back to the Reeses analogy, if you like the taste of chocolate and peanut butter, then you will like them together. You just won't like it that much. [This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
Tokyo Mirage Review photo
Like chocolate and peanut butter
When Nintendo first announced a crossover project between their Fire Emblem series and Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei series, no one expected the final project to a videogame where pop idols transform into heroes in order to fight...

Review: Grand Kingdom

Jun 21 // Christian Chiok
[embed]35113:5710:0[/embed] Grand Kingdom (PS Vita [reviewed], PS4)Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: NIS AmericaReleased: November 19th, 2015 (JP), June 17th, 2016 (EU), June 21st, 2016 (NA)MSRP: $49.99 (PS4), $39.99 (PS Vita) Unfortunately, the story is only about 12 story chapters each lasting at least 30 minutes to one hour.  On top of the short story, the game only gets interesting near the end.  It’s unfortunate since some of the characters are likeable as well as the voice acting work. Some of the characters reminded me of the typical ones found in Shonen series so I was really looking forward on seeing more of them. However, all the 36 chapters that were delivered as DLC in Japan are going to be included in the western release, giving you a total of 48 chapters of story from the get-go.  In the DLC chapters, you’ll have the chance to delve yourself in the story of each of the four Great Nations, allowing the player to align themselves with a particular nation and dig deeper into that nation’s motivations and history. Each campaign will introduce you to brand new characters, deeper ties that bind rulers to family and nation, and perhaps even discover something about yourself as you decide which nation tugs at your heart the most. The uniqueness of the gameplay styles with each mission taking place on a large game board in both you and enemies move around in, one turn at a time. Your team will be represented by a silver piece while the enemies’ will be represented by a purple and red piece, the latter being a stronger enemy. Additionally, the game board will have items lying around which can improve your journey. The concept may sound simple from first looks, but there’s a lot more to it. Depending on the mission, there will be a limit of how much you can move your piece, and reaching the limit results in an automatic failure. However, for the most part, you realize that you will have a lot more turns than that mission requires giving you room for mistakes and dawdling. You’ll also encounter invisible enemies in which you can only see their movement every three turns. Once you encounter the enemy, you will be taken to battle in a beautiful and crisp 2D art style similar to the Dragon’s Crown and Odin Sphere. In a way, you can say that the game is similar to Valkyria Chronicles, except in a side-on view with three rows for characters to stand on and move around in. Each turn, you will move your unit to a desired spot until your action gauge is emptied, then you can perform a skill, which can range from melee or ranged attacks as well as heal your comrades.  While on the hub and the quest map, you’re allowed to visit the Party menu in which you can form different formations. The game already has two default ones, however, both Offensive and Defensive in which you can modify.  You can also set shields or even medical boxes, which both are very helpful in battle.  Including DLC, which will be available to western players from the get-go, the game offers over 17 classes including Melee, Ranged, Magic, and Specialist units. You’re only allowed to hire a certain few classes in the beginning of the game but it’s enough to create a competent troop to beat the game. You’re allowed to make up to six troops consist of four units each. When hiring, you can customize your character ranging from their hairstyles, voices, colors, and starting stats. Melee units are characterized by their high attack and defense and specialize in close combat. They also have the ability to Guard, allowing the unit to negate all damage until their guard gauge depletes. Melee units have low magic defense, so it’s best to be careful when facing Magic units. Ranged units can attack from longer distances. With their extended attack range, they can reach enemies at the other side of the map. Unfortunately, Ranged units have low defense, so it's imperative that you place them in places where it’s hard for them engage in close combat or being hit by other Ranged units. Magic units have medium attack range, and use ranged attacks which allow the player to target multiple enemies. Some of their more powerful skills must be charged before they can be used, leaving them vulnerable to an enemy's ranged attack, in which results your attack being disrupted as well. Remember that the game has friendly fire so make sure that your units are out of the way as well. Unlike the Melee, Ranged, and Magic units, Specialist units lack a clearly defined role in battle. These units have individualized abilities that can be a great asset in battle, but their specialized nature affords little room for flexibility. They range from Medics, Challengers and Dragon Mage. Medics heal your units, Challenger places explosives and Dragon Mage allows the player to perform powerful melee attacks. One of my issues when using the Medic is that while angling where you want to throw your potion, it’s never accurate.  There will be times where you accidentally hit your unit with a poisonous potion or accidentally heal the opposing unit. While you’ll eventually adapt to the weird aiming, but this still proves to be a hindrance.   Aside from the story missions which usually consist of going from Point A to Point B, the game also features different side quests with variety of missions such as Stealth Missions and Guarding missions. In Stealth missions, you’ll navigate the world-map in a puzzle-like fashion to avoid encountering any enemies at all. As for the Guarding missions, you’ll be moving around the map to defend certain spots from incoming enemy assaults. Once the enemy reaches the spot, the missions fails. A big letdown with this game is that it doesn’t support cross-save so any progress that you made on the go with your PS Vita won’t be transferable to your PS4. It was a bit bothersome since when I got my hands on the PS4 version, I wanted to continue my journey on a bigger and better screen. At least the game allows cross-play support across both systems, expanding the amount of players you can play with in the online multiplayer modes.  Naturally the PS4 version is the superior version as it runs at 60 frames per second at 1080p. However, that doesn’t mean that the game is less enjoyable on PS Vita as it runs very smooth as well. If you’re looking to expand your Tactical JRPG library on PS Vita, I can definitely recommend Grand Kingdom.  Including the integrated DLC chapters, the game offers many hours of fun with more hours on top if you play the side missions. While the main story is short, it still features likeable characters making the journey worthwhile. With the PS Vita not getting many games lately, you can’t go wrong with Grand Kingdom. It’s an excellent addition on PS4 as well, though. 
Grand Kingdom photo
Fight For Your Grand Nation
Being a fan of the JRPGs, I always look forward to new additions to the genre, especially ones that offer a unique gameplay style that separates itself from other series. While not entirely unique, when first announced, Grand...

Review: Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus

Jun 12 // Christian Chiok
[embed]35088:5690:0[/embed] Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus (PC [reviewed], PS Vita)Developer: TamsoftPublisher: Marvelous Entertainment/XSEED GamesReleased: June 1st, 2016 (PC), October 14, 2014 (PS Vita)MSRP: $29.99 This game brings back the Shinobi Battle Royale, an ancient tradition amongst numerous Shinobi schools whereby every 50 years, the five elite students of each school will do battle in which result the winners will have the opportunity to burn down the loser’s school and allow them to continue their training to be a legendary shinobi, The story is your typical Shonen-esque (battle manga) so it can be quite enjoyable if you’re a fan of the battle series. Additionally, each character has their individual story allowing you to witness the hardship as well as their preparation for this ancient tradition. From the four schools, you will be able to choose among five characters and go through their individual story. I recommend playing through their individual stories first as it informs you more on the characters’ personality, albeit it may have a small correlation with the main story. Most of it is satire, but is definitely worth playing through. By the end of each of their stories, your characters will be well leveled-up and ready to breeze through the main story. In Dojo Mode, you and three other friends will be able to battle it out online or through the system’s ad-hoc feature. The mode offers three different types of games or six if you include their “Team” variation. There’s Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Strip Battle, Team Strip Battle, Understorm and Team Understorm. In Deathmatch, you will battle it out with your opponent to get the most points. To win, you must inflict damage to your opponents and reach the set amount of points per match, or at least acquire the most points by the end of the match. Avoid getting hit or dying as that can decrease your points. Random enemies will be wandering around as well, which can help stack some extra points. Strip Battle is just like its name suggest. It shares similarities to Deathmatch, but offers its own little twist. Depending on how much clothing you destroy, the number of points you acquire will vary. The more you destroy, the greater the number of points you’ll get. Lastly, Understorm is quite different than the other two modes. In this mode, players need to collect as many pairs of “Skimpy Undies” as possible as they rain down from above. Additionally, you can mug other players for their lingerie they collected thus far.  Overall, I had a lot of fun playing this mode with friends the most. While not exactly a Musou game, the game has some similarities to the genre, such as beating multiple foes on the field while leveling up your character. You’ll have two attack buttons, normal and strong attacks, which can be used to chain up powerful combos as you level up. You can also block and parry attacks when blocking timely. The more leveled up the character, your arsenal of combo chains increases. Just like many beat-em-up games, this title has a lock-on feature in which you can use to concentrate all of your attacks into an enemy but it comes with its downsides. Locking on really limits your camera control and leaves you vulnerable to the enemy. From my experience, it seems that the camera angles have been improved as well compared to the Vita version where it switched to a first-person like view, putting your own character out of view and leaving you vulnerable. With XSEED porting the game to PC, the game received graphical and performance enhancements. While it doesn’t look as Estival Versus on PS4, you can tell that XSEED took advantage of the capabilities on PC.  Additionally, they improved the frame rate issues the game had on PS Vita, as well as made the game 60 frame per second, making it a lot more enjoyable. Only issue I have is that character animations are awkward when in the hub, almost as it wasn’t meant to be 60 frames per second. You have two transformations at your disposal—a Shinobi Transformation and a Frantic Transformation, both giving enhancements to your character. When using the Shinobi Transformation, it allows you to perform continuous attacks by pressing the various action buttons repeatedly. In addition, both your attack and defense will be increased.  In Frantic Mode, you can execute Weak Attacks and chain them together infinitely. You will also receive a huge boost to your attack power but your defense drops drastically.  You will also gain two Secret Ninja Techniques, which deals a lot of damage to the opponent. To use your Shinobi Transformation, you merely press the L and the R buttons; using Frantic Mode requires a bit more. Your Secret Ninja gauge will need be full first, then you press R and Triangle. That will later prompt you with a close-up of the character’s breast on the touch screen, which you must slide outwards. Granted that’s an easy task on a regular Vita, but playing it on a PlayStation TV requires more work to execute, which leaves you vulnerable to attack. When you take damage, not only will your lose health but your outfit will rip and tear. If you take enough damage, your clothes will fly completely apart.  Outfit damage goes through three different stages: Costume Break, Lingerie and Naked. If you want to fully strip an opponent, you will have to bring her down to “Lingerie” and execute a Secret Ninja Art as a finishing blow.  Normal attacks will destroy their lower body’s clothing while Strong Attacks will destroy the top part of their clothing. As expected from Senran Kagura, it has its shares of perverted moments.  You can customize the characters’ apparel, such as their normal attire and their Shinobi and Frantic Mode attire. The customization extends to equipping extra accessories such as tails, glasses, gloves and more. As expected, the clothing options are exotic and really bring out the character’s outer beauty. When in the Dressing Room, you can fully view the character models from multiple angles, and it includes a “perverted” mini game, if that’s what you can call it. In this mode, you can harass the character in multiple ways using your mouse. Lacking the some of the features the PS Vita has, unfortunately this isn’t as fun as it could be. Even with the in-depth gameplay, like every niche Japanese video game, Senran Kagura is aimed to a selective audience. It has fun gameplay alongside good multiplayer modes that add replay value to the game.  I think that the breast galore and panty shots could be a turn off, but beneath all that, it’s fun title that fans of action games should get.  
Senran Kagura photo
The Shinobi Battle Royale, Now in HD
It’s been almost two years since I had the opportunity to play and review Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus when it finally made its way outside of Japan. With XSEED willing to port most of their games into PC, it was about...

Review: One Piece Burning Blood

Jun 07 // Christian Chiok
[embed]35078:5681:0[/embed] One Piece Burning Blood (PS4 (reviewed), PC, PS Vita & Xbox One)Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: Bandai Namco EntertainmentReleased: April 21, 2016 (JP), May 31, 2016 (NA), June 3, 2016 (EU)MSRP:$59.99 (PS4, PC & Xbox One), $39.99 (PS Vita) When playing Anime fighting games, unless it’s Dragon Ball Z in which I already experienced the story mode so many times, I generally like playing through long hours of story mode. In One Piece Burning Blood, you’ll only play through the Marineford arc from four different perspectives — Luffy’s, Whitebeard’s, Akainu’s and Ace’s. It gave few hours of entertainment, especially since the cutscenes were great looking. I still think we could have gotten more than that, though. Aside from Story Mode, there’s also the Wanted Mode which allows players to hone their skills while taking on a series of wanted posters, earning yourself in-game currency which can be used to buy the remaining of the locked characters. The higher the bounty, the higher the reward you will get. While the mode is generally fun, the serious spikes of difficulty can be off putting. This was also an issue with Story Mode during the end. However after beating a difficulty fight, it definitely feels satisfying and you come out a better player. Like a good anime fighting game should, the game offers a Free Battle mode allowing players to fight against the computer or a friend. There’s also a Training Mode, giving the player various options like Opponent’s action as well as gauge levels. One of my favorite features is that the game lets you choose nine playable characters and three support characters. The only catch is that the game divides it into three teams (3 vs. 3), so once you lose the first round with the first set of three characters, then you’ll be allowed to use the second set of characters. You can also just do 1 vs. 1 battles. You will also be able to take the battle online, allowing you to play the usual Ranked and Player match types. From experience, the network is pretty solid so you’ll be able to play the game flawlessly with friends, the way it’s meant to be played. Although the story mode only covers the Marineford arc, most characters shown in recent arcs as well as popular characters from old arcs appear in the game, totaling over 40 playable characters and 65 support characters. My gripe with the support characters is that a lot of them should have been playable like Rob Lucci or Arlong. In top of that, support characters don’t appear on increase but give you battle effects such as restoring part of your HP or making your attacks a little stronger. In comparison with J-Stars Victory Versus, Spike Chunsoft’s previous anime fighter, I feel like this game is a lot better in terms of gameplay. The square and Triangle buttons are your main basic attacks which can also be used to create combos or even stronger attacks.  There are more in-depth features such as ranged attacks, special moves, guard-breaks, tag moves called Unity Assists and Breaks, and the powerful Awakened state, allowing you to perform your special attack as well. After three One Piece games with only the Original Japanese track, by now it shouldn’t be a surprised that Burning Blood only includes the original Japanese voices. Even with the Naruto English dub (the other languages too) not being caught up with the game, they were still able to get the game fully dubbed. While it’s really a shame, I think it’s something minor and shouldn’t dictate if you should skip the game. With the power of current gen consoles and PC, this game manages to be the most beautiful One Piece game up to date featuring cinematic cutscenes and amazing in-game graphics. My only gripe with the game is that it runs at 30 frames per second, with the upcoming PC version running at 30 fps as well. While the game still runs well at that frame rate, 60 frames per second could have definitely been better. If you’re like me who’s been wishing their One Piece fighting game fix for a while, Burning Blood definitely meets the criteria. While it lacks some essential playable characters, the game still offers a variety of good characters, both who are present in recent arts as well as popular ones.  
One Piece Burning Blood photo
Fighting To Be The Pirate King
Ever since the consistent video game releases of the Ultimate Ninja Storm series by CyberConnect2, the 3D Anime fighting game based on the popular Shonen Jump series Naruto, One Piece fans have been wishing that the series wo...

Review: Odin Sphere Leifthrasir

Jun 01 // Josh Tolentino
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir (PS4 (reviewed), PS3, PS Vita)Developer: VanillawarePublisher: AtlusReleased: January 14, 2016 (JP), June 7, 2016 (NA), June 24, 2016 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 (PS Vita), $49.99 (PS3), $59.99 (PS4) As cliche as the idea of an HD remaster is these days, it's worth pointing out that Odin Sphere Leifthrasir** goes further than the usual performance or resolution upgrades, at least on the PS4 version. Besides running at a consistent, smooth framerate (a far cry from the chugging boss battles of the PS2 original), Leifthrasir tweaks the artwork to look sharper at HD resolutions. And sharp it does look, bringing to mind just how revelatory the game looked back in 2007. Then, as then, Vanillaware seemed to be operating out of a weird alternate dimension, one where 2D graphics only got better and better instead of being supplanted by the 3D polygonal gold rush of the time. The update also adds more depth and breadth to Odin Sphere's various secondary mechanics. The story, though, is unchanged, and remains the strongest aspect of the game. Set on Erion, a fantasy world inspired by Norse myth, Leifthrasir's plot begins simply enough. Gwendolyn, Valkyrie princess of the kingdom of Ragnanival, flies through the battlefield, attempting to retrieve a magical device called the Cauldron, in the hopes of offering it to her father, the Demon Lord Odin. The tale quickly expands, though, growing to cover not only Gwendolyn's tale but that of four other major characters, each with their own hours-long campaign. Oswald is the Shadow Knight, a warrior bearing a cursed power and a crush on Gwendolyn. Velvet is a forest witch with ties to both Odin and Valentine, a kingdom Odin vanquished in the past. Cornelius was once a prince but is now a Pooka, a rabbit-like creature, and seeks a cure for his condition. Mercedes is the young queen of the Fairies, and wants to do right by her people, whatever the cost.  Though framed as a series of storybooks being read by an adorable little girl in her attic, the story is actually more operatic in scope. Characters' plotlines wrap around each other and intersect in places, and the protagonist of one campaign may be the boss battle of another. Each of the five campaigns - with a sixth unlocked at the end to ties it all together and a seventh reserved for true completionists - takes place in the limited perspective of their leads, and shines light on their respective motivations, personalities, and causes. There are few outright heroes and villains among the cast, but rather people working at cross purposes, sometimes to tragic results.  If nothing else, it's the densest narrative Vanillaware has wrought, and stands easily alongside the best JRPGs, a handy feat for what is otherwise a fairly simple 2D brawler. Though possessed of five substantially different combat styles in the form of each character,  the game remains somewhat conventional, mechanically. Players will jump, move, attack, and slaughter mooks by the dozen as they move through various rooms and hoover up cash and loot. Enemies and bosses are plentiful, but don't quite carry enough variety to justify the bevy of additional spells and abilities added by the Leifthrasir update. The new skills are definitely fun to use and master, but never really feel necessary, at least not at the normal difficulty setting. [embed]35050:5667:0[/embed] Vanillaware also doubles down on its food fixation, expanding the game's alchemy and cooking systems to encompass a range of new ingredients and recipes. Smart players will quickly get acquainted with the world's various restaurants and Maury, the traveling Pooka chef. This is because eating delicious, exquisitely illustrated cartoon food is the only way to level up and increase one's maximum health pool. Gathering ingredients and growing additional items to mix into potions also allows for a wide range of beneficial effects. Once again, the relative simplicity of combat doesn't quite make these systems feel as essential as they should be, but their expansion definitely takes the edge off the repetition, a feeling that grew more and more pronounced as one progressed through the original game. Some grinding and revisiting of previous areas to gather ingredients is still necessary, but there's enough to do now that it doesn't feel nearly as tedious as before. With that, Leifthrasir blunts one of Odin Sphere's biggest faults, though players not hooked by the combat may still feel the design is weighed down by that. The interface, though also improved, also isn't quite up to the task of efficiently streamlining the expanded experience. Tabbed windows and shortcuts now make it easier to mix and level up potions, but players will still eventually find themselves pausing every so often to do some inventory management. Still, these flaws are fairly minor in the face of how much Odin Sphere's quality is allowed to shine, thanks to the improvements added by Leifthrasir. It's enough to say that Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is the definitive edition of Vanillaware's best game, and elevates a great-but-flawed title to the classic status it originally deserved. [This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.] **It's pronounced "Leef-thrahs-eer", but don't look up what it means if you want to avoid spoilers. *GrimGrimoire might have been first, depending on where you were in 2007.
Odin Sphere Review photo
Old Story, Good As New
Vanillaware may have been making games for close to a decade now, but for my money, nothing they've made has quite surpassed their first game*, Odin Sphere.  Not to say that their other games are bad. On the contrary, as...

Review: Corpse Party (PC)

May 09 // Salvador G Rodiles
Corpse Party (PC)Developer: Team GrisGrisPublisher: XSEED GamesRelease Date: March 8, 2008 (JP), April 25, 2016 (NA)MSRP: $14.99 From the beginning, Corpse Party sets the scene for an amusing horror story as it separates the main cast after they were transported to a spiritual plane when they failed to properly recite the charm known as “Sachiko Ever After.” This places the player in an intense situation while they try to escape from Heavenly Host Elementary school, a place that was thought to have been demolished; thus emulating that feeling that comes from being in a scary situation without any means to overcome spirits that are after your life. For the most part, Corpse Party’s scary moments aren’t the type of scenes that’ll make people jump out of their seats or scream loudly. Instead, they’re the kind of segments that are meant to shock players through the use of creepy descriptions and sound effects that complement the segments where someone gets killed in a messed up way, such as seeing a girl turn into nothing but blood and guts after being slammed into a wall at full force by two ghost kids. [embed]35006:5594:0[/embed] Even though most of these segments are shown through sprite animations or text on a completely black screen, the impact from watching your character or one of their friends suffer badly remains intact. To an extent, they give off a similar feeling to seeing one of When They Cry: Higurashi’s violent moments, which was the vibe that I was getting through each of the game’s five chapters. With each stage being around 20 minutes to an hour long during one's first playthrough, people won't have to worry about the scary moments overstaying their welcome. One thing the elevates these scenes, it’s the voice cast’s performances, as each person brings out the true potential of the characters that are experiencing fear or going insane from being in a place that’s hard to escape from. This stood out more during the game’s Wrong Ends, since they act as the “Game Over” sequences for the game and a good majority of them involve various members of the cast suffering an unfortunate fate. In some cases, it made up for the lack of visuals in the scenes with black screens. While Corpse Party’s spirits and messed up situations makes it sound like a really intense title, the game mostly has the players searching for ways to progress through the school without having to worry about facing death, such as finding special items or activating switches scattered across the school. However, this doesn’t mean that thing are safe, as the game has a few segments where players run from ghosts and have to avoid certain traps that could result in absolute death. Since none of the students have any items to defend themselves with, Corpse Party ensures that its players are in a state of vulnerability throughout the entire game. The only thing that can help folks overcome each challenge is to for them to be aware of their surroundings while they search for the items and clues to progress further, as it’s a requirement to overcome each chapter. In some situations, one wrong move could cause specific characters to go mad and do something foolish. Overall, this setup works nicely in making the players feel insecure at times, which captures the essence of many horror films— especially with the fact that the game is riddled with a ton of different Wrong Ends. Aside from school’s intense atmosphere, Corpse Party also involves the players trying to figure out the mystery behind the place they’re trapped in. This was one of the most intriguing parts of the title, as it delves into the twisted tales that lead to the Heavenly Host Elementary School being torn down, along with learning about the deceased students who were sent to the spiritual plane before you. Sure, some of the events were messed up, but they’re all still rewarding since they play a big role in giving the surviving students the ammunition to overcome the source of the hauntings. Despite the game’s creepy nature, the title’s characters are depicted in a simplistic style that gives them a cute look. All in all, Corpse Party’s designs shine well when the cast is placed in various dire situations, as certain characters look extremely menacing when they snap or appear emotionally broken when they watch someone die. While the PSP version’s character designs have a nicer updated look, the 2008 PC release’s portraits still have a special charm to them since their expressions still complement the game’s horror themes. In terms of the title’s presentation, the overhead view format with 2D sprites worked well as a callback to the original Corpse Party being a game that was made in RPG Maker. Other than the game’s five main chapters, the 2008 PC version of Corpse Party features a few extra chapters that expand on a few elements present in the game. While the game’s PSP release has more segments than its predecessor, the main thing that sets the latter apart is the last chapter, which is a retelling of the “Tooth” story from Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. While I didn’t play Book of Shadows, the scenario is still friendly to newcomers, as it expanded on a supporting character that was insane in the main story, along with a specific character that the player can only encounter in one of the game’s Wrong Ends. Compare to the other three bonus stages, "Tooth's" length was close to the game’s first chapter; thus making it a neat addition to this release. On the music side of things, Corpse Party's soundtrack sets the mood for its scary tone, as players are listening to songs that give off an eerie and unsettling vibe. A few of the tunes go well with the Halloween season and some of them play off on that feeling that someone dangerous is about to sneak up on you. With each chapter featuring different types of creepy tracks, players are treated to some variety while they try to survive. If anything, this feature's appearance is likely thanks to game launching as an episodic release in Japan. Corpse Party’s 2008 PC release may sport less extra content that its PSP version, but the game makes it up to people with its ability to let them fast forward the title's text, along with its array of extra Wrong Ends and other goodies, such as its take on the “Tooth” chapter and the title having different voice actors. Thanks to these features, this makes Corpse Party worth it for those who want to uncover Heavenly Host Elementary’s darkest secrets on their computer; thus teaching them the important lesson of not messing with charms that are connected to the supernatural. [This review is based on a Steam copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
Corpse Party photo
Sachiko we beg of you!
For the longest time, I never got the chance to get into the horror genre of video games. It’s not that I’m afraid of playing a scary title; it’s that most of the major ones came out on the original Playstat...

Review: Stranger of Sword City

May 04 // Christian Chiok
Stranger of Sword City (PS Vita [reviewed], Xbox One, Xbox 360 [Japan only])Developer: Experience Inc.Publisher: NIS America (PS Vita), Experience Inc.Release: April 26, 2016 (Vita), April 29, 2016 (Vita [EU]), March 22, 2016 (Xbox One [US]), March 29, 2016 (Xbox One [EU])MSRP: $39.99 (PS Vita), $40.49 (Xbox One) One of the things that really caught my attention was the game’s robust character customization. Aside from the five races and eight classes to choose from, the game offers character portraits sporting three different art styles, one which makes your character look like an anime character. Unfortunately, you can’t alter a character portrait and the age, gender and race you choose for the character doesn’t really modify it either. On the subject of different art designs, for NPCs, the game allows you to switch between original art design by Yoko Tsukamoto and anime-inspired design by En Okishiji. Personally, I had to go with the new anime design since it was livelier for me. While the original design by Yoko Tsukamoto isn’t dreary by any means, as an anime fan, I just had to go with the anime option. Being used to games like Fire Emblem, the permanent death aspect of the game didn’t really bother me, especially since they still have a certain amount of life points before they are no longer at your disposal if they died. The amount of life points depends on the age of your character, so the younger they are, the more life points they will have, but the limit is three.  You should keep in mind though that the older you make the character, they stronger they will be. Permanent death isn’t really what made the game tedious for me though, because like Fire Emblem, restarting the game is an option. Me never playing any Dungeon RPG in my life, I treated the game like my usual Turn-Based or Tactical RPG, but oh boy I was wrong.  I would even say some Tactical RPGs are more forgiving than this game. Realizing that I was playing the game wrong, I decided to take a different approach. Instead of powering through the dungeon like I would usually do, I decided to go back to base every time my characters were in danger of dying. I would say that the game kind of encourages you to retreat often too since one of your Divinity abilities, called Flash Retreat, allowing you to retreat from any battle other than those against certain Lineage types. Considering that it takes half of your Divinity gauge, I thought that I should save it for very crucial moments but then I realized that I constantly faced those moments where I should have really used it. After your characters die, you can always go back to base to heal them but they still come back after a certain amount of time, usually 24 hours, which of course, it isn’t real time. Since not having a party of 6 usually put my other characters at risk, I usually navigated through the first stage of the dungeon, but even then the game was a bit difficult and some of my characters ended up losing a lot of health. Coming from Persona Q and from the general conscious with dungeon crawlers, I was already prepared to start marking the map myself, but thankfully the game did it for me. It didn’t make things any easier though as the maps was still full of roaming monsters and risky dark rooms. When I knew I had to go back to the guild and save though, I always crossed my fingers that I don’t encounter any random monsters or else that would mess me up. Besides saving of course, the guild has many uses. As previously mentioned, you can revive your characters depending if they have any life points left or even recover their health for a certain cost. You may also create other party members which will replace the fallen ones. Your created characters will start off leveled up equal to your main character. On top of the hard monsters you have to overcome, leveling up your character can get tedious as well. The grinding can get incredibly slow and it was a bit annoying trying to get some of my new characters up to speed with the rest of the current party. Sending a lower level character could really put you at a disadvantage since not only is that character vulnerable but protecting that character would only hinder collecting Blood Crystals. Stranger of Sword City may not have been the best choice to introduce me into the genre, due to it being challenging, but I still find it quite enjoyable since I do love challenges but I think the game would have been a lot more enjoyable if I had any other Dungeon RPG experience prior to this game. It definitely made interested in the genre and I feel veterans will definitely get their money’s worth with this game. 
Stranger of Sword City photo
Challenging Dungeons
Being a fan of all kind of JRPG games for as long as I’ve been a gamer, I always wanted to try my hands playing a Dungeon Crawler JRPG. I played so many types of JRPGS, such as turn-based, action and strategy. While I d...

Review: Fafner: Exodus

Apr 21 // Salvador G Rodiles
Fafner: ExodusStudio: XEBEC Zwei Viewed On: CrunchyrollPremiere Date: January 8, 2015 When people say that patience is a virtue, they are not kidding. From day one, Fafner Exodus moving forward, as Kazuki and the gang has adjusted to their lives after Soushi’s return during the end of Fafner: Heaven and Earth. Even though the new series takes place two and a half years after the movie, the show does its best to get its audience reacquainted with the main cast again. Unfortunately, the drawback is that the newer pilots from Fafner: Heaven and Earth gave off the least amount of impact, as their presence wasn’t as big as Kazuki and his friends. Luckily, this isn’t too much of an issue when most of the new gang was placed on the team that was meant to help a section of the Earth Forces who were interested in coexisting with the Festum. Thanks to this angle, the show’s first half mostly focused on the movie group who remained on the island to help the newer pilots and the folks who left to help the military group with their mission to communicate with a new Mir that was heading to Earth. All in all, this direction worked well in distributing the cast so that people could get acquainted with new characters. After all, this element is important since the show’s death scenes have to hit the viewers hard. Of course, none of the veteran characters were safe from this aspect, which conveys the risks that the gang has to go through to achieve their goal. While it took a while for the series to pick up, the payoff worked well since the show dealt with the idea of sacrificing one’s humanity for the greater good. Whether it was the Fafner upgrades that change the pilot's bodies or the inner conflict between the Earth military, Exodus place the main cast in more intense scenario than the previous shows. Hell, there were the losses turned the tides on some of the major events in the series. Through this format, the series dealt with the team facing off against other humans, which was a great change of events from the previous installments, as it placed everyone in a big corner. Due to the situation, it made the veteran characters and the new pilots question their own actions while they tried to find their own resolve in the big conflict at hand. Compare to the original Fafner series, Exodus’ animation quality has improved from its predecessor. While it wasn’t on the same level as Fafner: Heaven and Earth, the fights between the Festum and the Fafner units left us with some dynamic air fights, along with a few moments where a character’s finishing move felt fulfilling to watch. Since there were a few machines that fought similar to the ones of the deceased characters from the first title, it worked as a way to appease to those who’re interested in seeing how they would fight with Xebec’s current skills. While Hisashi Hirai’s style suffers from a case of his characters from different shows looking similar, the guy’s art has improved a bit— in comparison to his art in Gundam SEED and Linebarrel of Iron.  His designs may not be the best out there, but they work with what Fafner: Exodus has to offer. If anything, it showcases his improved skills from the Majestic Prince anime. Just like the previous Fafner installments, Angela returns to sing the show’s opening. As always, she manages to hit the high notes well in both “Exist” and “Dead or Alive,” with the latter featuring some aspects that likely paid homage to “Shangri-La,” the first series’ theme song. Hell, the same can be said about the ending themes since it complements the previous tunes when the show’s credits drop in. It may have taken a while for Fafner to get a new series, but the show’s resolution to the war between the humans and the Festum made it worth the wait for anyone who wished to see the story progress further. While the program brought us a conclusion to Kazuki and Soushi’s story, there’s still a chance that a new installment could happen one day. Despite Exodus’ first half trying to get us more acquainted with the new cast and the movie’s characters while they cram a bunch of important things into the story, the payoff turned out well when the series set the pieces for the ultimate showdown between the title’s factions. Most importantly, its ending was a great of example of how patience can reward those who’re willing to wait— even if most of the new cast’s development was a bit rushed in the beginning. [This review was based on a streamed version of the series viewed by the reviewer at personal expense.]  When people say that patience is a virtue, they are not kidding. From day one, Fafner Exodus moving forward, as Kazuki and the gang has adjusted to their lives after Soushi’s return during the end of Fafner: Heaven and Earth. Even though the new series takes place two and a half years after the movie, the show does its best to get its audience reacquainted with the main cast again. Unfortunately, the drawback is that the newer pilots from Fafner: Heaven and Earth gave off the least amount of impact, as their presence wasn’t as big as Kazuki and his friends. Luckily, this isn’t too much of an issue when most of the new gang was placed on the team that was meant to help a section of the Earth Forces who were interested in coexisting with the Festum. Thanks to this angle, the show’s first half mostly focused on the movie group who remained on the island to help the newer pilots and the folks who left to help the military group with their mission to communicate with a new Mir that was heading to Earth. All in all, this direction worked well in distributing the cast so that people could get acquainted with new characters. After all, this element is important since the show’s death scenes have to hit the viewers hard. Of course, none of the veteran characters were safe from this aspect, which conveys the risks that the gang has to go through. 
Fafner: Exodus photo
Patience is a virtue
There’s something wonderful about seeing an older title receive a sequel after a very long time. It shows that the team was pushing hard to continue the story they set in place, and it lets the viewers see the program e...

Review: Project X Zone 2

Apr 19 // Anthony Redgrave
Project X Zone 2 (3DS [Revieweed])Developer: Monolith SoftPublisher: Bandai Namco EntertainmentReleased: November 12, 2015 (JP), December 10, 2015 (KOR), February 16, 2016 (NA), February 12, 2016 (EU, AUS)MSRP: $39.99 Project X Zone 2 is a strategy role-playing game featuring characters from SEGA, Namco Bandai, and Capcom. It will be one of the most bizarre crossovers for players that are not familiar with a lot of Japanese franchises as the game goes deep into each company's library bringing out characters from Sakura Wars, God Eater, and yes, even the Sega Saturn Mascot Segata Sanshiro. The large variety of characters can be intimidating but the game doesn't go too in-depth narratively into any one franchise going for generalised statements around the lore of each one. The game contains an encyclopaedia or "Crosspedia" for players wanting to learn more about each character, terminology, and aspects of the game. It's an all-inclusive document that works well for explaining the background behind each character but not so much for teaching players the advanced aspects of gameplay.  This title is a sequel to Project X Zone and continues the story of two warring factions Shinra and Ouma. They're original teams containing original characters for this cross-over series that recruit heroes and villains from games to fight for their cause. As the story progresses you will collect a bevy of different heroes, anti-heroes, and even antagonists to fight for Shinra as they try to stop Ouma and their plans. The story is pretty thin and serves as a means of delivering all the characters to different franchise locals like Kamurocho, Mallet Island, and Sword Valley. It is thrilling to see where the game will take you next and which character will be recruited into the party. As a newcomer to the Project X Zone games, I did not feel I was missing much from not playing the prequel. A lot of the story is self-contained bar some lines of dialogue making light reference to previous iteration or characters mentioning that they have met before. Plot progression can be meandering at times especially during the middle-end of the game as once you've seen all the characters the circumstances you end up in makes you feel you're taking one step forward followed by two steps back.  On the gameplay side, Project X Zone 2 is fairly shallow on both the strategy and role-playing sides of the SRPG. The game is too easy for strategy and positioning to have any impact on battles and choosing upgrades feels less of a customizable choice but rather a necessity so you aren't underpowered for the next stage. I never felt my choice in upgrades affected my gameplay or strategy when going into battle. In the later game when your party size balloons, micromanaging equipment, and upgrading attacks become tedious and would have benefitted from an auto-assign function. The positioning of units only mattered when it came to the combat portions as they adjacent units can be called for assists or support. Therefore, bunching units together as much as possible was the strategy I utilised throughout the game with little consequence. Almost all the stages require the player to eliminate all targets so more variety would have been welcomed to incorporate more strategy in the game.  The actual combat is an area where the game really shines. Having to choose attacks carefully and choosing the right time to attack confirming critical hits helps keep the fights engaging each time you do them. I really enjoyed the displays of signature moves that can be combined with support attacks and assists to become a large ball of chaotic numbers flying around with a cinematic finish. The developer had fun to include as many nods and authentic moves from each series' to help sell the game as a large collaboration of different franchises.  I think my favourite thing about Project X Zone 2 is the way it treats each franchise. The title gives each one respect and an opportunity in the limelight. Having the music change to the respectful game track of the character being controlled tickles my nostalgia nerve and is a very nice touch. It works especially well when the music cue kicks in before the character is introduced giving hints of the next party member. As a game light on story, it is also light-hearted with the scenarios it puts the party in. One moment you are walking down the catwalk Space Channel 5 style then frolicking amongst sakura petals recreating a Sega Saturn commercial. If you find this baffling, the game does too with characters acting appropriately to the situation. It's goofy, funny, and really endearing to the each franchise. It's the characters portrayals that I really like within this title and the ways they interact with each other. Sleaze ball characters like Majima and Vashyron will get rebuffed by females, Chun Li's maternal relationship with her partner Xiaoyu, and Ryu's obsession with training. Sadly the same cannot be said for all original characters as Reiji is a boring straight man present to move the plot forward. The art for Project X Zone 2 does a good job in normalising all the characters from the different series into one style. Some realistic characters like Natsu, KOS-MOS, and Segeta Sanshiro look great in their stylised cartoony form while Kazuma Kiryu didn't fair so well in transition. The sprite work and animation are phenomenal keeping everything smooth during fights and looking amazing as each move is executed. Due to the gameplay, everything meshes together into a flurry of attacks and numbers but heading into training mode and trying each move individually you can see the sum of their parts and it is excellent.  Overall I enjoyed my time with Project X Zone 2. The action portion of the combat felt like a good mix of action and strategy, I had a lot of fun with the character interactions, dialogue, and premise of the game. The game works best in short bursts as each stage is 30-40 minutes long bracketed by dialogue scenes that allow players to quickly catch up with the skirmish before engaging in battle once more. The title does have issues with narrative pacing, strategic and gameplay difficulty so while not posing a challenge for strategy fans, it will allow more action centric players to complete the game without frustration. It's a great game to have in your collection if you want to experience a fun wacky side quest with many special guests along for the ride. [This review is based on a digital retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.] Kizumonogatari: Wound TalePublished by: Vertical Inc.Written by: NisiOisiNIllustrated by: VOfanTranslated by: Ko RansomReleased: December 15, 2015MSRP: $14.95
Project X Zone 2 photo
Hey, I think I know that guy!
As an idea Project X Zone 2 is wonderful. It takes players through different worlds celebrating the creativity and unique aspects of each game. Having our favourite characters mingling together as they form a vanguard against...

Review: Trillion: God of Destruction

Apr 18 // Josh Tolentino
Trillion: God of Destruction (PS Vita [Reviewed])Developer: Compile Heart & Preapp PartnersPublisher: Idea Factory InternationalMSRP: $39.99Released: March 29, 2016 (US), April 1, 2016 (EU), July 23, 2015 (JP) Well, saying Trillion is "a game with one battle" may be a bit misleading. Players will actually fight the titular boss quite a few times as they trudge towards victory. Trillion is an ancient god out to consume the underworld, and the Great Overlord Zeabolos is all that stands in his way. After being killed in his first battle with the beast, Zeabolos makes a pact with a mysterious interloper (she's named "Faust", just to give you a hint of what she's all about), granting him the ability to bestow his power onto one of his subordinates, tasking them with training up to eventually take on the threat and kill it - or die trying. The wrinkle in this grand plan is that only one of these lesser Overlords - who just so happen to all be cute anime girls themed after various Deadly Sins - can take Trillion on at a time, and will likely buy the farm doing so. But progress is guaranteed, as any Overlord that wounds Trillion will pass on her strength to the next girl in line, and so on until victory. It actually makes for a touching story about sacrifice, legacy, and struggle against certain death, and in my opinion is one of the most effective stories produced by Compile Heart. Given that Compile Heart is known mainly for Neptunia titles, one shouldn't go in expecting Shakespeare, but the moments it goes for "work" more consistently than the comparatively inconsequential narrative offerings that are par for the course for the studio. [embed]34899:5568:0[/embed] In fact, there's a certain irony to this, as these types of games are usually much stronger in gameplay than story. While charming characters and cutesy anime-soaked banter is to be expected, it's usually deep, complex battle and progression systems that are the true draw. Unfortunately, this is where Trillion is least compelling, or at least makes the worst impression.  Trillion isn't a tactical strategy game, as some folks who assumed it would be Disgaea-like were thinking. It's actually closer to a hybrid of Nippon Ichi's ZHP: Zettai Hero Project, and an old-school dating sim/training game, the kind with character stats to raise periodically, such as in the Tokimeki Memorial series, the newer Long Live The Queen. And raising your stats is the name of the game, as Trillion, the final boss, is a tough nut to crack. Simply getting close enough to land a blow will be any given player's first real achievement, and after that, it's a matter of whittling down the boss's trillion hit points. Yes, one thousand billion HP. That and other absurdly large numbers are Trillion's primary stylistic gimmick, and while somewhat inconsequential in the grand scheme of things (the game's approach to shorthand quickly reduces these numbers to easier-to-manage sums). They do help set the game apart from some of its peers, as well as hammering home the idea that the whole game is about making incremental progress, grinding away at a threat rather than challenging it to a brief, flashy showdown. Getting your Overlords strong enough to burn through all that health is the game's primary goal, and that takes a lot of grinding and raising your Overlord's stats. That takes grinding...a lot of it. Which brings me to Trillion's primary problem, that being that the bulk of its gameplay consists of puttering through various menus to assign your Overlord to train her stats. You'll go through a menu, select a task, and a brief animation will play, showing how well the Overlord did, earning her some points to spend on buying stat increases. Training increases her fatigue, which in turn increases the chance that she'll be injured and unable to train for several days. Fatigue in turn can be managed by resting or doing fun things like going on dates with Zeabolos himself. Some of these "dates"can take on an awkward air given that some of the Overlords are Zeabolos' blood relatives, but they are technically demons, so... Anyway, this kind of light time management makes up the bulk of the game, and can feel quite tedious thanks to a lack of fun stuff like flavor text or a more detailed, interesting approach to presentation. Story events pop up during the daily cycle of activities, like the "skits" in a Tales game, and these are easily the best part of the Trillion: God of Destruction. In many ways, these events were what kept me pushing through the menus long after the daily grind had ceased to be interesting. I normally dislike bringing a game's price into the argument considering that value is such a personal thing, but one feels that a game charging this price should have more. The event scenes and character art are cute, but there isn't enough of it to balance out the inherent repetitiveness of the training cycle. Overlords can also be assigned to delve into the Valley of Swords, a randomized dungeon complex. Delving the dungeons resembles a roguelike in the style of Shiren the Wanderer, where your girls and enemies take their turns simultaneously, with tactical positioning and turn sequence being the key to surviving. Expeditions into the Valley can net your girl stat-boosting gear or usable items, but are given hard turn limits, necessitating careful planning of a route to the good loot.  All of this grinding must be done before Trillion wakes up. Each phase of the game is divided into multiple weeks of training occasionally interspersed with training matches against Mokujin, a Trillion-sized simulacra. The training matches are important for figuring out the bosses' pattern and how to deal with the smaller minions and hazards that appear in your Overlord's path. And once Trillion himself wakes, your Overlord goes to battle, armed only with the gear you collected, the knowledge you gained, and the stats you grinded, all of it shielded by "affection points" gained by treating her nicely during the cycle. Chances are, though, is that she'll eat it trying to take him down, leaving the next girl, armed with her predecessor's knowledge and stat bonuses, to grind through the next phase and try again, stronger than ever. Unfortunately, the battles themselves aren't especially engaging, mainly consisting of walking up a long corridor full of minor enemies and deadly squares, while trying to keep out of the instant-kill areas and get close enough to start attacking. The controls for some reason are extremely unwieldy, and never stop feeling awkward. Movement simply should not be this much of a hassle in a game this outwardly simple.   Add to that the fact that fights with Trillion are easy to predict. Once the pattern is found, it's only a question of having high enough stats to succeed. This tends to exacerbate the tedium of the training sections, and highlight how thin the content can feel once you've stopped fully engaging with the game's other systems. Trillion: God of Destruction is a spirited game with a number of interesting concepts, brought down by fumbled execution and anemic presentation. Like its titular final boss, its big, strong idea is hobbled by a swarm of niggling flaws. Though its strengths in narrative and characterization will persuade some to put up with these issues (perhaps enough to finish the game multiple times to get all the endings), there's no avoiding the feeling that putting a dent in a boss deserves to be more fun than this.   [embed]34899:5568:0[/embed]
Trillion PS Vita Review photo
By A Thousand Billion Cuts
The Final Boss Battle has been a staple of game design since about as long as games have had combat in them, and for the most part, a game is about how players lead their heroes to that final encounter, often plowing through ...

Review: Nights of Azure

Apr 14 // Christian Chiok
Nights of Azure (PS4)Developer: GustPublisher: Koei TecmoReleased: October 1, 2015 (JP), March 29, 2016 (NA), April 1, 2016 (EU), April 8, 2016  (AU)MSRP: $59.99 Players will play as Arnice, a holy knight and half-demon agent serving Curia who has been asked to investigate the occurrences on Ruswal. In Rusawl, she was reunited with her childhood love Lilysse, a Saint whose fate is to seal the remains of the Nightlord. With the story taking a "yuri" route with both protagonists, the "main character's love must sacrifice their life to save the world" trope isn't the common one found in most game. In Nights of Azure, instead you will get a  charming, adorable romance that isn't filled with the usual stereotypyes one might dread from the portrayal of a same-gender relationship.  The gameplay itself is a bit simplistic but still good nonetheless, especially as Gust's first take on Action-RPG. As Arnice, you will be able to execute strong and weak attacks as well as guard and dodge from your opponent's attacks. You can use various overpowered transformations and perform special attacks. Luckily, offering a variety of weapon types adds more to the gameplay, Is important to choose the right servants to accompany you in your quest. Servants vary from those that specialize in offense, defense and healing, so it’s important to have a good mix all of three. Additionally, each servant will have its Burst attack that can be used in exchange of Arnice’s SP. Most of the fun relies on using the servants than Arnice herself. It's even better when you equip the right servants and use them appropriately.  When not spending time completing the story, you'll be spending your time at the Ende Hotel where you will be completing Daytime Activities, Events as well as visiting both the Arena and the Altar of Jorth. Everything servers to add more content to the game. The game includes a lot of “Events” in which can result in a side quest or an exchange of dialogue among the characters. While a lot of it is full of the generic tropes you find in your usual anime series, it doesn’t make it less charming. Unfortunately, it can get real repetitive. In the Arena tasks you to complete battles with certain objectives such as only defeating enemies with servants, or beating certain amount of enemies in given time. The better you perform, the better result you will get thus better rewards.  The purpose of the Altar of Jorth is to level up Arnice and her abilities. While servants level up after returning to the hotel, Arnice must collect Blood via quests and combat for her power up and learn nice skills. You may only level up once per visit, sadly. You can also complete Daytime Activities which will grant you skill points that you can use to strengthen yourself for the next fiend hunt.  Unfortunately the game suffers from being one of those games that is awfully easy until the final boss battle where it receives a severe difficulty jump. Additionally, with the Arena's task being easy to complete, the only challenge is aiming to get the highest result in them. I also had a bit of an issue with the 15 minutes limit every time you went out to hunt, but it wasn't a concern either.  The game has that typically beautiful art-style commonly found in Gust games, and with the power of the PlayStation 4, it’s more beautiful than ever. Om top of that, the game also runs at 60 frames per second which is essential for Action RPGs or any action games in general. You will encounter stuttering moments a lot though, and moments when the game feels that is running below 30 frames per second. It can easily mess with the gameplay when the action gets heavy. It’s a bit of a shame that the game didn’t offer cinematic cutscenes, which is common in many RPGs, especially if they aim if they aim to add another layer of emotion to the scene. Thanks to the dialogue, the cutscenes are still enjoyable however, especially when accompanied possibly one of the best selection of soundtracks found in any recent game by Gust.  It definitely had this Final Fantasy vibe. I would still recommend Nights of Azure if you're looking to expand your Action RPG collection on PS4. With a well-crafted story that offers multiple endings, combined with good gameplay mechanics, a variety of Servans add another layer of strategy to the real-time combat. Not to mention that aside from the man story, players will be able to enter the battle arena as well as complete side quests, adding more hours of fun while leveling up your characters.   [This review is based on a digital retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
Nights of Azure photo
Would You Save The World Or Your Friend?
Being a big fan of Gust, I always anticipate their next RPG title. When Nights of Azure got introduced, I thought the premise and the characters were quite interesting. Focusing on a same-sex relationship right off the bat be...

Review: Senran Kagura Estival Versus

Mar 28 // Christian Chiok
[embed]34893:5514:0[/embed] Senran Kagura: Estival Versus (PS4 [Reviewed], PS Vita)Developer: TamsoftPublisher: Marvelous EntertainmentReleased: March 26, 2015 (JP), March 15, 2016 (EU), March 18, 2016 (NA)MSRP: $59.99 Unlike the previous game which had a more serious tone, which involved the destruction of schools via the Shinobi Battle Royale, the ancient tradition amongst numerous Shinobi schools whereby every 50 years, the five elite students of each school will do battle, this time around the franchise took a more amicable turn, showing all the characters getting along, at least during the beginning. This time around, Hanzo Academy, Gessen Academy, Hebijo Academy and Homura’s Crimson Squad were brought to the Kagura Millennium Festival, an event hosted by Master Sayuri, the Mikagura sisters, and Ryoki, which took place in a world where our characters reunited with their dead loved ones. This time around the game offers a unified story instead of separating it per school. Learning from Shinovi Versus, I didn’t expect the story to be amazing this time around either, as a matter of fact, I appreciated that it didn’t take itself too seriously during the beginning, especially since it took place in a beach most of the time. However, during the second half of the story, the game took a more serious approach, showing character progression, and story progression, where we learn why this event was hosted in the first place. Just like any of the previous games, alongside the main story, you will be able to play the character’s individual story (Shinobi Girl's Heart) which stirs away from the main story. Depending on who you are playing as, their story could either be comical or dramatic. Overall each story is highly entertaining and adds many hours of action to the game.   Unlike the other games though, in Estival Versus, you got to unlock the character’s Shinobi Girl's Heart, probably because they contain spoilers. While that’s reasonable, I really that it gave you that freedom to play the game in whatever order you wanted. In Shinovi Versus, I wanted to get invested with the characters first before proceeding to the main story. Unfortunately, most of the stages feel repetitive as you're basically revising every stage in most chapters. The only difference would be the main boss you're facing at the end of the stage. If I wasn't really invested in the story, the game would be rather boring. The Shinobi Dojo returns, allowing you to play with other friends locally via ad-hoc or via online. You will be able to play free-for-all or Team Battle in various game modes such as Point Battle, Understorm, Capture the Bra, Shinobi Survival, Walker Battle, and Shinobi Deathmatch. The only difference between the PS Vita and PS4 is that the former lets you play up to four players while the PS4 version allows you to play up to 10 players. Naturally, the more the merrier, so the PS4 version is the way to go with this mode. With the power of the PlayStation 4, the game’s visuals have heavily improved, even on the PS Vita version. The characters model look a lot closer to an anime series, allowing you appreciate their beauty a lot more. Gameplay-wise the game shares similarities to the Musou genre, which consists of beating multiple enemies on the field and leveling up your character while doing it. Just like Shinovi Versus, Estival Versus is NOT a Musou, but a 3D beat’em up instead. You’ll have two attack buttons, normal and strong attacks, which can be used to execute powerful combos as you level up. Just like the other games, you will be able to perform a Shinobi Transformation, allowing you to each girl's true shinobi form and allows for powerful special attacks called "Secret Ninja Arts." These special attacks deal massive damage and have a wider range than normal attacks. You may also use Frantic Mode, which in addition to using Secret Ninja Arts, it makes you more powerful, but it weakens your defense. You can also block and parry attacks when blocking timely. While there might be a feeling of repetitiveness, the game does a really good job at making you feel like a badass, especially with a powerful and completely leveled up character (especially if they are wielding a cool weapon). One of the major improvements is the lock-on feature which now allows you to control the camera while still being locked on. In the previous game, locking on into your enemy limited your camera control by having the angle fixed into your locked on opponent, making you vulnerable to other enemies. However, even with the lock on feature, sometimes your attack doesn't go directly to your enemy, thus ending your combo.  Stages will now have Bombs hidden inside creates. Each Bomb will have a different effect, such as poisoning or electrocuting your enemy, making you invisible or even summon a Puppet, which is technically a robot that deals a great amount of damage. Naturally with the game running on PS4 as well, you will be able to enjoy the smoothness of 60 frames per second. Even the PS Vita version of Estival Versus has improved a little bit from the previous entry as it definitely feels a bit smoother as well. It wouldn’t be Senran Kagura without its perverted moments.  Naturally, the game allows players to customize the characters’ apparel, including their normal attire and their Shinobi and Frantic Mode attire. An improvement from the first game is that you can also customize their hair’s color, offering five options of different colors. Additionally, you can equip extra accessories such as tails, glasses, gloves and more. A lot of the clothing options are exotic and really bring out the character’s outer beauty. However, the customization menu also allows you to fully view the character models from multiple angles, and it includes a “perverted” mini game, if that’s what you can call it, that allows you to harass the character in any way that you wish. The PS Vita works similarly to Shinovi Versus and Bon Appétit, where it uses the system’s PlayStation Vita’s features such as its touch screen, back screen, microphone, and gyro sensors. However, in the PS4 version, you will have to use the PS4 controller, which works similarly as putting any of the previous game on the PlayStation TV. Personally, I prefer this minigame on the PS Vita version, as it is more natural. There’s also a Diorama feature, allowing you to control the girls by putting them in any pose that you wish, change the condition of their clothing, as well as their expression. You may also change the background and add any type of visual effect to it. It is obvious that the Senran Kagura franchise is aimed to a selective audience, but that obviously doesn’t make it a bad game. Estival Versus offers improved gameplay mechanics alongside an improved multiplayer mode that adds replay value to the game.  The game has a galore breast and panty shots shown during gameplay in the most comedic way, but beneath all that, it’s fun title that fans of niche Japanese games or Anime-style games should get. So if you own a PS4 or a PS Vita, then you should pick up the game.  Check out a comparison video between the PS4 and PS Vita versions here.
Senran Kagura photo
The Path to Become a Strong Shinobi
After a year from its Japanese release, Senran Kagura Estival Versus made its way outside of Japan, making PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita owners very happy. This game is sequel to Shinovi Versus, so if you played it then ...

Review: Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale

Mar 23 // Salvador G Rodiles
Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale (3DS)Developer: epics, Marvelous Inc.Publisher: XSEED GamesRelease Date: February 18, 2016 (EU), March 1, 2016 (NA)MSRP: $39.99 Perhaps the smartest thing that the team did with Return of PoPoLoCrois was having Pietro get sent to another land while his realm is under attack by an outside force. This allowed for the farming elements to transition smoothly into the game, as the prince’s quest involves helping a fairy purge Galariland’s soil from the darkness that dwells within it. That way, he can return to his own world. Seeing that this realm is an original setting, the only Story of Seasons element present is the farming features. Since it’s been a good while that PoPoLoCrois has gotten a new game, the title’s opening sequence hits the right notes in getting the players interested in Pietro and his comrades. Their tale may not stand out too much from other fantasy stories, but its tone and characters feel like a fun Saturday morning cartoon. Because of this feeling, Return to PoPoLoCrois' ensures its audience that they’re in for a fun ride. [embed]34876:5498:0[/embed] Like with many games where the hero has achieved victory many times, Return to PoPoLoCrois’ beginning presents us with enough aspects to let us be affected by Pietro being stripped of his powers when he arrived in Galariland. While it's obviously a mechanic to keep him from making the title too easy, it also serves as a way for the royal figure to get his hands dirty with the farming life and saving an entirely new world. While the game’s story was charming, the adventure has its own share of problems. Throughout most of the title’s chapters, players have to dive into various crops so they can defeat the Black Beasts that are corrupting the fields. Once they clear this segment, then they have to go to a temple to liberate one of Galariland’s season-themed farmlands. Due to the lack of variety in the designs of these stages, these segments can get repetitive when one has to go through five levels and a major dungeon that look similar during a huge chunk of adventure. In some cases, it takes away from the great simplistic aspects present in the main world’s other areas. If there’s one good thing about this repetition is that it rewards players with more land to grow things, along with some funny to heartwarming segments that push the plot forward. Despite the title's repetitive format with its purification segments, Return to PoPoLoCrois’ content still managed to grow on me. In a similar manner to the Rune Factory titles, the game lets players juggle exploration and combat with their farming life. Thanks to this fusion, players can earn extra money while they tend to their crops and livestock, which is a neat option when they’re not in the mood to gain gold through fighting enemies. Nonetheless, Return to PoPoLoCrois’ combat is enjoyable, as it features a simple strategy RPG system that gives off an old school feeling. With mining, bug catching, and item crafting added to the mix, the game has many ways to keep players entertained outside of the main 20 to 30-hour long adventure. To an extent, these extra bits make up for the title's tedious segments. Since players can alter the Return to PoPoLoCrois' difficulty and encounter rate, this feature lets them tackle the product's offerings at their own pace. However, even at the highest difficulty, Pietro's main quest isn’t a huge pain to get through. Going back to the game’s Saturday morning cartoon feel, another aspect that compliments this feature is Yohsuke Tamori’s designs. His choice to apply the two to three head proportions and one-colored eyes to his character art plays a major role in this feeling. The art also gives off a great children’s book vibe, which contributes to the heartwarming elements present in the game. Even though Return to PoPoLoCrois’ English dub comes off as cheesy, the tone suits the game’s children cartoon-like elements. For example, Colleen O’ Shaughnessey (Digimon’s Sora, Naruto’s Ino) was able to capture the prince’s innocent personality. If the style doesn’t suit your tastes, players have the option to play the game with two types of Japanese dubs. The difference between them is that one was done by regular actors and the other features an array of folks who’ve been involved in anime. All in all, this option was a neat move on XSEED's behalf. Music wise, the game's tracks range from being highly enjoyable to amicable. The battle theme in the outer areas sounds like a tune from a Looney Toon’s short and the dungeon battle themes remind me of a mix between Mortal Kombat's main theme and the opening song used in the English version of Evil Zone/Eretzvaju. Other than that, the rest of the tunes felt mostly subtle, which worked well with the title’s Story of Season aspects. Even though I wasn’t jamming out to most of the songs, the majority of them meshed well with Pietro's adventure. As a newcomer to the PoPoLoCrois series, the Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale left me with a fine impression on the franchise. While the title’s field dungeon moments felt like a chore, my desire to see Prince Pietro return to his kingdom grew as I saw him get closer to his goal. Thanks to its efforts in fusing the two franchise’s elements, Return to PoPoLoCrois is the closest thing to a new Rune Factory installment on the 3DS. Sure, it lacks the detailed systems from the signature fantasy farming series, but the game’s silly tale and the Story of Season mechanics balance out to the point where this harvest is worth picking out. [This review is based on a digital retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.] Despite the repetitive format with the title’s purification segments, Return to PoPoLoCrois’ content grew on me. In a similar manner to the Rune Factory titles, the game lets players juggle exploration and combat with their farming life. Thanks to this fusion, players can earn extra money while they tend to their crops and livestock, which is a neat option when they’re not in the mood to gain gold through fighting enemies. Nonetheless, Return to PoPoLoCrois’ combat is enjoyable, as it features a simple strategy RPG system that gives off an old school feeling. With mining, bug catching, and item crafting thrown into the mix, there’s many ways to keep you entertained outside of the 25 to 30-hour adventure. Since players can alter the game’s difficulty and encounter rate, this feature lets them tackle the title’s offering at their own pace. However, even at the highest difficulty, Return to PoPoLoCrois isn’t too tough to get through.
PoPoLoCrois photo
It's a cropload of fun
I never thought that I'd live to see the day when the PoPoLoCrois series would cross over with the Story of Season (formerly known as Harvest Moon in the West) games. Even though the Rune Factory titles mixes raising cro...

Review: The Witch and the Hundred Knight: Revival Edition

Mar 22 // Christian Chiok
[embed]34875:5497:0[/embed] The Witch and the Hundred Knight: Revival Edition (PS4)Developer: Nippon Ichi SoftwarePublisher: Nippon Ichi SoftwareReleased: September 25, 2015 (JP), March 1, 2016 (EU), March 4, 2016 (NA)MSRP: $39.99 In the case of The Witch and the Hundred Knight Revival Edition, it includes improved graphics and features not found in its previous generation counterpart. These features include being able to take control of the dastardly witch Metallia, as well as the Tower of Illusion, in which is a nifty way to challenge yourself and gain some sick loot. Players will take control of the Hundred Knight, a legendary creature under the command of the Swamp Witch Metallia, and will be on a mission to release all Pillars and spread the swamp across the world to extend her power and reach. Right off that bat, I thought Metallia’s character was just awful and didn’t care much about her throughout the game. Her vulgarity was hardly humorous (this comes from someone that still enjoys shows like South Park) and her edgy personality seems like something meant to appease middle schoolers. However, the game offering an ironically cheerful story of vengeance kind of made up for her bad character. As someone who played multiple JRPGs, semi-long to long text cutscenes don’t really bother me, especially when the dialogue is entertaining. So on top of tolerating Metallia’s vulgar mannerism, you’ll have to overcome long sessions of cutscenes of her speaking. I always found Nippon Ichi’s ability to create fresh gameplay experiences quite interesting.  While the game is still essentially an action RPG, it offers mechanics that differentiates itself from other games of the genre, and it’s actually quite fun. You will be using a mix of dodging, defending, and a range of attacks backed up with some special skills to overtake the enemy and reach your destination. You will be able to build up different combos depending on your current weapon, allowing you to combine slash, blunt, or magic attacks. I really like that it punishes players for mindlessly attacking the enemy instead of strategizing and probably reaching your destination without the need to attack any enemy. There will be scenarios were the enemies will able to defeat you in a couple of hits, so it’s better to just avoid them. Once you master the combat, you will feel like a badass when destroying everything and anything in your path, giving the player plenty of fun. It actually makes the game a lot more tolerable, but of course, after overcoming the many minutes of dialogue before jumping back into the action. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this game at full price, unless you can tolerate Metallia and her actions. The gameplay mechanics alone make the game worthwhile, as there is plenty combat system and skills to master as well as the new mode Tower of Illusion, providing more hours of fun. If you missed out on the PS3 version, you can’t go wrong with this game for the right price. [This review is based on a digital retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.] [embed]34875:5497:0[/embed]
Hundred Knight Review photo
Expand Your Swamp, Witch.
From the looks of it, this is the generation in which many games from last generation get ported into this generation’s console. While it may not be ideal that we get an old game instead of a sequel or new IP, those who...

Review in Progress: Project X Zone 2

Mar 19 // Anthony Redgrave
Project X Zone 2 is a fan service game. It's not a fan service game as in Jill Valentine starts to strip into her underoos because she was ambushed by an enemy tentacle monster. It's because this title is proud of each and every franchise and loves to show them off in detail. Characters will reference various bits of lore from their respective franchise expecting the player to have some knowledge of their origins if not then there is an encyclopedia included for new players to catch up. To keep things open the actual main story isn't related to any specific franchise. It's about two warring factions: Shinra and Ouma and how they hate each other because one likes opening portals and other wants to shut them. You are in control of the former as they chase the latter through each game world trying to find out what they're up to. Throw in some gold chains, anime and game references with small hints at the previous game's story and you have the plot of Project X Zone 2. Along the way, you do join forces with Capcom/Namco Bandai/ Sega representatives to form a rag-tag group of heroes, anti-heroes, and villains. Every stage is based on a different franchise and you can guarantee that each stage is based on a franchise. The plot is pretty thin in stringing together the different levels as an excuse for the party to travel there. They pretty much cross time, space, dimensions, and a mixture of the three or four to get them to the different worlds. It's pretty amazing the story is able to explain Dante (Devil May Cry) fighting alongside Valkyrie (Legend of Valkyrie) with support from KOS-MOS (Xenosaga) and Fiora (Xenoblade) and still take itself semi-seriously. The most ridiculous and probably amazing part of the entire scenario is how the characters try to convince themselves and others that all of this still makes sense. The gameplay is a turn-based strategy with more interactivity due to active time attacks. Once you enter an attack on an enemy, you are given different attacks and supports to lower the enemies HP. These attacking sessions are the best part of the game. They're dramatic, high octane, and flashy. It's amazing seeing familiar characters delivering their signature attacks with numbers flying everywhere, all without any slow down. The game benefits from some amazing sprite work making all the animation smooth and refined. Once you get a hang of how the attack system works, there's an added incentive to learn how each move affects the enemy as well-timed executions can reward players with critical hits turning the tides of battle in one move. However, these game-changing executions are rare as the game has been fairly easy and strategy lite for the most part. It has been rare that I had to restart a battle or game because of a wrong move or down unit. All your pieces are resilient and can deal enough damage that you never really worry about where they're facing or their position. Items are aplenty so death isn't a problem worth thinking about. Each stage also lasts about 30 minutes so there isn't a massive investment even if you do lose. Battling will make up half of your experience with Project X Zone 2 and the other half will be reading through dialogue. There is a Japanese dub but it only occurs sometimes appears during the story. There is a lot of flitting between spoken and unspoken dialogue throughout the story scenes. Whenever something happens, every member of the party has to get a line of dialogue in to voice their emotions in their own unique way. I would say that this is a make or break for the game as some may find it charming to see Phoenix get completely exasperated at his company of martial artists, robots, and BSAA special agents or may find it completely aggravating that the team must talk amongst themselves literally when anything happens. For the latter mindset player, there is a start button to skip all the exchanges. Since this game is made up of different franchises and company representatives, it's appropriate that they have music and levels from the different games. As you switch from character to character, their respective themes play which is a nice touch when battling as them. Musically there isn't a lot of clashing as each theme weaves smoothly from one character to the next. The pixelated representations are also really nice to look at and the portraits are all in the same anime style so helping each character fit into the Project X Zone world.  A large part of my enjoyment stems from the mystery of which character will appear next. I really like how each character plays off one another and how their personalities are kept faithful to their franchise origins. I sometimes find myself entering training mode just to see the character specific dialogue for unique team match ups. I've played around 15 hours of the game so there is still a lot to go considering it is an RPG.  Stayed tuned to for the full review. Project X Zone 2 is out right now exclusively for Nintendo 3DS. #3DS #Capcom #Devil May Cry #Fire Emblem #Mega Man #Namco Bandai #Nintendo#Resident Evil #reviews in progress #Sega #SRPG #Strategy games #Street Fighter#tactical #Tales #Tekken #Xenoblade #Xenosaga #Yakuza
Project X Zone photo
Everything goes in with the kitchen sink
Dream match up games between companies is few and far between. Licencing issues, accurate portrayals, and regional differences in licencing can cause a cross-over game to be left on the cutting room floor of any game developm...

Review: Death Note: The Omega Edition

Mar 16 // Christian Chiok
[embed]34843:5475:0[/embed] Death Note: The Omega Edition (Blu-ray [reviewed])Studio: MadhouseLicensed By: Viz MediaReleased: March 1, 2016 (NA)MSRP: $69.99 What makes The Omega Edition special over the standard edition is that it includes both of the Relight films, as well as the one-shot manga chapter that inspired the anime series. Between these and the inclusion of Spanish, Portuguese, and French dub options.  I had never seen Death Note in Spanish, having moved to the U.S. by the time it was airing, and after giving it a go here I was surprised by how good it was.  Personally, I didn’t try out the Portuguese and French dubs as I don’t speak or understand those languages, and I felt unable to appreciate them properly. Unfortunately, the Relight films were only available in Japanese, English and French. Naturally, I watched them in Japanese. The Omega Edition also includes interviews with the creators, behind-the-scenes footage of the English and Japanese voice cast, production art and much more. Many of these extras are lifted from Death Note's 2009 DVD release, and are of poor quality compared to the extras new to the Blu-ray edition. Regardless, it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying it if you’re curious of what went behind the creation of the series. Ever since Blu-ray made its debut decade ago, a lot movies and series prior its era has been getting remastered into this new format.  While the Death Note series released months later, it really wasn’t aired in HD.  With the series getting its first Blu-ray treatment, at least in North America, the visuals were heavily improved, and almost look as if it were a new series entirely. In 2016, I think most of us have seen Death Note, and if not, most likely you weren’t interested. I mean, it’s been a decade since its original Japanese release. However, if for some reason you,still haven’t seen the series, definitely give it a go. It has a thrilling story full of action-packed scenes, suspense, great characters, and an amazing soundtrack. Depending on your stance though, you may or may not find the ending disappointing, but it was for the best. It would have been interesting to see an alternate ending, though. If aren’t familiar with the Relight films, they are basically recaps of the original series with some extra footage. The first Relight film covers the first episode all the way through Episode 25, while the second film covers the second part of the series, which are Episodes 26 through 37.  Naturally as recaps, they had to cut a lot of stuff to fit into a 2 hours’ time frame, however I believe that they still cover most of the juicy stuff that you need to know about the series. I don’t think I would recommend watching these if you never seen the original series, but they definitely serve as refreshers if you don’t want to go through the original series again.  As an anime collector and a fan of the series, Death Note: The Omega Edition is a valuable addition to the collections of otaku who can fit it into their budget, while the standard edition still packs the crisp, remastered HD visuals that blow most available streaming options out of the water. [This review is based on a copy of the product provided by the distributor] Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Cyber Connect 2Publisher: Bandai NamcoReleased: February 4, 2016 (JP), February 5, 2016 (EU), February 9, 2016 (NA/SA)MSRP: $59.99
Death Note photo
Good show, great extras
Until recently I didn't have much interest in buying anime box sets. They were just too expensive, and I had few aside from ToraDora! and Dragon Ball Z.  Death Note: The Omega Edition is also pretty expensive, but makes a convincing pitch, thanks to some unique extras  and its comprehensive gathering of a great anime series. 

Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4

Feb 28 // Josh Tolentino
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Cyber Connect 2Publisher: Bandai NamcoReleased: February 4, 2016 (JP), February 5, 2016 (EU), February 9, 2016 (NA/SA)MSRP: $59.99 Indeed, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is purportedly the last of the series, despite this particular installment being the first of its kind that Cyber Connect 2 have brought to this generation of consoles, complete with jazzed-up visuals and just the right place in the Naruto storyline to take advantage of some high-octane ninja magic.  And there is a lot of ninja magic in this one. With the characters at the height of their power and the stakes almost literally apocalyptic, there's no holding back on a grand series of massive, world-shaking battles. That's what the whole single-player mode really is, come to think of it. With the previous numbered installment covering the minor and major skirmishes of the Fourth Ninja World War, the entirety of the story is spent almost exclusively following the original members of Team 7 - Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, and Kakashi -  as they take their final steps and confront the last three villains of the saga. I'll decline to name them here on the off chance that there's a reader out there whose primary source of information about Naruto is these games, but suffice it to say that the matchups are suitably grand in scale and significance. The game makes few allowances for people new to Naruto, but the story is simple enough to follow even without in-depth familiarity, and Naruto fans will find that the visuals and action lend a spectacular, explosive edge to a manga finale that practically slogged at the end.  [embed]34755:5449:0[/embed] With the narrative being as condensed as it is to the principal cast, one might be forgiven for thinking that Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 would have a shallower bench than usual, but the opposite is true. Dozens of characters across the entire series' timeline are present and playable. Young or old, dead or alive, if one was a ninja in Naruto, one is on this game's roster. Of course, a large cast has always been a selling point for the series, so that's hardly surprising at this point. Perhaps more damning is the fact that many of the fighters available are, but for a different costume and a high-resolution touch-up, almost identical to their incarnations from previous titles. Though that does dull the value proposition somewhat for longtime players, in this case it's better to have too many options for play than too few. Both concerning and comforting is how similarly the game plays to almost every other edition of the franchise. The controls haven't changed - most characters control similarly, and differ mainly in their selection of combos and available powers - and minor adjustments to balancing won't really resonate outside the minority of players that take the combat and competitive aspect of the game seriously. That said, folks into either aspect of Ultimate Ninja Storm 4's combat are well-taken care of. Online play comes with a number of desirable options for customization, stat-tracking, and organizing tournament and ranked play. The online experience is quite connection-dependent, though, so one shouldn't expect matchups from faraway lands to play especially well. The real party piece is the new ability for players to swap between any member of their chosen team during a match, almost at will. Whereas in previous games players would select a character and two supports to be called at the tap of a shoulder button, a flick of the right stick can switch out characters to extend a combo, escape a bad situation, or even move over to a more suitable moveset. In adding this new feature, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 evokes shades of Marvel vs. Capcom, a similarly frantic fighter, and one whose vision of team-based play fits well with the coordination and combination techniques so common in the manga. In the end, the game doesn't stray too far from formula, trading the risk of the overly familiar to refine and emphasize the aspects that made the game so notable in the first place: A massive roster, eye-popping visuals, and an obvious love for all things Naruto. That doesn't make for a huge amount of novelty, but thankfully, endings aren't about the new, but about remembering all that came before. In that, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is a good way to go out.   Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Cyber Connect 2Publisher: Bandai NamcoReleased: February 9, 2016MSRP: $49.99
Naruto Storm 4 Review photo
Ninja War Never Changes
Endings are hard. Whether you're putting the finishing touches on a blog post or finding a way to wrap up a decade-and-a-half-long epic, concluding almost any affair in a way that satisfies all involved is a challenge. That's...

Review: Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel

Feb 13 // Christian Chiok
Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel (PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: ExamuPublisher: Marvelous, XSEED GamesReleased: December 10, 2015 (JP), February 2, 2016 (NA), Early 2016 (EU)MSRP: $29.99 (PS3), $39.99 (PS4) The game also features traditional modes such as Versus Mode, Score Attack, and Training. Unfortunately, there isn’t a tutorial mode for you to learn all the functions of the game but at least Training Mode is rebust enough, giving you many ways to improve on your weak points. I may not know the characters, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun using each character either. Each character has their individual moveset catering to all playstyles. So while the game shares the same button input for all characters, the learning curve will vary. The game is also easier to jump in, compared to Examu’s Arcana Heart series which has more mechanics to learn and has a higher learning curve. However, I would say the game is similar to the BlazBlue series. While it’s an easy game to jump in and get familiarized with its combat system, it takes it’s time to master. Of course, the game isn’t as in-depth as BlazBlue.  However, just like Dengeki Bunko and Persona 4 Arena, the game also has the auto-combo feature which I still despise it. Basically, it allows the player to perform a combo by button smashing. While it is easily avoidable, offering such features ruins what could be a fun competitive game and turns it into a casual fest. Unlike the those games though, they can only be performed by the Vanishing Rush, which consumes your power gauge.  You will be able to add support characters into the mix as well, which allows you to push your combos even further, either by adding an additional attack or increasing your power gauge, allowing you to possibly use your character's Lethal Blaze—their special attack.  Naturally, summoning partners has it's cooldown. The game also has a Blast feature, which similar to other traditional fighting games, allows players to escape from combo, which has its own cooldown as well. It also regenerates your power gauge and health.  Having friends that aren’t invested in the fighting game genre too much sucks, but so I heavily rely on the game’s online portion. Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel’s netcode is great and I haven’t faced and issue with it so far. It’s definitely an improvement from Examu’s previous titles like Aquapazza. Additionally, the game includes online cross-play, so if you have friends that own the previous gen version, because they don’t want to pay for online or still want to use their good ol arcade stick then you will be able to play with them. I personally tried it with a friend and it works as good as playing with players on PS4. While I believe that the game is great, and would recommend that you add it to your fighting game collection, releasing the game near Street Fighter V is going to hurt the game. Granted, not everyone cares about SFV, but many players will transition into the upcoming fighting game. If you don’t care about Street Fighter V however, then you should definitely buy this game as it’s a fun fighting game with a solid combat system and making likable characters. [This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.]  
Nitroplus Blasterz Review photo
Waifus Unite!
Seeing a crossover game isn’t rare in 2016. During the previous years, we had games like Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, Dengeki Bunko, Anarchy Reigns, and PlayStation All-Stars. This time around, we got Nitroplus ...

Review: Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky

Feb 08 // Christian Chiok
Atelier Escha & Logy PlusDeveloper: GustPublisher: Koei TecmoRelease Date: 19 January 2016 (NA), January 20, 2016 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 You will be playing as both Escha and Logy, two alchemists recently hired as as members of their R&D division. While learning the ropes of their new occupation, Escha and Logy gather friends and companions as they unlock the secrets of the nearby ruins and help the citizens in a world that is still recovering from a catastrophic event known as "The Dusk". Depending on who you choose as your protagonist (Escha or Logy), the game will feature different story events and endings, but for the most part, some endings are the same no matter who the chosen protagonist is.  The timed assignments from the Atelier Rorona are back. While that may be a turn off already, though fortunately the timed assignments are a lot more tolerable in this entry. You have one main assignment that must be completed within about 4 months, along with a bunch of other optional assignments as well. While completing the optional assignments isn’t essential, you will be rewarded for completing them. While the timed assignments themselves don’t bother me, I really dislike that I can’t truly freely travel as moving around locations consumes days, so you really got to pay attention to your movements. Personally, the assignments being timed hasn’t hinder my ability to complete the game but I would like to be able to explore the game’s world freely. The battle system is quite an improvement from the other entries. This time around you will be able to control a party of six members—three on the front and three on the back. While the three characters on the front are your main party, you will be able to switch out between front and back at your leisure. Additionally, you will be able to link attacks among other party members and guard them whenever prompted. Using either one consumes from your Link gauge, however, so it is important to have some leftoever when you need to protect your party members from a strong opponent’s attack. With the two alchemy systems, the player can combine different items to create a new item(s). "Item Synthesis" is the area Escha is in charge of, while Logy can create armor and weapons through the "drilling/training” system. Both kinds of synthesis can be performed in the workshop, and it's possible to use both systems no matter who the protagonist chosen is. Atelier Escha & Logy didn’t really suffer from being ported into the PS Vita. Even while playing on the PS Vita TV, the game still is nice to look at. Granted, with the system’s resolution it is still noticeable that it’s a PS Vita game, but it’s something that you would have to pay close attention to since it's barely noticeable.  I would definitely recommend the game if you’re looking for your RPG fix on system, even if you already own the PlayStation 3 version. The new playable characters, enemies and story events are definitely worth it.  [This review is based on a digital retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
Atelier Escha Logy Plus photo
An Alchemical Adventure
With games like Persona 3, Persona 4, and many of the Hyperdimension Neptunia games coming to portable systems with new features and improvements, it has been a common practice among Japanese developers, and that includes Gus...

Review: Kizumonogatari

Jan 27 // Anthony Redgrave
Kizumonogatari: Wound TalePublished by: Vertical Inc.Written by: NisiOisiNIllustrated by: VOfanTranslated by: Ko RansomReleased: December 15, 2015MSRP: $14.95 Despite being the third light novel released, Kizumonogatari is effectively the start of the series as a whole. High schooler Araragi Koyomi meets with a vampire during his Golden Week Spring Break holidays and subsequently joins the legion of the undead. As a bid to get his humanity back he has to serve  his new master or be damned to live in the darkness forever. It's a tale that has been hinted at throughout the TV show so fans will enjoy experiencing it first hand. Once the story gets going, the plot is set to a rigid structure with a few interesting turns keep it from being stale and providing a steady pace from start to finish. At times, the pacing can become slow especially during the first few chapters and in-between set pieces.  Despite the difference in medium, the feeling of a Monogatari story is still present. The mounting supernatural pressures, off-kilter dialogue, and perverse situations all find their way into the novel in at some point. Kizumonogatari keeps your eyes glued to the page by intertwining the normal with the paranormal. Readers of the popular Japanese author Haruki Murakami will feel right at home with the pacing and themes visited in this book.  As usual, the lead is the internally loquacious but externally laconic Araragi Koyomi, a high schooler stumbling through life with no direction. This character archetype is common in Japanese novels rather than Western ones although common strings can be drawn to the everyday reluctant hero with a quick mind and tongue. The cast is kept small and intimate with returning faces from the show making their first appearances in this novel. Araragi's interactions with the supporting cast are great as it explores their initial interactions and helps long time fans understand the basis of their relationship. Character quirks, catch phrases, and snappy dialogue makes it hard to dislike anyone. A personal highlight is Araragi's relationship with Tsubasa and how it evolves. It treads the line between strong friendship and romantic interest in such a way that when it is later followed up in Nekomonogatari Black you know where they stand perfectly.  The story is told entirely in the first-person perspective putting you right into the mind of Araragi. A constant long-running internal dialogue throughout the book. Readers that prefer to have dialogue-heavy novels with little in the ways of the description will enjoy the trimming of the 'adjective fat' in favour of getting to understand Araragi's personality more. This close intimate relationship between the reader and Araragi helps you relate to his plight even if first impressions are bad. In terms of writing style, this could come off as lacking in variety as you are only getting information from one viewpoint. It takes some getting to used to as I had found the first few chapters difficult to read. Odd interruptions, stray words, and abnormal punctuations cause the writing to stop and start mimicking the short snappy thoughts of Araragi that break the flow. Once you get used to this style and the story picks up the rest of the story flows a lot better. For the most part, the English translation of Kizumonogatari does a great job in capturing the tone and style of the original. The characters are still fun, quirky, and just as animated as they were in the show supported by the strong dialogue. Tsubasa's words are sweet with a drizzle of flirtation, Araragi is an over-analytical opportunist and Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade continues to carry a brazenly confident demeanor despite all circumstances. There are some points of the novel that may be very peculiar for readers not versed in the ways of Japanese anime and this could be very hit and miss. I can see where the author was intending with these sections for future use in an anime but in a novel they slowed the pace down considerably or made me feel very uncomfortable to read. They are rare and far between and that is why they could be a deal breaker as they come from the far left field.  Presentation wise, this isn't a normal Western paperback novel. Partly because the cover has paper flaps and the size gives it a nice heavy chunky feel to it. There are a few pictures on the first few pages of the book that look nice and a blurb in the inside of the paper flaps giving it the feel of a hardback book. The book clocks in at 344 pages with a short translated afterword from the author. It's a decent sized book that will keep keen readers busy for a week and casual readers for a little longer.  I've been an active follower of Araragi's adventures on the screen so I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of where it all started. After overcoming the initial challenges, I was immersed in familiar territory and enjoying every step. The pacing, dialogue, characters, and feel is pure Monogatari and fans of the series will not be disappointed by the translation. The book comes at an excellent time coinciding with the release of the movie so fans should give this book a flick through if they want to get the full experience. Newcomers, especially those not accustomed to conventional Japanese literature, may experience a culture shock in some of the scenarios visited in the story; however, they may find the charm in the intricacies and storytelling that made this series so appealing to many people from around the world. [This review is based on a review copy provided by the publisher] The Art of GrassHopper Manufacture: Complete Collection of SUDA51Published By PIE International + PIE Books (Website)Written By: SUDA51Released: June 2015MSRP: $28.95 (Amazon)ISBN-13: 978-4-7562-4586-1
Kizumonogatari photo
Monogatari without Shaft
I don't think I could ever think of the Monogatari series without Shaft's trademark animation and visuals. It would be like eating PB and J sandwiches all my life and then discovering peanut butter could exist on starch witho...

Review: Naruto Gaiden: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring

Jan 16 // Christian Chiok
Although meant as a prologue for the movie, and just a side story, this Gaiden wasn’t really enjoyable for many reasons. To address the elephant in the room, I feel like Cho-cho’s role felt rather forced and added no substance to story. While I understand that she was added for comedic relief, sometimes it was just executed at the wrong times and it just felt rather annoying more than anything. Another big issue was the main antagonist of this Gaiden—Shin Uchiha, who easily is one of the most forgettable villains in the series with a lackluster motive, probably a lot worse than Obito Uchiha.  His goal is to erase peace as he thinks it’s detrimental to human evolution.  The only memorable things about the character are some of his attacks, like his Kamui-like jutsu and his Weapon Manipulation Technique, which I thought it was cool.   I always thought that Kishimoto was great when it came to delivering fights, especially near the end of the series, as well as other fights such as Sasuke vs. Itachi.  Aside from seeing Shin’s Weapon Manipulation Technique, Sakura in action, and some Naruto and Sasuke Teamwork, just like the antagonist, this fight was hardly enjoyable as well. However, this Gaiden does have its highlights that made reading this tolerable, such as seeing Orochimaru, and the jokes that revolve his new body, the early interactions between Boruto and Naruto, the new generation and of course, Sarada reuniting with Sasuke and learning the truth about her family. Like I stated, in my Boruto: Naruto The Movie review, I really like that Sarada wants to follow the path of Hokage, as opposed to Boruto who wants to be more like Sasuke. While I wasn’t expecting too much out of this Gaiden, it was still overall disappointing. I felt like I was reading it for the sake of reading it every time a new chapter came up. I really thought that reading the entire Gaiden in one sitting would make it more enjoyable, but I was wrong.  I was really hoping to see something feature the new generation but maybe next time.
Naruto Gaiden Review photo
A Story of Father and Daugther
It’s been a few months since I published my review for Boruto: Naruto The Movie, so make sure to check that out as well.  It is important to note that Naruto Gaiden: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring is the...

Review: Gravity Rush Remastered

Jan 16 // Josh Tolentino
Gravity Rush Remastered (PS4)Developer: SCE Japan Studio and Bluepoint GamesPublisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Japan and AsiaReleased: December 10, 2015 (Japan/Asia), February 2, 2016 (NA/EU)MSRP: $29.99 [Note: This review is based on the English-language version of the game released in Asian regions on December 10, 2015. We expect that there will be few if any significant differences between this release and the upcoming North America/EU releases.] The most striking part of Bluepoint's work on Gravity Rush Remastered is on the technical side. The game runs at a smooth, uninterrupted 60 frames per second, at a native 1080p resolution. Higher-resolution textures sport additional detail and sharpening while improved lighting and antialiasing brings out the color in the game's unique cel-shaded aesthetic. No one's going to mistake Gravity Rush Remastered for a "native" PS4 game, but it does look much like the way I (fondly) remember the Vita original, which is high praise considering that I can compare the two side-by-side and see just how much work went into the porting job.  While Bluepoint has made some considerable improvements to Gravity Rush Remastered's graphical quality and performance, it was more conservative in terms of content, opting just to add the original's three downloadable content packs as standard, and a gallery mode to check out concept art, character designs, and unlocked cutscenes. This may dilute the game's value proposition somewhat for existing Gravity Rush owners on the fence about double-dipping since the game is identical in content and design to the Vita version. [embed]34700:5357:0[/embed] If there's anything about the game that qualifies as "bad news," it's rooted in the fact that the content itself is unchanged. As such, the criticisms raised by Jim Sterling in his review of the original do stand, to an extent. The game's mission design never really lives up to the sheer joy of its central gravity-shifting mechanic, and no amount of frame rate improvement or antialiasing can change that. Combat and control in stressful situations can still be a little squirrely, though the better "feel" of a DualShock 4 controller, combined with the extra awareness afforded by a larger screen, makes it easier to compensate. Even players who enjoyed the tilt- and touchscreen-based features of Gravity Rush are accommodated, thanks to the DualShock 4's own motion sensing and touch panel (though these can be turned off if desired). The narrative is also much more proficient at establishing atmosphere and personality than at answering the questions it raises, and by the end of the campaign it can feel like has read  an incomplete set of obscure foreign comic books, not knowing when or where the next issue will turn up. That said, I'm of the opinion that these rough edges are not nearly as serious in their impact as some may think, and to players in the right mindset, even add to Gravity Rush's considerable charm. The writing, dialog and story all emphasize Kat's character as a somewhat hapless amateur superhero (think "anime Ms. Marvel with a different power set") just getting started in her crime-fighting career, and she's exactly the kind of person who might whiff on landing a gravity kick and go flying into a pile of boxes. Just in the way that deliberately "slow" controls can improve the atmosphere of a horror game like Amnesia,occasional finickiness and flubs reinforce Gravity Rush Remastered's sense of character (albeit unintentionally). In the end, Bluepoint deserves credit for managing to bring out the best in an already-pretty-good game, allowing PS4 owners the chance to experience the charm of Gravity Rush unhampered by the limitations of its original platform.  [This review is based on a retail copy of the game acquired by the reviewer.] [embed]34700:5357:0[/embed]
Gravity Rush Remastered photo
Falling with style
Gravity Rush is and remains one of the coolest games on the PS Vita, even three years after its original 2012 release. Unfortunately for fans of cool games, the PS Vita didn't get into nearly as many hands as Sony was ho...

Review: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

Jan 15 // Salvador G Rodiles
[embed]34698:5355:0[/embed] The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (PlayStation 3 [Reviewed], PlayStation Vita)Developer: Nihon FalcomPublisher: XSEED Games (NA), NIS America (EU)Release Date: December 22, 2015 (NA), January 29, 2016 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 (Regular Edition), $49.99 (Lionheart Edition) Before the game’s main story begins, players are thrown into the middle of a mission you’re storming a military base that’s filled with robots, along with a few tidbits that hint at a major crisis in Erebonia. Then Trails of Cold Steel focuses on Rean Schwarzer's enrollment at the Thors Military Academy, which places him in the newly created class called Class VII. During his new academic life, he’ll have to bond with his classmates as they learn about the reasoning behind their group’s creation, along with encountering a few suspicious scenarios that are happening from behind the scenes. Throughout a good chunk of the adventure, Trails of Cold Steel’s story moves at a very slow place, as it takes a long time for the major events to kick in. Mind you, this isn’t a bad thing, as players are showered with many elements that expand a few great treats, such as the Erebonia region’s historical background, the culture of each location in the territory, and a ton of other stuff that gets people acquainted with the land. This is accomplished through the books that players read throughout the adventure, the characters that they interact with, and the quests (both main and optional) that they undertake. All in all, I was entertained by the title’s presentation since it throws each piece at the player in a steady manner. When it comes to Trails of Cold Steel progression, the whole formula felt similar to titles like Persona 4 and Mana Khemia: Alchemist of Al-Revis since the meat of the game focuses on Rean’s school life and his ordeals with his classmates. You spend most of your time attending classes, spending time with your Class VII buddies, and undertaking different tasks for the Student Council. Then the story takes the group on a field trip where they test their skills in different towns and large environments all over Erebonia. With the group consisting of nobles and commoners with their own problems, the developing chemistry between the party ended up being entertaining. For the most part, the formula doesn’t deviate from this path too much, but that doesn’t stop it from getting dull and/or repetitive as the events and narrative that lead up to each activity holds the entire package together nicely. As players start to see other segments that hint at the real conflicts in the story, the whole segment manages to feel rewarding during each of the game’s chapters. Whether it’s seeing the events unfold through mysterious characters that are up to something huge, political struggles between the top noble classes, or the main cast’s dilemmas, the game's story blends different styles of world-building elements into one tasty treat; thus pleasing those who were pulled in from the beginning. For players who got to play the Trails in the Sky saga, Trails of Cold Steel’s combat system brings back the turn-based benefits and the S-Break mechanic/the ability to use any character's ultimate move during any moment in battle. As an added feature, the game throws in a few mechanics that give off a nice Persona 4 vibe. With the introduction to Link Attacks, this lets players find new ways to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses. All in all, this new addition to the game acts as another feature for players to make sure that enemies don’t take advantage of the random battle bonuses (such as dealing critical damage or gaining life). Throw in the ability to switch party members like in Final Fantasy X, and we have ourselves some good ways to turn each encounter into a fun time. Perhaps the best part out of the team attacks is that their power can be improved through methods outside of spending time with your classmates. Through minigames and using each character in your adventure, players can increase their link levels of their allies very easily— even if some of the social events can only be done on certain days. Best of all, this allows for other party members to support each other in combat. Thanks to these new features, I found myself coming up with various ways to mop the floor with my enemies. The game’s Arts feature, the Trails series’ term for magic-like abilities, feels like an improved version of Final Fantasy VII’s Materia system, which grants players endless possibilities on how they want to tailor their party; therefore resulting in a rewarding experience when a setup works well in battle. Trails of Cold Steel may not have the greatest looking graphics on the PS3 and Vita, but the simplicity and style behind its designs work well in giving the game a nice presentation that's good enough to pull people into Erebonia. At the same time, the Falcom’s 3D models manage to do great justice to Nakae’s lovely character designs, which is one of the benefits of its simple look. As a person who’s been digging the Ys series’ upbeat and fast-paced music, Trails of Cold Steel’s soundtrack lives up to Falcom’s great record of having some amazing tunes in their titles. For example, the boss theme track known as “Tie a Link of Arcus” is a harmonious fusion between electric guitar and violin music that always gets my blood pumping when I’m about to fight a tough adversary. The same can be said about the main battle song “A Glint of Cold Steel,” a tune that somehow creates a wonderful melody that mixes techno, rock, and piano music together. In terms of the area tunes, they all manage to suit the locations theme, such as the Nord Highland’s piece, "Land of Blue Skies," having some soothing panflute segments that feel you’re exploring the mountain regions of Peru. While we’re still on the topic of sound, the game’s English voice cast knocked it out of the ballpark. Sean Chiplock’s (Magi’s Cassim, Danganronpa’s Ishimaru) performance as Rean worked well in conveying the guy's various reaction in his quest to find his place in life, along with his fumbles during the beginning of the story and his serious moments. Also, Carrie Keranen (KILL la KILL’s Satsuki, Madoka Magica’s Mami) was able to convey the Class VII Instructor Sara’s laid-back personality and drunk side wonderfully; thus making her one of my favorite teachers in an RPG. Overall, XSEED Games did a great job in ensuring that each person gave it their all with their roles in Trails of Cold Steel. At the same time, it helped show how well their localization work on the game blended with each performance. In terms of downsides, there were a couple minor issues present in the game. One has to do with two Quartz items called Dragon Vein and Septium Vein. The former’s description says that it’s supposed to regenerate the user’s HP outside of battle; however, it only restores their EP, the points used to cast Arts. As for the latter, it says that it’s supposed to grant players the healing skill Teara, but the ability isn’t available when someone equips in on one of their party members. Nonetheless, this error is very small, as both items are still useful. Most importantly, it doesn’t change the fact that Trails of Cold Steel’s English script flowed nicely throughout the story, which shows how dedicated the team was at making sure that the lines hit us in a positive way. Also, it was neat to see that one of the academy’s students speaks in a Scottish accent. Another problem includes a few instances where Trails of Cold Steel would lag during panning scenes or when the player is navigating through the Orbment section of the menu in Trista, the game's main town. In the end, these problems don’t happen frequently to the point where the whole adventure goes through tons of slowdowns. When they happen, they are very brief, since a majority of the game’s segments ran smoothly. In the end, my time with Trails of Cold Steel was like a great relationship where the problems didn’t get in the way of the strong bond. The title’s slow narrative and world-building aspects benefit the adventure more than hurting it, as it prepares players for the major events in its sequel. While there were a few references to the previous Trails titles, newcomers to the series aren’t exposed to the who, what, and why behind these events, since they’re more of an extra tasty topping to the yummy Teriyaki Chicken Pizza that’s right in front of us. Just like any tasty delight, the reward for savoring every moment makes this game a nice course that'll satisfy anyone who loves to consume RPGs. [This review is based on a digital retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.] [embed]34698:5355:0[/embed]
Trails of Cold Steel photo
It's time to hit the books!
It’s hard to believe that we live in a world where The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC and Trails of Cold Steel went West during the same year. This outcome has made me believe that Hell has frozen over, as this ...

Review: Sakura Santa

Dec 24 // Josh Tolentino
Sakura Santa (PC)Developer: Winged CloudPublisher: MangaGamerMSRP: $9.95Released: December 21, 2015 The aforementioned solitary souls seem to be situated smack in the target-audience sweet spot for Sakura Santa's story, as it revolves around Koji, an otherwise unremarkable college student whose main claim to fame is that he'll be lonely on Christmas eve. Yeah, that's really about it. Sakura Santa takes advantage of the fact that Christmas in Japan is more of a romantic holiday than a familial one, and kicks off with Koji visiting a nearby shrine to wish for someone to spend Christmas with. His wish is granted in short order, by fateful run-ins with Itsumi, an old childhood friend, Akina, a local fox spirit, and none other than one of Santa Claus' daughters. Then the only question is: Who shall he spend the time with? Now, before anyone gets any ideas, it's worth pointing out that Sakura Santa is not an adult game. The game's Steam store page takes care to stress that it contains "no sexual content." And they're technically right. There is no nudity, nor are there sex scenes in the whole of the game's two to four-hour runtime. There is, however, plenty to ogle in the form of the three girls' character designs and the event scenes from the four available storylines. The art does stand out as the main draw, given that Sakura Santa has little else going for it. It's shorter and possessed of a much more bland premise than Sakura Spirits, and features a smaller cast to boot. Akina and Santa's stories quickly fall into too-similar "magical/alien girlfriend" templates familiar to anime, and though Itsumi's plotline also veers on the generic side, the story of trying to connect with an old flame after years growing apart is, at least, more inherently engaging. Then again, the other girl has fox ears and a short kimono. A dilemma, to be sure. Ultimately, Sakura Santa fails to stand out from the growing crowd of visual novels on Steam and elsewhere, except in the single respect of being a Christmas-themed story, coming out just in time for the holiday. Unfortunately, one would probably have to be as lonely as the game's protagonist to find a compelling reason to play. Batman: Arkham Knight: Season of Infamy (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WB Games MontrealPublisher: Warner Bros.MSRP: $9.99Released: December 22, 2015 Sakura Santa (PC)Developer: Winged CloudPublisher: MangaGamerMSRP: $9.95Released: December 21, 2015 The aforementioned solitary souls seem to be situated smack in the target-audience sweet spot for Sakura Santa's story, as it revolves around Koji, an otherwise unremarkable college student whose main claim to fame is that he'll be lonely on Christmas eve. Yeah, that's really about it. Sakura Santa takes advantage of the fact that Christmas in Japan is more of a romantic holiday than a familial one, and kicks off with Koji visiting a nearby shrine to wish for someone to spend Christmas with. His wish is granted in short order, by fateful run-ins with Itsumi, an old childhood friend, Akina, a local fox spirit, and none other than one of Santa Claus' daughters. Then the only question is: Who shall he spend the time with? Now, before anyone gets any ideas, it's worth pointing out that Sakura Santa is not an adult game. The game's Steam store page takes care to stress that it contains "no sexual content." And they're technically right. There is no nudity, nor are there sex scenes in the whole of the game's two- to four-hour runtime. There is, however, plenty to ogle in the form of the three girls' character designs and the event scenes from the four available storylines. The art does stand out as the main draw, given that Sakura Santa has little else going for it. It's shorter and possessed of a much more bland premise than Sakura Spirits, and features a smaller cast to boot. Akina and Santa's stories quickly fall into too-similar "magical/alien girlfriend" templates familiar to anime, and though Itsumi's plotline also veers on the generic side, the story of trying to connect with an old flame after years growing apart is, at least, more inherently engaging. Then again, the other girl has fox ears and a short kimono. A dilemma, to be sure. Ultimately, Sakura Santa fails to stand out from the growing crowd of visual novels on Steam and elsewhere, except in the single respect of being a Christmas-themed story, coming out just in time for the holiday. Unfortunately, one would probably have to be as lonely as the game's protagonist to find a compelling reason to play. Batman: Arkham Knight: Season of Infamy (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WB Games MontrealPublisher: Warner Bros.MSRP: $9.99Released: December 22, 2015
Sakura Santa photo
A Christmas Miracle for the Solo Set
[This review was originally posted on Destructoid.] When it comes to holiday traditions, Christmas-themed video games aren't as common as Christmas movies or television specials. For whatever reason, be it development times, ...

Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 7

Dec 22 // Jayson Napolitano
Ranma 1/2 DVD Set 7Publisher: Viz MediaRelease Date: September 8, 2015MSRP: $44.82 DVD / $54.97 limited-edition Blu-Ray (reviewed) I think everyone reading this probably has a good grasp on what Ranma 1/2 is all about, so to give a quick rundown, Ranma Saotome, the heir to the Anything Goes school of martial arts, is promised to tomboy Akane Tendo by their parents. The problem is Ranma is transformed into a female when splashed with cold water. Several characters are in love with male and female Ranma, and many of these characters also undergo transformations of their own, and as you can imagine, much hilarity ensues.Viz Media re-configured the episode sequence for this re-issue, so the traditional "final season" actually started at the end of Set 6, so some will already be familiar with the final opening and closing themes. It was refreshing to hear some new music included in this set for both battle sequences and moments of mystery and intrigue. The stingers that were already in place were perfect, but it's great to hear something new.All of the series standards are here: episodes that focus on grandpa Happosai's underwear addiction, others that hold promise of a "cure" for the curse that afflicts Ranma and the others that never pan out. We also see more affection between Ranma and Akane, but I'm sad to report there's no breakthrough moment or closure in regards to their relationship. So with that, I'll mention some of the standout episodes. An aforementioned "false cure" episode centers around the water pond in the Tendo backyard, which is supposedly connected to Jusenkyo, the Chinese spring where our characters acquired their curses. A ritual is held to remove the curse from those afflicted, but as usual, things go awry. A multi-episode arc focuses on a dual between Ranma and ongoing rival Ryouga Hibiki focusing on a new technique that Ryouga has mastered that becomes increasingly powerful as the martial artist becomes more miserable. Ranma and Ryouga hence focus their efforts on becoming more miserable than the other, which is fun to watch.One of the funniest episodes centers around a recurring dream that Ranma has about dating an old man while in her female form, which results in a real-life encounter with the old man that is both disturbing and hilarious. The season sees more feuding between Ranma and his unscrupulous father and trainer, Genma Saotome, enchanted food that makes characters fall in love with each other (yes, multiple episodes that follow this plot), and even vampires.Another episode sees the Tendo family making friends with the Earthly avatar of a Goddess of the stars as she seeks out her fiance, who's been wrecking havoc on local dojos. An argument between Ranma's classmates Tatewaki and Kodachi Kuno results in scandalous photos of female Ranma being posted all over school, while everyone's favorite punching bag, the black magic-practicing Hikaru Gosunkugi falls in love with a ghost. A huge cast of characters makes an appearance or a beach-side swimsuit contest, which includes the appearance of Tsubasa Kurenai who appeared in Set 2 and who seemed as though they'd be a permanent addition to the cast. The final episodes (a two-episode arc) features the return of Ranma's mother and answers a lot of questions as to why Ranma and Genma are training on their own, but I won't spoil how it all ends. Needless to say, though, there isn't any major progress on Ranma and Akane's relationship, and the series ends with a seemingly tacked-on sequence that will likely raise some eyebrows. I can say in closing that this series certainly withstands the test of time. The visuals, the music, the scenario, and the characters are as lovable today as they were when they were released in the 1990s. While the gender issues that are explored throughout the series are more relevant than ever, Ranma 1/2 only falls into trappings that may be considered sexist on occasion. It certainly could have been a lot worse.We reviewed the limited edition Blu-ray version, which includes different artwork, a postcard, a booklet with episode summaries, and on-disc interviews with cosplayers and anime industry professionals as they share kind words about Ranma 1/2 creator Rumiko Takahashi. It's a nice inclusion, even if it's a bit awkward at times, but it's a shame that Takahashi herself didn't record a message for fans.Here's hoping that Viz Media considers re-issuing the OVA and movies next. I'd very much like to see those again, and don't feel that my appetite for Ranma 1/2 is quite quenched! In the meantime, feel free to share your favorite Ranma 1/2 memories below!Images © Rumiko Takahashi / Shogakukan  [This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher]
Ranma 1/2 Review photo
Goodbye is Bittersweet!
We've finally arrived at the end of Viz Media' re-release of the beloved Ranma 1/2 series. Presenting the final episodes (weighing in at 161 total), this re-issue has been a Godsend, as previous DVD versions were becomin...

Review: Ninja Slayer From Animation

Dec 06 // Josh Tolentino
Ninja Slayer From AnimationStudio: TRIGGERViewed On: ViewsterPremiere date: April 6, 2015 At the time of this review's writing, the International Day of the Ninja has just passed, but there's no recent work that captures the essence of "ninja" more than this, Studio TRIGGER's latest series. Ninja Slayer From Animation makes no attempt to hide its goofy, parodic nature. That should be natural, after all, coming from a show that started life as what was essentially a Twitter prank. "Translated" from nonexistent original sources by a pair of fictional westerners named  "Bradley Bond" and "Philip Ninj@ Morzez", Ninja Slayer accurately portrays ninja seen by westerners engaged in that second wave of Japonisme that swept the world '80s and early '90s. During that time, the markets were flooded with crass, cheaply-made "ninja exploitation" films like American Ninja, and spiced up by gory, explicit OVAs and films that powered the "Japanimation" boom. Ninja Slayer's cyberpunk dystopia of Neo Saitama reflects the kind of twisted sensibility that resulted from the marriage of genuine enthusiasm and outright ignorance on the part of the outsiders. But Ninja Slayer isn't out to deliver a polemic against cultural appropriation. Bond and Morzez are in on the joke, and know that the best antidote to hotheaded outrage is a tongue planted firmly in cheek. Much to the chagrin of early viewers that didn't realize Ninja Slayer's relation to TRIGGER's own Inferno Cop, the whole thing is played for elaborate, stylized laughs. That's because they know that, played straight, Kenji Fujikido's story of revenge and violence would come across as gravely cliche and unbearably cheesy. That's why Ninja Slayer and his foes constantly introduce themselves to each other like beginning Japanese-language students practicing for a kaiwa test, and why the whole show is in the archaic 4:3 aspect ratio. It simultaneously pokes fun at and commiserates with the "Ken-sama" of the world, and smirks back at a time when Ken-sama's type represented what most people knew about Japanese culture. It's also where TRIGGER works in that ninja magic. Deliberate aesthetic choices in Ninja Slayer, like the neon-drenched pallete and aping of old-school cost-cutting techniques recall back the moments of beauty to be found in that awkward time, while at the same time deflating the nostalgic pomposity some older fans may have for the time. It's as if to say "Yep, cartoons were just as stupid then as you think they are now. But they were also awesome!" The show is hardly perfect, though, and the wild differentials between user ratings in various fan fora serve as testament to that fact. Ninja Slayer may be bold and one of the most creatively distinct anime series this year, but there are times when it's just plain ugly-lookin', beyond what could be excused on style alone. TRIGGER's no longer a scrappy underdog of a studio, which makes the frequent forays into Inferno Cop-style 2D cutout puppetry feel less like a fun diversion and more an unnecessary indulgence.  The storytelling also fails to rise above its B-grade inspirations. This isn't to say it's all bad or that every show should strive to elevate, but there is a difference between homage and mere copy, and there are times when Ninja Slayer skirts too close to the wrong side of that distinction.  Then again, for a viewer in the right mindset, Ninja Slayer is a laugh riot and a friendly wink-and-nod, all rolled into a package that never gets boring. And for a show that's very deliberately not accurate to the real-life ninjas of Japanese history, Ninja Slayer certainly gets being surprising down pat. 
Ninja Slayer Review photo
The Ancient YEEART! of Ninjutsu
DOMO, READER-SAN.  I am Reviewer. NINJA must be slain. 

Review: Clannad (PC)

Dec 03 // Christian Chiok
[embed]34545:5224:0[/embed] Clannad (PC [reviewed], PS2, S3G, FOMA, Xbox 360, PSP, PS3, Android, PS Vita)Developers: KeyPublisher: Sekai ProjectReleased: November 23rd, 2015 (NA)Price: $49.99 Clannad follows the story of Tomoya Okazaki, a high school student who tragically lost his mother as a child and now lives with his abusive, alcoholic father, Naoyuki Okazaki. One day, during his third year of high school, he stumbles upon a young girl named Nagisa Furukawa, who he befriends and later helps to revive the defunct drama club at Hikarizaka Private High School. As he helps the club during his spare time, Tomoya grows closer to his peers as he learns about their tough pasts and challenges and does everything to help them overcome it as he slowly grows to become a stronger and more supportive person. You will be able to interact with a set of interesting characters including Kyou Fujibayashi, Kotomi Ichinose, Tomoyo Sakagami, and Fuko Ibuki, as well as Youhei Sunohara, his delinquent who is often the comic relief in this visual novel.  As the game progresses, you will be given various decisions that will have an effect on the direction and outcome of the game depending on how you respond to a specific character or situation. Saving the game at multiple points is highly recommended if you want to redo certain scenarios to avoid a bad ending. Fans of the anime should definitely play the game as you will be able to explore through many of the character’s routes, and even meet characters that were omitted from the anime adaptation.  Being in control of my own Clannad experience was definitely refreshing, especially seeing “Good Endings” that didn’t just involve Nagisa. While I like Nagisa in the anime, she definitely isn’t the best girl in the game. While I did enjoy her overall route, playing through it felt boring at times. For the most part, I did enjoy interacting with a lot of the characters such as Kyou, Youhei, and especially Tomoyo. With characters like Kyou or Youhei around, I can’t say that there wasn’t a time that I didn’t laughed when they were around. It’s really funny how Tomoya picks on Youhei and his weird shenanigans and how Kyou puts Tomoya in weird yet comedic situations. However, Clannad isn’t only great because of its comedy but also how because it’s an emotional ride. Whether it was the Sunohara Siblings route or the Fujibayashi siblings route, there wasn’t a moment when I didn’t feel emotionally involved with their stories. As someone who watched the Clannad anime adaptation while still being in High School, a lot of the character’s issues were somewhat relatable, and experiencing these moments once more via the Visual Novel made me feel the same emotions I felt back then. For a Visual Novel that’s more than a decade old, the art style still looks fresh and it’s very pleasant to look at, not to mention that Sekai Project gave the game an HD improvement making the game look a lot better than it did 10 years ago. Of course, it still has a style that makes it obvious that the game is quite a bit old compared to Key’s newest releases.   As if the soundtrack in Air and Kanon weren’t already great, Key’s composers manage to surpass the soundtracks for Clannad’s predecessors.  It’s just so powerful and it makes the dramatic scenes even more dramatic. My personal favorite has to be Roaring Tides. The Steam version of Clannad will have new features such as Dangopedia, which offers a brief description of words and references used in the game. It also features the same achievements that the console versions of the game had.  The Steam version has also been visually improved and now features a 1280 x 960 resolution. Additionally, user interface has been polished and made easier to use. As a person that never liked or played a single Visual Novel, I really enjoyed playing through Clannad. Being one of my favorite series, I thought it was imperative that I played the original material. For Clannad fans thinking about getting the game but never played a Visual Novel, it’s hard to recommend the game, unless you don't mind going through still images and long dialogues.  I personally don’t mind going through endless dialogues, but I can understand why one would be opposed to play the game, Clannad fan or not.  So unless it’s Tomoyo After, Air, or Kanon, or games that feature visual novel gameplay like the Ace Attorney and Zero Escape series, I don’t see myself playing any other Visual Novel. For a first, Clannad was definitely enjoyable, and I can see myself spending a lot of time playing the game.  [This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.] Clannad (PC [reviewed], PS2, S3G, FOMA, Xbox 360, PSP, PS3, Android, PS Vita)Developers: KeyPublisher: Sekai ProjectReleased: November 23rd, 2015 (NA)Price: $49.99
Clannad Review photo
The Place Where Wishes Come True
For the past 10 years, I’ve been a fan of the (popular) anime adaptations of Key’s various work including Kanon, Air, Clannad, Little Busters, and Angel Beats. Although I was aware that both Kanon and Air started ...

Review: Stella Glow

Nov 17 // Salvador G Rodiles
[embed]34498:5177:0[/embed] Stella Glow (3DS)Developer: ImageepochPublisher: AtlusRelease Date: November 17, 2015MSRP: $49.99 Treading into familiar story grounds, Stella Glow focuses on a war caused by a god who was fed up with its people losing faith in it. During this calamity, a legendary hero called Elcrest teamed up with five witches to battle the omnipotent being in its lair, which happens to be the planet’s moon. However, our do-gooder sacrifices his life to save everyone. Afterward, the story focuses on the present as Alto and his childhood friend Lisette’s town is attacked by Hilda the Witch of Destruction, who used her song to crystalize everyone in the vicinity. After the two friends awaken to their own special abilities, they eventually became part of a neighboring kingdom’s elite soldier group called the Regnant Knights, so they could gather the other witches to perform a song that could put an end to Hilda’s curse. With Alto bearing the same powers as Elcrest, his journey will eventually show him the truth behind the events that happened in the past. Throughout the game's first half, Stella Glow’s story doesn’t do much to pull people in. The whole introduction sequence and the quest to find the witches falls into a format that we’ve seen before in many RPGs and anime titles. Sure, we’ve had games like the Tales of series fall into this category, but the main thing that sets it apart is that the characters manage to make the adventure entertaining. Alto’s your typical nice guy and person who fights for justice, which prevents him from winning the audience over. Then Lisette is depicted as the sister-like figure that has a habit of turning everything she cooks into purple delicacies. For the most part, these moments aren’t terrible, but that they don't improve the opening segments too much— at least until the rest of the cast joins the group. Even though the cast grows as you progress through the game’s world, their impact barely improves the main story. Speaking of other characters, the Regnant Knights include Klaus the seemingly perfect leader, Rusty the womanizing character, and Archibald the overly chivalrous knight. To an extent, their superior fighting experience helps keep things at an above average level while the players search for the other three witches. Despite the issues present with the way how the cast affects the plot, the title does its best to flesh out their personalities later on. If there’s one thing that I value dearly in life, it’s that you don’t judge a book by its cover. Surprisingly, Stella Glow does a decent job in following this rule. As the players progress through the story, they will start to learn more about the supporting cast’s inner personalities and connections to the conflict at hand. Whether it involves a scenario with Hilda’s generals, the Harbingers, or a deep issue that plagues one the party members, there are still a few moments that manage to improve the ordeal a bit. Thankfully, things do get better during the second half of the game, which is thanks to a few unexpected twists. Once Stella Glow hits this point, the journey ends up becoming a more meaningful experience. Aside from the typical cast improving a bit, the way how the situation pops in causes people to change their outlook on the state of the world during the first half, which is one of the few aspects that improved the story. From there, the plot's dark elements begin to intensify things more and the purpose behind Alto and the witch’s abilities start to become more relevant in the quest. However, since it takes about 15 to 20 game hours to reach this point, the payoff from this scenario isn’t as big as a tale that keeps the players fully invested from the get-go. In terms of Stella Glow’s gameplay, it plays like your standard strategy RPG; however, the game’s special feature is the system that lets Alto use his powers to tune and conduct the witches that he encounters throughout his journey. With this system, players can explore the inner worlds of the characters they use this power on, which allow them to help the girls overcome their deepest doubts and issues— kind of like the Dive system from the Ar Tonelico series. Usually, this segment is used to recruit the magical girls at the end of their arc, but it’s also used to improve their abilities when you hit a wall while players socialize with them. The other special mechanic is Alto's ability to use a special dagger to cause the witches to perform a song that affects the entire map. These skills can range from fully healing your party or prevent all enemies from being able to attack your units. All in all, these skills are one of the many features that make the title’s battle interesting, since each spell comes with a unique song. On top of that, it acts as a neat ability that can turn the tables on almost any encounter. Despite Alto’s Tuning and Conducting abilities being useful, it doesn’t fix the minor issues with the game’s maps. Based on my experience with tactical RPGs that lack mechanics to grants your units movement-related buffs, most of these titles keep the stage at a medium size, so you can fight your opponents at a normal pace. Unfortunately, Stella Glow’s maps during the later parts of the campaign are unnecessarily huge to the point where it’ll take a while for players to reach their opponents— especially the stages where the terrain limits the party’s steps. If you look at games like the Disgaea series and Chroma Squad, they both utilize systems that let players use their units to throw their allies across the field, which helps speed up the pace of each fight. While the Wind Witch Popo has a song that can help people move farther, this skill can only be used when one manages to increase the song gauge to a certain level. Since the bar only goes up when units damage their enemies, it doesn’t help too much in battle. If there’s one cool thing about Stella Glow’s combat, it’s that the players are treated to flashy animations when they attack their opponents. In a way, the dynamic sequences behind each attack give the game a nice Super Robot Wars vibe. For those who like to gain extra rewards, many missions contain extra objectives that can grant players exclusive items for challenging themselves in battle. The benefits of doing these special tasks felt mostly rewarding, as I found a majority of the spoils to be useful in the stage to follow. Since the game lets players save during battles, players won’t have to worry too much about restarting; therefore relieving the pain of accomplishing these challenges. When you’re not in the middle of a big mission, the game contains a few segments where you’re given the free time to do jobs around the kingdom, or spend time with your party members. Just like Persona 4, the benefits of interacting with your allies is that they gain better abilities their bond with the hero becomes stronger. On top of that, players are allowed to choose an epilogue scene of one of the characters that they spent lots of time with. This system is open to the entire cast, which is a neat option that adds a nice extra layer to the title’s ending. If the players hang out with a certain character, then they could change the way how the main story ends as well. Best of all, this can be accomplished during the first playthrough. Most importantly, you also have the option to date any of the witches with this system. While it’s impossible for people to fully bond with every character, the game’s new game plus option increases the free time limit; thus acting as a great extra for people who like to learn more about the game’s cast. Since it lets players learn more about the party members they’re interested in, this acts as a decent diversion from the game’s underwhelming first half. For a title that was made by a company that went bankrupt, I’d have to say that Imageepoch did a fine job with making sure that it looked nice on the 3DS. The characters during the mission segments are depicted as 3D chibi models, which remind me of the Nendoroid figures. Combined with the game’s simplistic colorful look, its style works great with the overall presentation. Also, it’s hard to go wrong with design choices that make the heroes and villains look cute in battle. In regards to the character illustrations, one of Ideolo’s strengths in his art was the artist’s costume designs for the cast. Each witch wears an outfit that represents their element and hometown (such as Mordimort wearing a dress that gives off a Middle East vibe or Sakuya’s fiery kimono). All in all, the illustrator’s pieces went well with the theme and setting that Stella Glow presents to its audience. Another thing that Stella Glow excels well at is its soundtrack. While a majority of the game's orchestrated tunes are decent, the witches’ songs are on a whole different level from the rest of the music. In total, there are around twenty different vocal tracks, with half of them being full songs. Some of my favorites include Sakuya’s theme, which has a few segments that feel like the Hatsune Miku song, “Senbonzakura,” by Kurousa P. The nice part of about these moments is that Atlus left the Japanese voices intact for these parts. Overall, Yui Sakakibara (the Super Robot War series’ Leona, Chaos;Head’s Ayase) did a great job in turning the Fire Witch’s tune into a hot performance. Other than that, Yukari Tamura’s (the Nanoha series’ Nanoha, KILL la KILL’s Rui) musical performance was another strong part, as she turned the battlefield into a soothing environment. As for the game’s English voice cast, the majority of them weren’t too bad. The people behind the witches manage to choose the right tone to bring out their personality (such as Mortimort talking like she’s lazy and unmotivated). Then the male party members all had decent to fine performances. All in all, the whole group was enjoyable and they even manage to nail the scenes during the free time segments as well, which gave players another incentive to spend time with them. Of course, this was thanks to Atlus' great localization, as the writing helped elevate the performance of the voice acting team. During Imageepoch's last moments, the studio managed to end things on a decent note. Stella Glow may’ve been held back by its weak first half and slight battle-related hindrances, but the team was able to complete an above average product with an enjoyable cast. I guess we also have SEGA to thank since they made this dream possible for them. Perhaps if the team didn’t face the terrible predicament that they did, we might’ve ended up with a more enjoyable title. On the bright side, their final game wasn't the second coming of Time and Eternity, which shows that they did their best to complete this project. Of course, their final Swan Song left us with some catchy songs that'll remain in our heads for a good while. [This review is based on a digital retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.] [embed]34498:5177:0[/embed]
Stella Glow photo
How to tune a witch
There’s something sad about seeing a company go under since it means that many hard-working individuals are out of a job. This is the case with the game development company Imageepoch, who filed for bankruptcy in May. W...

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