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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 GRodiles
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 GRodiles
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 GRodiles
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 Japanator.com 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 GRodiles
[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]
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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 culture...as 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 GRodiles
[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...

Review: Mugen Souls (PC)

Nov 16 // Christian Chiok
Mugen Souls (PC [reviewed], PS3)Developer: Compile HeartPublisher: Ghostlight LTDMSRP: $19.99Released: October 22, 2015 [Note: This is a review of the PC version of Mugen Souls. Chris Walden reviewed the PS3 original back in 2013.] Mugen Souls follows the story of Chou-Chou, “The Undisputed God” who plans to conquer the universe by subjugating the seven worlds it comprises, as she thinks the planets look pretty. Traveling from world to world with her trusty companion Altis, and loyal peon Ryuto, Chou-Chou’s goal is to turn the heroes and demon lords of each world into her 'peons' (servants), saving the world from conflict in the process. If you’re looking for a serious story, Mugen Souls is definitely far from that option. While the characters are funny, the game's story revolves around moe and vague sexual themes that are never handled with any kind of maturity. It will keep you entertained for the first couple of hours but it will get old fast. Although the game features a lot of complicated systems, the gameplay is relatively simple. In Mugen Souls, players will explore areas on each planet, traveling to event points marked on the map that continue the story, fighting enemies, and finding occasional treasures. While the areas have a lot of detail and are very colorful, but unlike your average open-world JRPG, there isn’t much to explore, unfortunately. Most of the areas are empty as it doesn’t feature any optional dungeons or towns, so there's little point to exploring beyond finding the odd treasure chest or two. Unfortunately, the camera in the game is quite awful, especially when hitting a dead-end. It just goes all over the place and you have to constantly adjust it to normal. This can definitely affect your experience playing the game as it can sometimes leave you vulnerable to enemies, causing them to attack you first. Like your typical JRPGs, players can press a button to swing at an on-screen enemy to begin combat and get the first attack, while getting hit by the enemy first does the opposite. While the player usually gets the first hit during normal encounters, it is recommended that they attempt to make the first hit. The gameplay mechanics in Mugen Souls are similar to your typical strategy JRPG, like Disgaea or Agarest: Generations of War, minus the grid stages and the characters you control being limited to four. The battle system is based on wait time determined by the turn meter on the top of the screen. Once it’s your character’s turn, you will be able to move them to different parts of the field, with the distance varying per character. Depending on the attack, you will be able to attack enemies from far away or close-range as well. Mugen Souls’ strategic gameplay was unique, but I’m more fun of the traditional style featured in Disgaea, Fire Emblem and such. Even though the game features a lot of gameplay mechanics, a lot of those gameplay mechanics feel useless as the game is extremely easy during the beginning of the game, until you reach the massive difficulty spike. I feel like it really lacks a real strategic feel when choosing where to place your characters, something that is imperative in strategy games. I found myself carelessly placing characters without consequences. Not to mention that you will be able to execute most attacks as long as you’re really close. When two or more characters are placed together, you will be able to perform Link attacks. When executed, you will perform various special attacks which are strong enough to knock out strong enemies with one hit. Naturally, the more characters take part of the Linked attack, the stronger it will be. To navigate through these different planets, Chou-Chou her gang must travel using her spaceship the G-Castle. During these travels, you will encounter spaceship battles that play similarly to rock-paper-scissor type affairs where the player can choose between various kinds of attacks and defenses. What really annoyed me about G-Castle battles was that most of them were luck-based. While you’re given a hint of what could possibly be their next move, sometimes that certain hint could mean multiple things and you end up guessing. The fact that I had to resort to spamming once I leveled up makes matter worse. Aside from making each planet’s hero and demon lord into her Peon, Chou-Chou must also make the planet her Peon it truly conquer it. In order to completely conquer a planet, the player must first conquer its continents. There are three methods to do so —paying in gold, having a certain overall kill count, or utilizing Moe Kills. Using Moe Kill is the same as in battle, except the player is given a hint indicating which of Chou-Chou's forms is most effective. The gold points simply give the name of an item in the game's store, which the player then has to give gold equal to or greater than the cost of the item. Luckily, accomplishing these isn’t so bad. However, the last task, which requires the player to meet a certain amount of defeated enemies, which can get quite tedious. One of the reasons being is that regular battles for the vast majority of the game are incredibly easy and quickly become repetitive, thus  players will start skipping battles and then find they have to grind through a bunch of them to capture these points. Aside from the game’s main quests, you will be able to go through easy battles and events via the Mugen Field. While it shares similarities to Disgaea's random dungeons, unfortunately, this mode doesn't provide nearly the same level of entertainment. The point of this mode is to help the player gain new skills, level up old skills, or add defense item slots among other things. Due to the levels being easy, it mostly serves as a place to grind for levels, and with the game's massive endgame difficulty spike, the player will be spending a lot of time there. While in the game’s main lobby (which is inside the G-Castle), players will be able to create their own characters. Unfortunately, creating a battle-worthy character is so much time consuming that it isn’t worth it. I would just recommend sticking to the original characters and focusing on leveling them up. With the game being on PC, it definitely feels superior compared to its PS3 counterpart. The game is definitely colorful and vivid, making it pleasant to the eyes, especially during battle when performing Link attacks. However, what really seems inconsistent was that during the 3D cutscenes, when the character’s’ mouth didn’t move when speaking. As for the soundtrack, while a lot of it is filled with Disgaea-esque tunes, it is easily forgettable. While I’m usually a fan of the soundtrack when it comes to Compile Heart games, I really didn’t enjoy the tracks found in Mugen Souls. However, what I really liked was that the game offered Japanese voice acting as I found the English dub kind of awful. While I would recommend playing the game with a gamepad, the game certainly allows players to use keyboard and mouse. However, it feels kind of awkward, especially when moving the controlling the camera when moving. Being a PC title, it will accept a variety of gamepads as long as your PC can detect them. Heck, I was able to play with my Injustice Fightstick (although definitely nyo recommendable, but it’s still a good thing that it was able to read it.) If you really enjoyed playing Mugen Souls when it released on PS3, I would definitely recommend the PC version as it performs better. However, for those looking to add to their JRPG library, it’s hard to recommend this game. The story feels forced and gets old fast, the exploration is lacking, and the G-Castle battles makes the game a bit hard to enjoy. While the gameplay can be enjoyable, it is easily forgettable.  [This review is based on a digital retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.] Mugen Souls (PC)Developer: Compile HeartPublisher: Ghostlight LTDMSRP: $19.99Released: October 22, 2015
Mugen Souls photo
Conquer the Seven Worlds!!
Since last year, Ghostlight, the UK-based publisher, has been bringing various console-exclusive titles such as the Agarest: Generations of War series and Way of the Samurai 4 to the PC platform. This time around, the publish...

Review: Sword Art Online: Lost Song

Nov 13 // Josh Tolentino
Sword Art Online: Lost Song (PS4, PS3, PS Vita [reviewed])Developer: ArtdinkPublisher: Bandai Namco GamesMSRP: $39.99 (Vita), $59.99 (PS4)Released: November 17, 2015 (NA), November 13, 2015 (EU), April 28, 2015 (SEA), March 26, 2015 (JP) [Note: This review is based on the English-language version of Lost Song released in Southeast Asia on April 28, 2015. While there may be some differences between this version and the North American/EU ones, we expect the core experience will be highly similar, if not identical.] Let's not mince words: Like its predecessor Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, Lost Song is meant for existing fans of Sword Art Online (or at least of Hollow Fragment), and few else outside that sphere. In fact, Lost Song's main plot virtually ensures that only those invested Kirito and the gang's adventures and interactions will find fulfillment from the game's narrative.  But first, an aside: When it came to the anime and novels, the reason the ALO-set story arcs felt so weak was the overriding sense that the show was treading water. In contrast to original's grand hook of "dying in the game means death for real", the goal of Kirito playing ALO to search for Asuna carried not nearly as much weight. This was exacerbated in the second season, which followed up an excellent murder mystery plot set in Gun Gale Online with Kirito and his pals literally just doing a raid and some quests in ALO for a nice sword. It came to pass that when ALO was onscreen, Sword Art Online became less about exciting adventures and speculative future game design than essentially watching a bunch of nonexistent Let's Players play a nonexistent game. Lost Song's story falls afoul of ALO's curse as well, with even its central plot afflicted with the same sense of meandering and lack of stakes. Still placed in Hollow Fragment's alternative timeline (which saw the cast stuck in SAO for much longer than in the "canon", and adding characters like Sinon under different circumstances), Lost Song sees Kirito and his posse moving to ALfheim Online right on time for the game to debut "Svart ALfheim", its first expansion, consisting of five massive floating islands. Being the top-class gamers they are, the crew resolves to be the first to burn through it. The quest for "world-first" (a motivation familiar to anyone who's played an MMO) eventually brings them into conflict with Shamrock, a massive guild run by Seven, an idol/scientist (!) who's taking the opportunity run a big social experiment within ALO. If the whole premise of Lost Song's plot sounds like the kind of inter-guild "drama" that plays out on forums and social media feeds for actual games today, one wouldn't be too far off. This puts the bulk of the game's narrative appeal in the interactions between cast members new and old, told via entertaining Tales of-style vignettes, in-game events, and lengthy personal quests, some of which adapt storylines from the canon like the well-received "Mother's Rosario" arc. Those invested in seeing those characters again, sporting ALO-styled redesigns and touting long-running in-jokes, will get their fill, but players seeking epic adventure or the kind of JRPG story that ends with the heroes saving the world will come away disappointed. It doesn't help, either, that Lost Song doesn't work very hard to introduce players to the characters themselves. In some ways that's to be expected, seeing as this is a sequel to Hollow Fragment and mostly features the same faces (with a few more added), but curious folks who just want to know what the fuss over Sword Art Online is all about would be better served by picking up Re: Hollow Fragment (the "Director's Cut" PS4 port of Hollow Fragment), or just watching the anime. Narrative pitfalls aside, Lost Song is at least less of a slog to play, mechanically, bringing some new, entertaining gimmicks to the table. The combat system ditches the auto-attacks, casting times, and menus of Hollow Fragment for a straightforward, directly-controlled action-RPG setup. Players can string together combos of light and heavy attacks, controlling any three of up to seventeen playable characters (they can even replace Kirito as the leader!), each wielding a number of weapons with signature skills and magic. Special moves and magic can be triggered by combining shoulder and face buttons. New attacks, spells, and passive effects can be unlocked by leveling up leveling up their weapon skills through use, and assigning them to preferred button combinations. A Union gauge fills up in battle, and when triggered enables devastating "Switch" attacks involving the whole party. While simpler and arguably less deep than Hollow Fragment, the new system is more engaging and wastes less time. Most low-level foes can be dispatched in seconds, and fighting large bosses rewards mobility and effective use of buffs and debuffs to chop away at their massive, stacked health bars. AI companions fight and support effectively, and need little in the way of handholding unless severely under-leveled. New gear can be found in the field, or bought, identified, and upgraded at Agil and Lisbeth's shops while Side Quests and Extra Quests can be accepted at the hub town's tavern. Side Quests usually fall into the "Kill X number of Y enemy" category, but Extra Quests usually pose an additional challenge, involving big takedowns of one or more boss-class foes for better rewards. And then there's the flying. Being a fairy-themed game, ALO plants wings on all its characters to enable long-distance travel and a level of verticality rarely embraced in the RPG space. Lost Song gladly obliges, featuring huge, open-world maps populated by roaming enemies and dotted with dungeons at varying altitudes. Players can switch from running on the ground to hovering to racing through the air with a flick of the D-pad. While a bit fiddly at first, this mobility quickly becomes second nature and makes a genuine difference when fighting outdoors, as aerial dashes can be used to set up powerful charging attacks, and hovering up high can put safe distances between players and ground-bound foes. Fighting indoors, however, is more of a chore, as most dungeons prohibit flying and often take place against large numbers of enemies spawning in ways that cause the combat camera and lock-on function to freak out unpleasantly. Worse still, the dungeons themselves are so bland and unimaginative that I initially mistook them for being procedurally generated. Having players visit these dungeons in order to progress the story just hammers home the apathetic level design. And there's even multiplayer. Local and online play sessions are available, including a PVP versus mode, and team battles against roided-out versions of the single-player bosses. It's an alright option to have, but there's little compelling reason to engage with it. Players can use custom characters, but the customization options are so limited that anything created just resembles the generic NPC characters littering the hub world. For better or worse, Sword Art Online: Lost Song replicates both the highs and lows of its predecessors. Existing fans of the series will find plenty to like in the further adventures of Kirito and his MMO pals, despite a dull main story. The revamped mechanics also support a steady drip-feed of Sword Art Online fan service mainly by not getting in the way too much. Unfortunately, Lost Song stumbles hardest when trying to engage players outside that sphere of pre-existing investment, and in some ways ends up an even less suitable jumping-off point for newbies who want to get in on enjoying the franchise. My advice to those folks would be to watch the anime or try out Hollow Fragment first. If they're still jonesing for some more of this motley crew of irredeemable MMO nerds when they're done, then Lost Song will be music to their ears. [This review is based on a retail copy of the game acquired by the reviewer.] Fallout 4 (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Bethesda Game StudiosPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksMSRP: $59.99Released: November 10, 2015 Fallout 4 (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Bethesda Game StudiosPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksMSRP: $59.99Released: November 10, 2015 Sword Art Online: Lost Song (PS4, PS3, PS Vita [reviewed])Developer: ArtdinkPublisher: Bandai Namco GamesMSRP: $39.99 (Vita), $59.99 (PS4)Released: November 17, 2015 (NA), November 13, 2015 (EU), April 28, 2015 (SEA), March 26, 2015 (JP) [Note: This review is based on the English-language version of Lost Song released in Southeast Asia on April 28, 2015. While there may be some differences between this version and the North American/EU ones, we expect the core experience will be highly similar, if not identical.] Let's not mince words: Like its predecessor Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, Lost Song is meant for existing fans of Sword Art Online (or at least of Hollow Fragment), and few else outside that sphere. In fact, Lost Song's main plot virtually ensures that only those invested Kirito and the gang's adventures and interactions will find fulfillment from the game's narrative.  But first, an aside: When it came to the anime and novels, the reason the ALO-set story arcs felt so weak was the overriding sense that the show was treading water. In contrast to original, grand hook of "dying in the game kills means death for real", the goal of Kirito playing ALO to search for Asuna carried not nearly as much weight. This was exacerbated in the second season, which followed up an excellent murder mystery plot set in Gun Gale Online with Kirito and his pals literally just doing a raid and some quests in ALO for a nice sword.  Lost Song's story falls afoul of ALO's curse as well, with even its central plot afflicted with the same sense of meandering and lack of stakes. Still placed in Hollow Fragment's alternative timeline (which saw the cast stuck in SAO for much longer than in the "canon", and adding characters like Sinon under different circumstances), Lost Song sees Kirito and his posse moving to ALfheim Online right on time for the game to debut "Svart ALfheim", its first expansion, consisting of five massive floating islands. Being the top-class gamers they are, the crew resolves to be the first to burn through it. [embed]318569:61068:0[/embed] The quest for "world-first" (a motivation familiar to anyone who's played an MMO) eventually brings them into conflict with Shamrock, a massive guild run by Seven, an idol/scientist (!) who's taking the opportunity run a big social experiment within ALO. If the whole premise of Lost Song's plot sounds like the kind of inter-guild "drama" that plays out on forums and social media feeds for actual games today, one wouldn't be too far off. This puts the bulk of the game's narrative appeal in the interactions between cast members new and old, told via entertaining Tales of-style vignettes, in-game events, and lengthy personal quests, some of which adapt storylines from the canon like the well-received "Mother's Rosario" arc. Those invested in seeing those characters again, sporting ALO-styled redesigns and touting long-running in-jokes, will get their fill, but players seeking epic adventure or the kind of JRPG story that ends with the heroes saving the world will come away disappointed. It doesn't help, either, that Lost Song doesn't work very hard to introduce players to the characters themselves. In some ways that's to be expected, seeing as this is a sequel toHollow Fragment and mostly features the same faces (with a few more added), but curious folks who just want to know what the fuss over Sword Art Online is all about would be better served by picking up Re: Hollow Fragment (the "Director's Cut" PS4 port of Hollow Fragment), or just watching the anime. Narrative pitfalls aside, Lost Song is at least less of a slog to play, mechanically, bringing some new, entertaining gimmicks to the table. The combat system ditches the auto-attacks, casting times, and menus of Hollow Fragment for a straightforward, directly-controlled action-RPG style. Players can string together combos of light and heavy attack, controlling any three of up to seventeen playable characters (they can even replace Kirito as the leader!), each wielding a number of weapons with signature skills and magic. Special attacks and magic can be triggered by holding down a shoulder button, and unlock new attacks, spells, and passive effects by leveling up their weapon skills through use. A Union gauge fills up in battle, and when triggered enables devastating "Switch" attacks involving the whole party. While simpler than Hollow Fragment, the new system is more engaging and wastes less time. Most low-level foes can be dispatched in seconds, and fighting large bosses rewards mobility and effective use of buffs and debuffs to chop away at their massive, stacked health bars. AI companions fight and support effectively, and need little in the way of handholding unless severely under-leveled. New gear can be found in the field, or bought, identified, and upgraded at Agil and Lisbeth's shops, while Side Quests and Extra Quests can be accepted at the hub town's tavern. Side Quests usually fall into the "Kill X number of Y enemy" category, but Extra Quests usually pose an additional challenge, involving big takedowns of one or more boss-class foes for better rewards. And then there's the flying. Being a fairy-themed game, ALO plants wings on all its characters. Lost Song gladly obliges, featuring huge, open-world maps populated by roaming enemies and dotted with dungeons. Players can switch from running on the ground to hovering to racing through the air with a flick of the D-pad. While a bit fiddly at first, this mobility quickly becomes second nature and makes a genuine difference when fighting outdoors, as aerial dashes can be used to set up powerful charging attacks, and hovering up high can put distance between you and a ground-bound foe. Fighting indoors, however, is more of a chore, as most dungeons prohibit flying and often take place against large numbers of enemies spawning in such a way as to cause the combat camera and lock-on function to freak out in unpleasant ways. Worse still, the dungeons themselves are so bland and unimaginative that I initially mistook them for being procedurally generated. And with having players visit these dungeons in turn to progress the story just hammers home the apathetic level design all the more. And there's even multiplayer. Local and online play sessions are available, including a PVP versus mode, and team battles against roided-out versions of the single-player bosses. It's an alright option to have, but there's little compelling reason to engage with it. Players can use custom characters, but the customization options are so limited that anything created just resembles the generic NPC characters littering the hub world. For better or worse, Sword Art Online: Lost Song replicates both the highs and lows of its predecessors. Existing fans of the series will find plenty to like in the further adventures of Kirito and his MMO pals, despite a dull story. The revamped mechanics also support a steady dose of Sword Art Online fanservice, mainly by not getting in the way too much. Unfortunately, Lost Song stumbles hardest when trying to engage players outside that sphere of pre-existing investment, and is an even less suitable jumping-off point for newbies who want to get in on enjoying the franchise.  [This review is based on a retail copy of the game acquired by the reviewer.] Fallout 4 (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Bethesda Game StudiosPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksMSRP: $59.99Released: November 10, 2015
Sword Art Online photo
A Familiar Tune
Ask most folks who watched the Sword Art Online anime series, and they'll likely tell you that the show's weaker moments usually coincided with events set in ALfheim Online (ALO), a fairy-themed virtual re...

Review: Gatchaman Crowds Insight

Nov 12 // Salvador GRodiles
Gatchaman Crowds Insight Studio: Tatsunoko Release Date: July 4, 2015 Format: Streamed via Crunchyroll Taking place right after Gatchaman Crowds, Insight pits Hajime and the other Gatchaman against a group called VAPE, who want to rid the world of the CROWDs. During all of this commotion, the team ended up getting a new team member in the form of Tsubasa, along with having to watch over an alien visitor go goes by the name of Gel Sadra, who happens to share the same name with Leader-X’s top subordinate from Gatchaman II. While the show’s story sounds very simple, things start to take a different turn as political themes begin to take the helm. From day one, the main thing that sets this season from its predecessor is how it takes the pieces that were set into place earlier, and uses them to build a new foundation. At first, it seemed that the story was going to focus on Tsubasa becoming a better hero to overcome VAPE, but the staff did a good job in squeezing in the political themes, as Gel runs for office. While the first series had more of a subtle feeling with hints of Berg Katze plotting something huge, Insight convinces its viewers that things are suspicious from the get-go. This is shown through Gel’s speeches, which invoke the stereotype that many politicians use to present themselves as the person who relates with the middle-class citizens. Honestly, what made the guy’s actions great was that we were made to question whether the alien had ulterior motives or not. Going by the rule of things that are too good to be true, Gel came off as this super kind person who could bring everyone together. Just like the many things that fall into this category, a lot of people were drawn to his personality. Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of this story was the dynamics between Hajime and Tsubasa. Despite Hajime’s role as the girl’s mentor, Insight turned Tsubasa into the person who wishes to stand by Gel’s ideals no matter what; thus conflicting with Hajime’s super enthusiastic free spirit. On one side, you have the person who wishes for people to think on their own, and on the other, you have those who believe that true peace can occur if everyone goes with the flow. This also represents two of the various ways on how people create an atmosphere in their setting. Because of the way how society reacted to this event, this made Insight a personal story that many folks could relate to since it uses the social networking themes that it predecessor established to expand on the environment created by the political aspects. It also helps that the show’s superhero elements continue to sit in the back corner until they’re called for. Sure, there isn’t a consistent group that sends a bunch of bad guys against Hajime and her crew, but the idea that they still interact with other folks is surprisingly more entertaining. Seeing the first series focuses on the team’s rise to fame, another joyous thing about the show was seeing their efforts pay off. Whether it was O.D. showing off his fabulous personality on a live talk show or witnessing Rui using his Gatchaman powers, Insight leaves it viewers with a great sensation for investing their time with its predecessor. On top of that, once Gel’s presence becomes more prominent in the story, we start to see them change gears as they adjust to the changes in society. Thanks to the staff's great work with this story, the way how the heroes resolved the whole situation ended up being a powerful scene. Since the team was still fun to follow, this turned Insight’s closing segments into a very emotional ride. Let’s just say that it involves tears. If there’s one thing that we can always expect from Crowds, it’s the show’s stylish look. Just like the previous installment, Kinako’s stylish character designs continue to grace the screen. For the most part, the colorful looks continue to be a thing in Insight. Hell, Gel’s ability to turn people’s thoughts into speech bubbles was a nice aesthetic that improved the program’s great arsenal of abstract colorful designs. On top of that, Rui and Tsubasa’s Gatchaman suits are a nice addition to the crew’s set of armored heroes. I mean, it’s hard to go wrong with a fighter who can transport people to different locations and one who can fight with fireworks. Even though some of the show’s music is recycled from the previous series, the tracks still manage to go well with Insight’s scenes. Whether it’s the catchy electro song that repeats the phrase ‘Gatchaman’ or the subtle ambient track used in the peaceful segments, Taku Iwasaki’s (JoJo 2012 and Gurren Lagann’s Music) stuff continues to push the story in a positive manner again. Just like the rest of the show, it feels like we’re hanging out with the same person who made us smile before. I guess this would count as an amazing encore. As for the new characters, Kana Hanazawa (Durarara!!'s Anri, the Monogatari series' Nadeko) did a fantastic job in making Gel's child form sound playful and innocent, and Tomokazu Sugita (Kamen Rider Gaim's Demushu, Gintama's Gintoki) helped give the alien's adult form a convincing voice as a politician. That, and it was great to see him use a gentle voice throughout the series. In regards to Tsubasa, Kaori Ishihara (Magi's Aladdin, A Lull in the Sea's Sayu) brought out her ambitious personality nicely. She may not be on the same level as Maaya Uchida's (Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger's Hakase, Outbreak Company's Minori) Hajime voice, but she hit the right notes in making her character an overly determined person. Combined with the original cast, the voice actors were able to put on quite a good show.  While a sequel to Gatchaman Crowds could’ve gone either way, the show’s crew stuck to their guns and used them to shoot out greater bullets. The title’s political elements and expansion on its social life aspects gave it another nice zest that sets it apart from many superhero shows. Whether there’s gonna be a third installment or not, Kenji Nakamura (tsuritama and Mononoke's Director) has shown us that his take on Tatsunoko’s classic property is still capable of playing the game. [This review is based on a streamed version of the series viewed by the reviewer at personal expense.]
Gatchaman Crowds Insight photo
Gerururururu!
Whenever an old property gets reinvented, many folks tend to be concerned over the changes that the title goes through. In some cases, it can be a bad thing; however, a new take on a classic could act as a great way to a...

Review: The Art of Grasshopper Manufacture

Nov 12 // Anthony Redgrave
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 First impressions are good. It's filled with pretty pictures with a clean layout for easy browsing and has a good sense of weight in your hands. Grasshopper Manufacture is an eclectic developer never settling on just one style or just one motif and thus this book is filled to the brim with a variety of illustrations and styles. It documents the entire developer's catalogue from the games still in production Let it Die to their first attempts as a developer The Silver Case. Only the absolutely hardcore fans will notice omissions and not all the games have art assets to contribute, either because of licencing issues or otherwise. This isn't a massive downside though as the title has enough original content to keep your visual cortex engaged throughout.  There is a great selection of art on display here. It ranges from concept art to promotional material to art assets seen in-game. There isn't an even distribution of pages per franchise as games that had an international release like Lollipop Chainsaw and No More Heroes take up a lot more pages than smaller titles like Sine Mora and Michigan. However, I never felt like I wanted to see more from one particular game. This book places an emphasis on character and monster design so be prepared to see a lot of humanoid shapes and faces. There are a handful environmental pieces to help readers get a feel for the game's visuals and provide some diversity to the title. Western fans of the Fatal Frame series will be happy to see a small section dedicated to the Japanese only Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. This title tries to cram in as much as possible and goes as far as to include the various renditions of the company logos through the ages.  The text is peppered throughout the book, mainly in Japanese with a fully translated section at the back. It's clear the book wasn't designed to have English text so it had been included all in the back causing a lot of flipping back and forth to connect the two paragraphs together. The formatting of the text is good opting for a clear monochrome sans-serif font, but the size is on the small side requiring piercing stare to decipher. The inclusion of a complete translation is a highly welcome addition allowing westerners to enjoy this book regardless of purchase location.  The book's subtitle: Complete Collection of Suda51 should not be discounted as the book reads like a creative biography. The words guide the reader through each game as Suda51 recounts his experiences, design philosophy, and development insights. I found myself being more and more absorbed into the companies history through his recollections after multiple viewings of this book. They give each game more personality and depth than just looking at the pictures. Skipping over the written portions of this book is missing half the brilliance of the title. I was especially impressed by the way Suda was able to convey his personal struggles as the head of a game company with the creative hardships of matching visuals to game design. It helped me grow more attached to the art as a result and understand the philosophy behind every game this company had produced.  The book is a 224-page softback with a soft sleeve giving it a bit more class than a typical trade paper back. The size is just a bit shy of an A4 sheet, but the pictures are printed big and bold with the pieces showing off the most colour benefitting the most. The front cover is a mess. A collage of black and white art from various Grasshopper games with the uniform book title lined up across the whole thing. The actual title looks like it was formatted on WordArt as the font colour is slightly transparent making it difficult to read. The paper is a thick grainy stock giving the book weight and thankfully doesn't give off an excessive amount of sheen when viewed directly under the light.  Grasshopper Manufacture once had a slogan 'Punk not dead' exclaiming the idea of a punk subculture within the video game industry. Their individual and unique nature towards video games can be seen in their art by never lingering on the same thing and subverting the norm to be uniquely interesting. The Art of Grasshopper Manufacture is a title with lots of character, colour, and creativity. Suda's dialogue through the title injects some human personality amongst the images of monsters, demon hunters, and assassins. If you've ever found yourself being drawn to a Grasshopper Manufacture game then I highly recommended this book. It's a must have for anyone that has been bewitched by the visual callings of a Suda51 game.  [This review is based off a review copy provided by the publisher] Game Art: Art from 40 Video Games and Interviews with Their Creators Published By: No Starch PressWritten By: Matt SainsburyReleased: September 10, 2015MSRP: $39.95ISBN-13: 978-1593276652 enthusiasts
Grasshopper Manufacture photo
Enter the mind of SUDA51
Grasshopper Manufacture, to put it simply, is a Japanese game company. Their games are surreal and weird. Each one looks, sounds, and plays differently. And it's all from the mind of video game auteur Suda51. Art direction pl...

Review: Superbeat XONIC

Nov 11 // Red Veron
[embed]34458:5161:0[/embed] Superbeat XONiC (PS Vita)Developer: PM Studios & NurijoyPublisher: PM Studios & Acttil Released: December 17, 2015 (JP) / November 10, 2015 (US) / November 10, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 Superbeat XONiC's overall visual presentation is very slick and stylish, not only with its menus but every bit of the game looks really good with its use of contemporary design language. DJMAX fans will feel right at home when the game starts up. Superbeat XONIC's gameplay is something rather new to audiences that aren't up-to-date with the latest rhythm music games. The music game interface features the notes moving on tracks from the center of the screen outward to the "Gears" on the left and right sides of the screen. As with many music rhythm games, you push the corresponding buttons (or tap/perform the screen button/action) when the the Notes on the track line up with the "Gears" on the sides of the screen. Those who played Persona 4: Dancing All Night earlier this year will be familiar with this game play style.  To get a better idea of how this works, just watch the trailer video above. There are three ways to play Superbeat XONiC; the physical Vita buttons, the Vita's touch screen, and using a Dual Shock 3/4 controller on the Playstation TV. The physical button controls is there for you out there who like to play traditional physical controls. The touchscreen controls feel surprisingly good, I did better with the touch controls with harder songs. The Dual Shock controller also worked really well (though some have reported have experienced input and display delay on Playstation TV). The touch screen controls suggest that we might see this title on mobile and tablet in the future. While you play, the backgrounds provide nice atmosphere to the song much like those song visualizers in your computer's music player applications. Those who are familiar with the DJMAX games will be a bit disappointed that music video styled background videos are not in this game due to the way the game plays but the nice song cover art are still present. Superbeat XONiC offers many modifiers or "Effectors" to the central gameplay. You can choose the Note (Fade in, Fade Mid, and Fade out), Gear (Flicker, Flicker 2, and Ghost), Note chart (mirror and random). You can also change the speed of the note tracks while selecting the song and even while playing the song.  Playing through the songs allow you to gather experience to level up which then unlocks songs and "DJ Icons" which is used for your in-game profile for ranking and grants you bonuses such as experience bonuses, health, shields, etc. The difficulty of this game varies and can be accessible to rhythm music beginners. You can change the difficulty which will allow you to miss more notes on easy, allowing you play through the game more and unlock more of the game. There is a "Health" meter in the game that goes down when you miss a note, there are bonuses that boost your health or help you recharge to keep from failing. Superbeat XONiC's soundtrack will definitely please with its variety and really good quality. Some may see some familiar artists from the DJMAX series and some songs are even from Arc System Works (who published the game in Japan). Songs are just the right length for portable play which makes it so much easier to marathon the games. Genres include electronic, pop, k-pop, rock, metal, RnB, and different fusions of the genres for even more variety. Music game play styles include are in three different styles: 4 Track, 6 Track, 6 Track FX. 4 Track uses four "tracks" in the visual interface on the game screen (two on each side of the screen) and correspond with four physical buttons: left, down, cross, and circle. While 6 Track adds two more tracks (one to each side) that correspond with the up and the triangle buttons. 6 Track FX adds the L and R shoulder buttons. All modes make use of the left and right sticks when using the physical controls. There aren't other modes in the game other than the World Tour mode that features a set goal that gives you a set of songs to play on three different difficulties. These give you an extra challenge to do on the side but isn't required to unlock different parts of the game. Your game performance in the different game types add to your DJ Ranking, which you can compare to other Superbeat XONiC players around the world when you connect to PSN. Superbeat XONiC provides a great core rhythm music game experience, even though it doesn't offer much in the way of bells and whistles like other games in the genre. It doesn't need any of the fluff though, the great music and solid experience is worth the entry alone. DJMAX fans should check out this game, sure it's not the same game but they should feel right at home here once they familiarize themselves with the game. The same goes for those interested in the rhythm music game genre, there are enough features to ease in beginners while keeping genre enthusiasts satisfied.
Review photo
Get into the Beat!
I know I am not the only one who felt crushed when I heard that there wouldn't be any more games of the super fun music rhythm game series DJMAX. I remember seeing the cover art for DJMAX for the first time and being very int...

Review: Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden

Nov 08 // Anthony Redgrave
Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden (3DS [Reviewed])Developer: Arc System WorksPublisher: Bandai Namco GamesReleased: June 11, 2015 (JP) / October 10, 2015 (US) / October 16, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $29.99 Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden is a simple fighter that has a few rough edges that, unfortunately, tarnish an otherwise solid game. The title has a limited amount of modes that are initially locked away until playing through the main story mode titled Z Story. After that, you are introduced to What If scenario's which is the same story mode you had just played but with different characters and the adventure mode where most of the unlocking takes place. You can blast through each campaign in about 15 minutes and even shorter if you skip the dialogue. It takes you through the major fights in the series, from the initial conception of the Z Fighters against Raditz up to Goku and Vegeta's final stand against Kid Buu in the Buu saga. It is a heavily cut down and abridged retelling with players unfamiliar with the show's lore and storyline being kept in the dark about the various character dynamics and intricacies the show has. The what if scenario's are misleading as it's just a retread of the same story but through the eyes of another character. Even as Vegeta defeating Goku in the Vegeta Saga will still  result in Vegeta retreating and reuniting with the Z fighters on Namek.  The main mode is Adventure mode as it is here you will be spending the most time unlocking assists to use in the other modes. The story provided is very silly as it involves all the villains being resurrected thanks to the power of the black star Dragon Balls and it's up the Z fighters to set things straight. Both adventure mode and Z story mode follow a dialogue, fight, dialogue progression in each stage is the player can keep count of what is happening and the consequences of each fight. However, the dialogue scenes often take longer than the actual fighting sessions causing a large break in gameplay flow between each fight. I found myself skipping the dialogue just to get to the next fight. This game could have really benefitted from a streamlined arcade mode. Rounding off there is a standard vs. mode against computers or local and a Quest mode involving guild cards. At the point the review I have not been able to use the Quest mode as I did not Street Pass with anyone with the game. It's disappointing to see Dragon Ball Z Extreme Butoden omit standard fighting game modes like a training mode, tutorial, and online play as the gameplay is fast, frantic, and fun.  The game plays similar to Naruto's Ultimate Ninja series. Every character has the same control scheme and button combination to pull off their unique special moves. There is no Street Fighter-esque quarter circle backs or charge moves. Instead, it's repeated button presses and at most two button combinations. My only gripe with this control scheme is that assist characters and tag ins/outs are confined to pressing the bottom screen on the DS which is very difficult in the heat of battle. The story mode will not challenge you in the slightest as you will breeze through Goku's legacy in 15 minutes. The Adventure mode is slightly more challenging, testing you to beat each match under certain conditions for assist unlocks. I found it difficult to obtain an S rank on any of the missions due to my limited grasp on the more advanced tactics and move sets. This is where a training mode would've come in handy so players can practice their combos and come to grips with the finer nuances of the characters.  Easily the best part of Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden is the presentation. Arc System Works have gone for sprites instead of 3D polygons contrary to the 3D moniker of the 3DS and they made the right choice. While the 3D does look fairly basic putting fighters in the immediate foreground and adding some depth to the background, it's the most impressive when the beam struggles are being fired off. The 3D adds that extra oomph to the scene making the glow of the ki blasts more epic and visually pleasing. This series provides a lot of variety of Dragon Ball characters going as far back as Goku's original aggressors in the Red Army to his modern day antagonists seen in the movies including Golden Frieza and Beerus. Unfortunately, not all of them are playable. They are assists that can be summoned to help out during a battle a la Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes. The actual roster is actually quite small for a Dragon Ball Z title clocking in around 18 (including the 4 forms of Goku you can play as). There are many many assists you can unlock completely dwarfing the playable roster. Unskilled players do have the option of looking up cheat codes if the Adventure Mode prove to be too difficult to obtain S ranks in each mission.  Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden is one more the better portable Dragon Ball Z fighters on the market. It's gameplay is great and finding a friend to play local wireless with is a blast. But there is very little growth that comes with this game. Without an in-game tutorial, the download code I was given didn't explain the fancier concepts like executing a reply beam struggle. A lack of a training mode and easy AI opponents means the player cannot find new and better combos to use resorting to either the same combo or button mashing to get the job done. I wanted more to do with this game since I liked the gameplay, but the game got repetitive fairly quickly. Fans of the series may want to pick this up when it's discounted or wait for a sequel.  One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 (PS4 [Reviewed], PS3, PS Vita)Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Bandai Namco GamesReleased: March 26, 2015 (JP) / August 25, 2015 (US) / August 28, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $59.99
Dragon Ball Z photo
Kamahamahas in my pocket
I think every 90's kid remembers Dragon Ball Z as their first foray into anime and was eagerly anticipating a decent Dragon Ball Z game. We waited, and waited and then sometime during the noughties there was an explosion of y...

Review: One Piece Pirate Warriors 3

Nov 02 // Red Veron
One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 (PS4 [Reviewed], PS3, PS Vita)Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Bandai Namco GamesReleased: March 26, 2015 (JP) / August 25, 2015 (US) / August 28, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $59.99 From Gundam to Fist of the North Star, the Dynasty Warriors formula works well with anime-styled action and the One Piece series is one of those that excels using that gameplay style. This new entry to the Pirate Warriors series has us playing through some of the official One Piece story arcs from Romance Dawn to the latest Dressrosa Atc, unlike the previous game that had its own original game-exclusive story. Though a "Dream Log" mode is there to satisfy those who would like to play some "what if" scenarios with their favorite characters and/or various team-ups/duels. The Dream Log mode is somewhat similar to Samurai Warriors' Chronicle mode. You get play through a map filled with different points that each have scenarios with certain objectives. These scenarios are short and have different choices to change things up, such as choosing to side with different factions of different characters.   The action in this new Pirate Warriors provides more variety than most Warriors games, each character will play differently whether it is in their speed or strength. Each character will have their own combos and even those who seem to have similar weapons do play differently, which adds plenty of replay value. This is a great way to showcase the uniqueness of the One Piece characters in more than just the way they look, button-mashing isn't going to work here. Another thing that differentiates this title is the use of a dodge button that replaces the jump button, this lets you dodge in any direction on one plane and works well when timed right. Co-op play adds much fun to the game but the online co-op is limited to the Legend and Free logs, while local split-screen co-op works with all modes.The different ways to play against or with characters feed into the way you increase your character's stats. Beating or teaming up with the differing characters gives you access to the specific character's coins. These character coins will upgrade each character's specific stats, adding a loot aspect to the game. Leveling up characters is easy, especially for those who like sticking to one character. You can just boost other characters' level to the highest level character you have using the generously abundant in-game currency. There are more playable characters in this new entry, which is great for local split-screen play and also adds to the new "Kizuna Rush" attack mechanic. The new "Kizuna Rush" system allows your player character to team up with up to three other characters for support that provide more stronger attacks at the end of your combos as you level up your Kizuna gauge. When you max out the Kizuna Gauge, you can perform a Kizuna Rush that obliterates all non-special characters onscreen and deals a good damaged to special characters. This adds more to your combat variety and timing your Kizuna attacks just feels satisfying, especially when clearing out huge mobs quickly.The Kizuna system works with "Hero Powers", filling up the Kizuna gauge beyond level 3 with certain characters allow for map-wide affecting specials which can range from healing your allies to landing attacks that damage all acitve enemies on the map. One thing that kept from enjoying the different Warriors games in the past was the performance and visuals of the games. I am very pleased that this latest Pirate Warriors game on the Playstation 4 runs great (with very rare minor hiccups) and looks great. This game is also on the Playstation Vita which looks good and runs just as well as its console counterparts. Pirate Warriors 3 also features cross-save support which allows you to upload your save to the cloud and lets you continue your progress on any platform. Pirate Warriors 3 being on the Playstation Vita is probably why the levels can be finished in around 10 minutes and have reasonably sized maps, this is great as it keeps you from getting bored in running around a map or dying accidentally and losing a lot of progress like in the mainline Dynasty Warriors game. Levels that have those timed objectives are much more balanced compared to the strict time limits or easily killed allies that end up in mission failure in the previous game. Presentation of the story is pretty but a bit inconsistent. There are nice looking full CG animated scenes adapted from the show but not all parts are presented in this manner, some scenes are done in the minimal animated voiced character models with a text box; then there there are the plain text exposition voiced over by the narrator. It may be confusing to those unfamiliar and the drama that fans love from the anime will be lost on One Piece newcomers since it just doesn't have the impact. There's plenty of content in this game for fans and those just wanting to play some Warriors action. Those wanting a different take on the Warriors formula and die-hard One Piece fans should find something in this new game, it's an improvement over the previous game but those tired with the second game won't find much different here. If you've never played a Pirate Warriors title and want to play a great take on the Warriors formula, Pirate Warriors 3 provides a great fun time.
One Piece photo
King of the Pirates!
As someone who isn't into One Piece, it's always a surprise for me every time I am reminded that the franchise is still wildly popular around the world. Its enduring popularity remains strong especially in its native Japan wi...

Review: Boruto: Naruto the Movie

Oct 22 // Christian Chiok
Boruto: Naruto the Movie Studio: Pierrot Licensed by: Viz Media Release Date: August 8, 2015 (Japan), October 10, 2015 (North America) The movie already starts off with lots of action, featuring Sasuke fighting with both Momoshiki and Kinshiki in the ruins of Kaguya Otsutsuki's palace. From that battle scene alone, you can already tell how well the movie’s animation will be and it’s a great way to get the audience hook to the movie. Just like Kaguya—Momoshiki and Kinshiki Otsutsuki’s goal was to recollect all chakra and create it into a new chakra fruit, which would grant unlimited power, eternal youth, and immortality. However, they don’t have any affiliation with Kaguya as she created the White Zetsu Army in order to fend off against them should they ever attempt to steal her chakra. Throughout the movie, it is easily noticeable that Konoha has evolved technologically as the use of computers is pretty frequent. However, was stood out the most, and what basically was an important part of the movie, was the forearm device called Kote made by Katasuke. Kote allows the wielder to use any jutsu of their choice, without the use of chakra, as long as they had the scroll to use the sealed technique. Kote suggested that he wanted to introduce the device Chunin Exams but Naruto considered it cheating and denied his request. [embed]34393:5113:0[/embed] When Katasuke brought up the device to Boruto, he denied his request and he told him he wasn’t going to be entering the Chunin exams anyway. But after discussing about the Chunin exams with Sarada, and with her convincing him to enter be telling him that it was a way to show off to his father, he decides to enter. Even though Naruto has reached his long-term goal of becoming Hokage, the movie still shows that the character has so much to learn as he continues to prioritize work over family obligations, especially when he sends a shadow clone to his daughter's birthday dinner.  When Boruto finds out, he states that Naruto was luckier than him, reasoning that a dead father is better than one that neglects his children. Later that night, Boruto meets his father’s enteral frenemy and rival Sasuke Uchiha. Boruto being aware of that, he begs Sasuke if he can become his student and hopes he educate him about Naruto's weaknesses. Sasuke stated that he will take Boruto as his student under the condition that he can master the Rasengan, an attack that even Naruto struggled to perfect. Given the condition, Boruto goes to Konohamaru and asks him to teach him the Rasengan, which took Boruto a few long days to learn. When he finally approached Sasuke to tell him he learned the Rasengan, Sasuke notes that it’s far too small then smacks the Rasengan from Boruto’s hands as it slowly flies at a tree and disappears before it can make contact. Boruto storms off the scene with a sad look on his face and headed directly to Katasuke, the creator of Kote. With Katasuke’s initial plan to introduce Kote during the Chunin Exams, He wants Boruto to pass the Chunin Exams using Kote. Even with his father banning the use of Kote during the Chunin Exams, Boruto still decides to use it because he's tired of relying on his teammates and wants to achieve victory by himself. However, during the first round of the Chunin exams, he doesn’t use Kote, but was able to pass the round thanks to his teammates. Naruto later finds out and congratulates his son via e-mail. With Boruto excited after receiving recognition from his father, he decides to use Kote on round two, which he successfully passes and Naruto instead congratulates him in person, Naturally, this makes Boruto extremely happy. Unfortunately during the third round, Naruto catches him using Kote and later confronts his son in front of the entire village, confiscates his forehead protector and states he will never become a Shinobi. When Naruto scolds Boruto and tells him they will talk after the exams, Boruto angrily replies that they will never talk as Naruto is too busy being Hokage anyway. A few moments later, both Momoshiki and Kinshiki arrive to the scene with the goal of extracting the Kurama from Naruto. Unfortunately, Boruto made matters worse by using his Kote since the Otsutsuki absorb chakra-based jutsu. With Momoshiki gaining that power boost, Naruto was forced to sacrifice himself and was pulled into their dimension. After learning that his father is still alive and afraid of what could happen to his father, Boruto regrets all the resentful thought he was towards Naruto and accompanies Sasuke and the visiting Kage into the other dimension to save him, in order to make things right. During the fight in the other dimension, clearly the highlight of that moment was the teamwork between Naruto and Sasuke, especially with the beautiful done animation and the combination of both Perfect Susano’o and Kurama. After an intense battle, Naruto was weakened so Sasuke suggested that Boruto and his father combine their Rasengans. After creating the gigantic Rasengan, with the help of his shadow clone and Sasuke, he obliterates Momoshiki. However, the most important part of that scene to me was when we see Boruto and Naruto smiling at each other while combining their Rasengan. At the end of the movie, Boruto and Naruto reconcile their differences as Boruto respects his father and Naruto spends more time at home. The following morning after the battle, Boruto and Naruto fist-bumped and asked the other to do their best as they left for a mission and for work respectively. That final scene was special as it shows how much their relationship has built up as father and son, especially when they first-bumped. The movie concludes with Boruto, Sarada, Mitsuki, and Konohamaru going on a mission to capture a panda that is running loose in the village. Overall, this movie exceeded my expectations. The story isn’t exactly the best, especially because both the villains and their motivations were boring as they were the same as Kaguya’s. However, I did enjoy the character development shown for Boruto, and the relationship build-up with his father, Naruto, was really heartwarming. After seeing his father battle throughout the movie, and he understands how hard Naruto was worked to become Hokage, not only that but, after learning what Boruto has been through, he learns that Boruto still needs his father. Additionally, I really disliked how Momoshiki wasn’t really a threat and the battle was one sided on Boruto. Even Toneri in The Last put up a bigger fight against Naruto. However, the latter was more of a love-story if anything. In addition to the character development, I would also recommend this movie based on the animation and the fight scenes as well. The fights in the movie easily match those in the Dragon Ball series and watching it in theaters only made the experience even better.  With the new generation of Shinobi, it would great to see more of them in action. Personally, I really want to see Sarada follow the path of Hokage while Boruto follows Sasuke’s path, and protects the Hokage, as stated at the end of the movie. I really appreciated how Kishimoto switched path with their children, how Sarada holds Naruto in a higher pedestal while Boruto holds Sasuke in a higher pedestal. Naturally, both still love their father very much. I would definitely recommend the movie to any Naruto fan. Even though I believe other material related to the franchise may come in the future, the movie was a nice way to wrap up the story of Naruto. [This review is based on a theatrical screening of the film attended by the reviewer.] [embed]34393:5113:0[/embed]
Boruto Narut Review photo
A touching story about father and son
Boruto: Naruto the Movie takes place several years after the Fourth Shinobi World War, in which Naruto has become the Seventh Hokage of Konoha and formed a family of his own. However, even though Naruto has already reach...

Review: Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

Oct 03 // Josh Tolentino
[Note: This review will mention certain elements from both Danganronpa games that may be considered spoilers. No major plot developments in Ultra Despair Girls will be discussed but some details that hint to towards the circumstances of the other games are unavoidable.] Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls  (PS Vita [reviewed])Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: Spike Chunsoft (JP) / NIS America (EU, US)Released: September 25, 2014 (JP) / September 1, 2015 (US) / September 4, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 The change I'm referring to, of course, is the swapping of the core games' visual novel mechanics with third-person shooting gameplay. Players will use a specialized, bullhorn-shaped "hacking gun" to shoot "truth bullets" with varying effects at the legions of Monokuma, the two-tone robotic death bear that serves as the series' mascot.  The mechanics themselves are serviceable but unremarkable, with the act of shooting resembling nothing so much as a stripped-down version of the laser-sight-guided gunplay of Resident Evil 4 and the like. Different truth bullets have different effects and enable varied tactics against enemies. Knockback bullets send hostiles flying while Dance bullets stun enemies with the power of funky music. Link bullets take control of enemies by remote while the Detect "bullet" is more of a flashlight that highlights puzzle clues, rather than a tool for combat. Ammunition is kept relatively scarce, privileging good aim as players can save on shots by hitting oncoming foes in their weak spots, and enemies come in varying shapes, sizes, and attack patterns. The game also mixes things up with "game rooms", essentially puzzle sections with specific win conditions and restrictions on ammo type. One room might demand that players clear every enemy in a single explosion, or by exploiting both the special functions of the different truth bullets in conjunction with environmental elements. [embed]34161:5059:0[/embed] It's all solid and works fine, for the most part, but Ultra Despair Girls hardly distinguishes itself against any dedicated shooters on the strength of its gameplay. And for the most part, that's not what fans of the Danganronpa series will be playing the game for in any case. Thankfully, the parts of Ultra Despair Girls that Danganronpa fans will be playing the game for - the bizzarro narrative twists, the off-the-wall characters and unpredictable storytelling - are all intact and fully present. Any fears that becoming a shooter would diminish the series' ability to spin an engrossing yarn are quickly proven unfounded. As with the core games, virtually all but the most cursory discussion threatens spoilers, so I'll keep the summary somewhat vague: Players take on the role of Komaru Naegi, sister to Danganronpa protagonist Makoto, as she and a partner fans will find familiar roll through the ruined city of Towa, fighting a group calling themselves "The Warriors of Hope". The narrative is quick to let on that virtually nothing is what it seems at first, and even subverts some of the core games' key themes through its story beats. Fans of the deeper lore will also find plenty of interesting references and callbacks to both Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair, as Ultra Despair Girls functions, chronologically, as a bridge of sorts between the two games. Twists and turns aside, Ultra Despair Girls also features good characterization, quickly and effectively establishing its cast in the over-the-top manner unique to the series. The English dub is effective, with key performances from actresses Erin Fitzgerald and Cherami Lee anchoring the project. The quality of the other voices is a bit more variable, but overall it works, and purists have the option of grabbing the original Japanese voice track (which helpfully adds subtitles to the cutscenes) as free DLC on the PSN Store. Side content is also plentiful, as collectible books poke fun at common tropes in Japan's geek-literary scene. Fans who don't mind reading on the Vita's screen can also peruse a tie-in novel included on the game cartridge, starring Danganronpa alumnus Hiro Hagakure.  All this in mind, one can't help but feel that Ultra Despair Girls' greatest flaw isn't that its adoption of shooting gameplay doesn't work - it works fine - but that the game is almost as good without it. Just as some may make the credible argument that the original games' minigame sections were a blemish on an otherwise pristinely entertaining visual novel, here, it's the gameplay portions of this game that are the least remarkable aspect. In the end, though, that's hardly an offense, and everything works well enough that it's quite easy to recommend putting up with mediocre shooting to get to a meaty and substantial entry into the Danganronpa canon.
Danganronpa Review photo
Shot Through The Heart
When it was first announced that Spike Chunsoft's third Danganronpa game wouldn't be a visual novel, a lot of folks, including yours truly, were understandably apprehensive. Trigger Happy Havoc and its fantastic seq...

Review: Attack on Titan Part II: End of the World

Sep 29 // Josh Tolentino
[Spoiler Warning: This review will discuss some plot points from Attack on Titan: Part I, including the ending. Some of these points will be well-known to anyone familiar with the manga or anime, though.] Attack on Titan: End of the WorldDirected By: Shinji HiguchiProduced By: TOHO PicturesPremiere Date: September 19, 2015 (Japan), September 23, 2015 (Philippines), September 30, 2015 (US), October 20, 2015 (Canada)Licensed By FUNimation (NA) Attack on Titan: Part I ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, with the cast now dumbfounded at having discovered that Eren (Haruma Miura) can turn into a Titan himself. End of the World picks up at this point, choosing the opening quarter of the movie to deliver all the exposition and world-building missing from Part I in big, heaping helpings. The truth of the world's history, as well as the nature of the Titans, is revealed in a series of lengthy monologues worthy of a Metal Gear Solid 2 cutscene. Building out a setting as complex as Attack on Titan's isn't an easy task even under ideal circumstances, but the lengthy interlude serves to both ground the movie and act as an albatross around its neck.  For what it's worth, those stretches do include stylistic flourishes that produce some of the film's most interesting visuals, including effective use of Skeeter Davis' "The End of the World", and some great bits of real-world footage edited to have Titans in them. Director Shinji Higuchi's decision to ground the film in the real world's future, in an actual place, starts to make sense at this point. All the more unfortunate, then, that the plot these interludes serve devolves into a traditional, anime-like "teens versus ideologues" setup. It does take stabs at cautioning against both the static control of fascists and the chaos of revolution, but all in all, it's a downer compared to the more primal, gory thrills of the first half. Not to mention that End of the World frequently flashes back footage of Part I, making it all the more evident that there wasn't enough material to fill even a 90-minute movie. I wonder if the whole thing wouldn't be better off edited into single two-hour production, rather than being staggered out in this manner*. If nothing else I wouldn't have had to buy a ticket for it twice. End of the World even fails to adequately capitalize on its own strengths in visuals. Whereas the scenes of creepy-faced Titans eating people and making it rain blood and limbs in Part I gave off a visceral, classic-horror thrill, End of the World is more of a straight action movie, with even the Titans behaving more like pro wrestlers or MMA fighters than the mindless monsters of the last release. This is justified by the plot (and the source), but the shift is definitely less exciting and novel, not to mention that the original Titans barely make an appearance here. Hopes for the cast getting further character growth are also dashed. While the cast manages to shine more thanks to being separated from Eren early on, not much happens to give either the new characters more than one dimension or the older ones like Armin (Kanata Hongo) time to grow into the ones fans know and love. It seems as if Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara)'s victimization at the hands of the film's writers is permanent. Hans (Satomi Ishihara) once again steals every scene she's in by sheer force of personality, but unfortunately there are fewer of those, so even that bright light is diminished. Early in this review I noted that elementally speaking Attack on Titan: End of the World is more of the film the fans demanded, initially. In light of seeing the end product, though, that notion is shown to be as hollow as it is. Given the revelations in End of the World about the true nature of all the things, it feels fitting to end this piece with a quote from The Matrix, as delivered by an Attack on Titan fan who actually enjoyed Part I: "Not like this." [This review is based on a general screening of the film viewed by the reviewer.] *It's worth noting that FUNimation's release of the films in North America will allow viewers to see both Part I and End of the World in quick succession. Whether or not being able to view both movies as a single release (of sorts) will improve the experience remains to be seen.
Attack on Titan 2 Review photo
Why do the birds go on singing?
Broken down, point by point, Attack on Titan: End of the World is far closer to what Attack on Titan fans claimed to want from a live-action adaptation of their beloved manga. It delves deeper into the mysteries beh...


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