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Nuclear-free FOB photo
Nuclear-free FOB

Consoles lead Metal Gear Solid V's race to nuclear disarmament

Peace Day comes to PC last
Nov 29
// Josh Tolentino
In case you missed it, the Metal Gear series has always had a pretty strong anti-nuclear message, and it's never been more literal than in Metal Gear Solid V, the multiplayer "FOB" component of which allows players ...

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 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 falls afoul of ALO's curse as well, with even its central story 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]318569:61096:0[/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. In a nice touch, these events are mostly encountered semi-randomly and often without explicit prompting. A minor thing, to be sure, but one that channels the "live" qualities of MMO play, where impromptu encounters and stories grow even against otherwise static environs and content. Ultimately, though, those invested in seeing the characters of Sword Art Online again, sporting their ALO-styled redesigns and touting long-running in-jokes, will get their fill, but players seeking epic adventure or the kind of JRPG saga 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 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 just hammers home the apathetic level design. And there's even multiplayer, making Lost Song the only Sword Art Online game that's actually, well, online. 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
SAO: Lost Song Review photo
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 reality MMO that ...

Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online celebrates new Trek show with free Enterprise stuff

It's been a long road
Nov 03
// Josh Tolentino
Rejoice, Trek fans. On the off chance you haven't heard yet, CBS is planning a new Star Trek TV series, which will premiere as part of the CBS All-Access streaming service in the far-flung future timeline of 2017, right ...
Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online hands out Back to the Future hoverboards

This one works over water, too
Oct 22
// Josh Tolentino
Are you tired of hearing news about Back to the Future day yet, especially now that it's technically over already? If you are...well, I'm sorry, but hey, this one might even be cool, because it comes from even further into th...

Destiny Exotics photo
Destiny Exotics

Destiny begins the quest for Sleeper Simulant today

Wake Up, Guardians
Oct 07
// Josh Tolentino
When it comes to Destiny's vast collection of fancy space guns, exotic weapons are the fanciest of them all. Every exotic weapon has unique qualities and is usually designed to bend or break a rule that governs one of the gam...
Destiny: The Taken King photo
Destiny: The Taken King

Destiny has a secret exotic weapon buried in its daily mission

All hail the Black Spindle
Sep 23
// Josh Tolentino
[Update: Bungie designer Rob Engeln confirmed via Twitter that Black Spindle drops only when "Lost to Light" is featured as the Daily Heroic Mission. This means that players who don't get it before the daily reset will ...
Game Art Book review photo
Game Art Book review

Check out Japanator's review of a cool game art book

40 Games from Japan and Beyond
Sep 01
// Josh Tolentino
Hey there! It's not all "manga this, anime that" over at Japanator. We get cool game stuff, too, and one such thing is Game Art: Art from 40 Video Games and Interviews with their Creators, an appropriately-titled book about t...

Review: Satellite Reign

Aug 31 // Josh Tolentino
Satellite Reign (PC)Developer: 5 Lives StudiosPublisher: 5 Lives StudiosReleased: August 28, 2015MSRP: $29.99Reviewer's Rig: Intel Core i5 3.40Ghz, Nvidia Geforce GTX 780 Ti, 8GB RAM I mentioned the discrepancy between my memory of what Syndicate was and the fact of how it actually played, and Satellite Reign's existence makes that difference all the more apparent. That's because, despite the latter game's obvious tonal and thematic debt to Syndicate, it's a closer cousin, mechanically speaking, to Firaxis' XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  Whereas Syndicate and Syndicate Wars had you controlling a squad of roughly identical agents, each distinguished mainly by the weapons you had them carry, the corporate wetworks team you run in Satellite Reign's consists of four distinct character classes; each class has unique abilities unlocked through the leveling system, as well as individualized ways of dealing with the obstacles in their way. Soldiers can attract and resist enemy fire or hardwire enemy power generators to turn off turrets, doors, and cameras. Hackers can shut down security systems, use drones, and "hijack" enemy and civilian NPCs to puppet as they please, a la Syndicate's Persuadertron. Support agents heal their comrades and can use a "World Scan" ability to trace systems and find suitable hacking targets. Infiltrators can use ziplines, vents, and cloaking devices to sneak past guards while packing powerful melee and sniper attacks.   [embed]307082:60210:0[/embed] This class system, in addition to the game's requisite suite of cybernetic augmentations, weapons, and equipment, as well as an XCOM-like cover system, makes every encounter and excursion in Satellite Reign a far more involved affair than in its inspiration. Whereas those older encounters usually boiled down to how quickly your guys could mow down theirs, here, every member can work in concert, their abilities complementing each other to lay even the toughest defenses bare. Evasion, subterfuge and pitched combat all have their place, and can happen at virtually any time on the game's open map. That open map is another way 5 Lives stands apart from its peers and inspirations. Instead of missions, whether bespoke like in Syndicate or procedurally-generated like in XCOM, Satellite Reign opts for an open-world structure set on what the developers claim is one of the largest maps ever generated for the Unity Engine. The map is that of a city owned and run by Dracogenics, a massive future megacorporation propped up by selling "Res-tech", a cloning technology not unlike that seen in The Sixth Day. Your team, part of a rival corporation, is dropped into the city with an older, pirated version of Res-tech (their explanation for respawning), and tasked with overthrowing Dracogenics' monopoly in the name of business, no matter how much murder and robbery it takes to do so. Everything happens on the map, as your agents claw their way through the city, with nary a loading screen between tasks. Each district, from neon-soaked Downtown to the smog-choked Industrial zone, houses a number of side missions designed to reduce Dracogenics' control. For example, infiltrating the local police station can lengthen the time it takes for guards to call in reinforcements, while planting bugs in a surveillance center keeps security cameras from recognizing your agents too quickly. Breaking into the district bank can increase the speed at which ATMs funnel cash into your coffers. Bribing a disgruntled sanitation worker can unlock a side entrance into a heavily-guarded military base. Locating a conveniently hung power line might give your agents a quick way over the walls, but only if your Soldier can sabotage a nearby generator to keep that line from frying anyone trying to slide down it. It all feels interconnected and detailed in the manner of the best obstacle courses and levels. Through it all your agents will be getting their hands on new gear, unlocking new abilities, and getting more formidable, as the game's structure allows for a near total freedom of approach. Virtually every scenario can be handled in the way you choose (short of peaceful negotiation), limited only by your ability to coordinate your agents and their own equipment and abilities. Every upgrade makes you feel more powerful, but not just in a simple "numbers went up" sense, but in the way that new upgrades unlock new options and ways to break past barriers that limited you before. Unfortunately, like a proper cyberpunk story, Satellite Reign's shiny, polished exterior reveals some grit and ugliness upon close examination. Civilians walk aimlessly to and fro, only there to provide a source of fresh clones for your agents and inconvenient witnesses for their crimes. The open-world structure of the game excises the possibility of truly lasting consequence, with the world, guard patterns, and even destroyed cameras eventually resetting over time. Enemies are a touch too durable as well, their multiple layers of armor, health, and energy shielding limiting certain approaches, and turning most firefights into drawn-out affairs as enemies summon reinforcements faster than you can kill them. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this otherwise brilliantly-executed game is how hollow its world feels. Despite the gorgeously rendered city visuals and a goodly amount of text to be found by digging through random data terminals, Satellite Reign's city feel less like a world than a cyberpunk-themed playset. You direct your little squad of action figures around and play as you like, but rarely feel lost or immersed in the setting. It would be churlish and greedy to demand storytelling on the level of, say, Deus Ex from the game when it already does everything else so well, but it's saying something when Syndicate still manages to establish a better mood despite being nearly twenty-two years older. At the same time, rough edges like that are a small price to pay when Satellite Reign does Syndicate better than Syndicate ever did.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] [embed]307082:60210:0[/embed]
Satellite Reign Review photo
Guerilla Startup
I can still remember the first time I played Syndicate. It was after school in late 1993, and I was messing around on an office computer while waiting for my mother to finish a meeting and take me home. I remember the cool mi...

Dragon Age: Inquisition photo
Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition's DLC epilogue is called Trespasser

Plus, Golden Nugs for all!
Aug 30
// Josh Tolentino
Dragon Age: Inquisition isn't even a year old yet, but for some reason it feels like it's been forever since it came out. I played it, had a gay old time with my slender elven Knight-Enchanter, finished the story, then settl...
Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online goes post-war in Season 11: New Dawn

A New Hope?
Aug 11
// Josh Tolentino
For the five years it's been running, Star Trek Online's story has been one of a galaxy at war. First it was a war between the Federation and Klingon Empire, then between an alliance of the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans...
Elite: Dangerous photo
Elite: Dangerous

Elite: Dangerous gets Horizons expansion, planetary landings

From Space Trucks to Space Buggies
Aug 05
// Josh Tolentino
Time to kick the tires, Commanders. Frontier Developments, they who run premier space-trucking sim Elite: Dangerous, just announced Horizons, the next expansion for the game. Due to open on PC and Xbox One this year, Ho...
Legend of Legacy photo
Legend of Legacy

Legend of Legacy published by NIS America in Europe

Winter (2016) is coming
Jul 28
// Josh Tolentino
Despite the "America" in the company name, it looks like NIS America is the publisher of choice when it comes to bringing Atlus games across the pond. That's certainly true for their latest announcement, the 3DS-bound RPG Leg...
Summer Lesson photo
Summer Lesson

Summer Lesson looks like everything I want from virtual reality right now

S-sign me up?
Jun 17
// Josh Tolentino
OK, real talk: That headline makes me sound like a giant creeper because, in case you didn't know, Summer Lesson is a Sony Morpheus-based tech demo that involves you just sitting beside a girl, listening to her, an...
Chris Avellone photo
Chris Avellone

Chris Avellone has left Obsidian Entertainment

No reasons given as yet
Jun 09
// Josh Tolentino
If you're at all into PC-style role-playing games of the Baldur's Gate variety, this may be big news to you: Chris Avellone has, according to brief Twitter and Facebook announcements, parted ways with Obsidian Entertainm...
Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online starts summer event, answers important question

Oh, and a new ship or something
Jun 05
// Josh Tolentino
Indeed, Star Trek fans, the answer that's eluded us is finally here: Andorian chest hair is as white as fresh snowfall.   Now, you could go back to your business, or you could stick around Star Trek Online between t...
GOG x Star Trek photo
GOG x Star Trek

Maximum Warp: GOG bringing back classic Star Trek games

Set Phasers to "Stunning Discounts"
May 07
// Josh Tolentino
Remember when GOG was called "Good Old Games"? When the fine folks at CD Projekt were more concerned about getting classic games like, er..NOX to contemporary players at low prices, rather than selling brand new games an...

Review: Chroma Squad

May 04 // Josh Tolentino
Chroma Squad (PC) Developer: Behold StudiosPublisher: Behold StudiosReleased: April 30, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Not that they really needed to, of course. Such a "feature" would interfere with play, and there's plenty of service in the game as it is for fans. The play, in this case, is of the turn-based tactical variety, as if Behold took XCOM and ran it through the parodic, pixelated filters of Knights of Pen and Paper.  Like the former, players will manage a small squad of combatants, with unique classes and abilities, running them up against groups of goons and the occasional boss, one turn at a time. Like the latter, every mechanic serves as a distillation of tokusatsu's essence through heavy referencing and a clear, almost palpable appreciation of the source material. The premise alone is ripe enough with potential that it's baffling more games haven't taken advantage: Players manage a fledgling production studio, with each mission treated as an "episode" of an upstart spandex superhero show. Names, casting, and even catchphrases are up for customization, as well as the requisite selection of bright primary colors to outfit the roster with. If players want to commit sentai sacrilege and name a non-red-colored character the "Lead," no one can stop them but their inevitable guilt (guilt, I say!). Cast members can also be selected from a pool of actor candidates, each with their own special qualities.  [embed]291251:58411:0[/embed] When the cameras start rolling and the minions exit wardrobe, the fight is on. The goal of any given mission is to amass as much "audience" as possible, by performing flashy attacks, fancy stunts, and of course, winning the fight. Additionally, optional "Director's Instructions" add extra conditions, such as finishing off boss monsters with a screen-filling finishing move, or not killing off the boss before dispatching the cannon-fodder minions. Such extra goals help introduce variety to the combat, which is more simplistic than one might find in XCOM or other dedicated tactical titles. Enemies follow simple patterns and lack much in the way of extra abilities, so most of the tactics devolve to crowd and ability cooldown management rather than more elegant stratagems. Chroma Squad's main mechanical wrinkle comes in the form of "Teamwork," which allows squad members to leapfrog over each other to boost their movement range, or carry out simultaneous attacks with adjacent teammates. This, alongside somewhat simplistic giant-mecha boss battles, give the game enough of a unique flavor to override its otherwise thin tactical substance.  Following the mission, gained audience is converted into "fans," and also into increased studio funding, the better to buy one's way out of Papier-mâché costumes and into some real spandex duds. Behind the scenes, the studio itself can be outfitted with various upgrades that improve performance in each episode. Buying health care for the actors improves their health in combat, and improving the lighting on set reduces enemies' chance to dodge or counter blows. Materials dropped in combat can also be used to craft customized gear with semi-random statistics, a useful (and cheap) alternative to costly store-bought costumes and weapons. Fan mail can be answered for flavor and smaller benefits, and players can even choose marketing agencies to confer more benefits. Going with a niche-market enthusiast firm might increase the amount of fans gained after an episode, but will likely lack the mass-audience-gathering benefits of a more mainstream advertising push. Tradeoffs like that characterize much of Chroma Squad's meta-game. Speaking of meta-things, the game's narrative and missions regularly break the fourth wall, and form one of the game's potentially divisive aspects. While the self-aware script and obvious understanding of tokusatsu's many conventions and tropes lend it an endearing level of charm, some players might be turned off by references to dated Internet memes and other metahumor. Personally, I found the story hit quite a bit more than it missed, but I will admit that at times the dialog read more like a forum chat log than a script, and wasn't always helped by rough spots in the localization and editing. Then again, it's not like tokusatsu attracts its fans for complex plotting and characterization, so it may balance out in the end for players in the right mindset. What isn't as easy to let by are some unfortunate, if minor, technical and design blemishes on Chroma Squad's pristine pixelation. Mission scripts would occasionally freeze in "cutscene" mode, forcing me to start the mission over. A nasty little bug accidentally equipped low-level equipment on my giant robot, making some late-game boss battles much more tense than I'd have liked them to be. One bug even gave me control of an enemy unit rather than my own squad members for a few turns! Thankfully, dev posts on the forums appear to indicate that Behold is aware of most of the bugs I encountered, and a patch is in the works at the time of this writing. Beyond that, the lack of a mid-mission checkpoint or save, or a mission-select option is inconvenient for players wanting to explore the game's branching story paths (especially for those curious to see what Behold has to say about Kamen Rider). That said, the team has stated a New Game+ option may yet be in the cards for a future update, so repeated playthroughs may become more appealing in the future. Zordon may have wanted "teens with attitude," but Chroma Squad and its unabashed, utterly geeky love-in for all things tokusatsu shows something even harder to find: A game with heart and soul. That heart shines through the rough edges, and in some ways even turns them to its advantage. It might have taken quite a while in getting here, but fans of spandex-clad superheroic finally have the videogame to help them fill that little fantasy. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Chroma Squad review photo
Lights, Camera, Henshin!
Ever since a badly-dubbed lady popped out of a dumpster on the moon, sending a weird computer-man to seek "teenagers with attitude," geeks of a certain age have been on the lookout for a game that can capture the essence of w...

Review: Omega Quintet

Apr 29 // Josh Tolentino
Omega Quintet (PS4) Developer: Compile HeartPublisher: Idea Factory (JP), Idea Factory International (US/EU)Released: October 2, 2014 (JP) / April 28, 2015 (US) / May 1, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $59.99 Speaking of other "firsts," playing Omega Quintet brings to mind the very first Hyperdimension Neptunia title. That's not a good sign, seeing as the original game literally put Matt Razak to sleep back in 2011. Indeed, despite being, on paper, one of the most feature-rich titles Compile Heart has produced, the experience of playing Omega Quintet feels decidedly regressive, a far cry from the comparative refinement that the Neptunia franchise has managed to cultivate over the years. Perhaps some of that disconnect is cultural. Whereas the Neptunia series' light parody of the game industry and its never-ending platform wars will be familiar to most gamers, idol culture -- which informs much of Omega Quintet's setup -- is largely absent outside of Japan. Many of its references to the peculiarities of pop-princess life fall flat for lack of that common ground. On the other hand, not even Neptunia could be considered especially sophisticated in its satire. Anyone familiar with that series would know that the premises, however niche or inventive, really serve as a framework on which to drape a proven mix of cute girls, complex battle systems, anime-tinged humor, and sexualization. Omega Quintet is in much the same way, and its paeans to the life of celebrities are ultimately skin-deep. Except even by those lowered standards and tempered expectations, the game still comes across as lazy and half-hearted, without the charm or spark that helped its cousins rise above their otherwise mundane core.  Omega Quintet at least sounds interesting at first. Its future-set, ostensibly apocalyptic setting is cutely subverted by the fact that the Blare, an existence pushing humanity to the brink of extinction, can only be stopped by the Verse Maidens, a troupe of magical girl idols who sing and fight with giant weapons called "Mics". The Verse Maidens are powered by the adoration of the people, which necessitates their fights being broadcast live like a concert. Sadly, the last active Verse Maiden, Momoka, is retiring, because she's apparently much older than she looks. Enter Otoha, a fresh-faced youngster, and her male friend/player stand-in Takt, as the newest Verse Maiden recruit and the team manager, respectively. As more new Verse Maidens join to take up the reins, various anime-flavored antics ensue alongside goodly amounts of suggestive posing, relationship-building, wacky conversations, and of course, saving the world. The catch, unfortunately, is that all this cutsey waifu fun has to be experienced from the perspective of Takt, one of the least likable male leads ever to be inflicted on videogames. It's as if whomever wrote his lines mistook being a total prick for an aloof kind of coolness. Every word from his mouth is marinated in pointless sarcasm and brain-dead snark that it makes the event scenes -- which already run far too long and stretch their one-note jokes to the breaking point as it is -- a grating exercise in tedium. If he can't even be bothered to care what's going on, why should we? The game can't even be bothered to fully incorporate its premise into the main structure. Omega Quintet comes with a surprisingly robust "PVS" mode, which allows players to essentially construct dance and concert videos from the game's (rather small) collection of idol songs, complete with video recording and upload functions, but there's rarely any point or main-game benefit to engaging it. Ironically, despite the fact that this game is supposed to be Compile Heart's "idol RPG," Neptunia Producing Perfection, which is more of an actual idol-centric game than this could hope to be, came out last year. [embed]290971:58370:0[/embed] If there is a group that could look forward to enjoying Omega Quintet, it's the crowd that comes to JRPGs not for narrative or anime antics, but for abstract and engaging battle systems. Omega Quintet's is enjoyably complex and interesting to master. Where the trend in RPG battle has moved away from menus and into quasi-action game territory, Omega Quintet is all too happy to throw players into a sea of menu selections and gauge-driven turn-based combat. At its core, the game's battling relies on using attacks of varying effectiveness, range, and recovery time to manipulate the turn order. Stacking commands and attacks so that the Verse Maidens all take their turns in quick succession unlocks powerful Harmonics attacks, and building "Voltage" (a gauge representing the audience's fervor) eventually results in engaging the cinematic "Live Concert" mode, a sort of super attack that involves big damage, over-the-top animation, and background lyrics. Throw in Takt's ability to partner up with the Verse Maidens to deliver follow-ups or stat boosts, as well as score-boosting Overkill systems, a Sphere-Grid-like character progression system, and even item and gear crafting, and there's plenty of mechanical fat to chew on. If only the context and characters surrounding this part of the game were more worthwhile. Though there's nothing explicitly wrong with it, Omega Quintet feels far too much like a "by-the-numbers" Compile Heart title to do justice to the studio's first current-gen effort. Its narrative and aesthetic "fluff" ultimately fail to support its dense and otherwise engrossing mechanical heart. For a game about a bunch of girls finding their voices and path in the world, it has distressingly little "voice" of its own.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Omega Quintet review photo
Same old song and dance routine
Omega Quintet is a game of firsts. Chronologically, it's the PlayStation 4's first exclusive Japanese RPG (Final Fantasy Type-0 originally being a PSP game). It's also developer Compile Heart's first PS4 game, and by certain logic, the first JRPG to plumb Japan's idol subculture. If only being such a pioneer had resulted in a game that actually put its best foot forward.

Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online goes to (more) war in its Season 10 update

Would you like to know more?
Apr 26
// Josh Tolentino
If we go by seasons, Star Trek Online has been the longest-running Star Trek-branded property of all, with the game's Season 10: The Iconian War update having gone live just this week. Of course, that's a bit of a cheat...
Chroma Squad  photo
Chroma Squad

Power Ranger sim Chroma Squad gets dated, trailered

Teenagers with Attitude!
Apr 24
// Josh Tolentino
Ever since I, as a grown man, got back into watching Japanese television shows targeted at seven-year-olds, I've wanted to see a proper, well-done videogame inspired by Super Sentai, Power Rangers, Kamen Rider and other...
Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online resorts to time travel to boost recruitment in April

Because war is coming
Mar 24
// Josh Tolentino
Ah, time travel. It's a staple of science fiction, and Star Trek has played host to more than a few yarns about tripping the light chronologic. Thus it's not unusual to see a few time-travel quests lodged into MMORPG Star Tre...

Review: Bladestorm: Nightmare

Mar 17 // Josh Tolentino
Bladestorm: Nightmare (Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS3 [reviewed])Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Koei TecmoReleased: March 17, 2015MSRP: $59.99 (PS4/Xbox One), $49.99 (PS3) [Note: Screenshots used in this review are taken from the PS4 version of the game.] As an aside: this game, based on 2007's Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War, is one of the weirdest choices anyone could've made when deciding on which games to add to the growing number of "remastered" titles popping up on current-generation consoles and PC. Despite initially generating excitement among the Dynasty Warriors-loving crowd as a long-desired European-themed entry to the franchise, the original game came and went without much comment. That was thanks to its odd-duck design, which even led Jim Sterling, a much bigger Warriors fan than yours truly, to call it a real-time strategy game in his review. I'm not quite as inclined towards that drastic recategorization, but ol' Jim does have a point: Bladestorm is, for good or ill, of a more thoughtful mind than most of Omega Force's  offerings. Indeed, whereas typical Warriors games take history's leaders and convert them into armies unto themselves, Bladestorm takes the player and molds him (or her) into a leader of their own squad of troops. If Dynasty Warriors is about being a human Cuisinart, Bladestorm attempts a wartime version of Katamari Damacy. More on that in a bit. [embed]289070:57824:0[/embed] Bladestorm: Nightmare comes with two main modes. "The Hundred Years' War" mode is essentially identical to the original 2007 release, aside from graphical/mechanical tweaks, and drops player-created mercenaries -- or "merthenaries" to hear the comically bad European-accented voice-acting say it -- on the battlefields of medieval France. There players can work for the French or English factions, supporting one or the other as pay and scruples dictate. They'll interact with luminaries of the era like Edward, the Black Prince, Philippe the Good, and Gilles de Rais, and participate in key engagements like the Battle of Crécy and the Siege of Calais.   The second mode, "Nightmare," is a more linear, scripted campaign set when a monster invasion interrupts the Hundred Years' War, forcing France, England, and the merthenaries they employ to ally against hordes of hellbeasts commanded by none other than Joan of Arc herself. Interestingly, though Nightmare mode is clearly designed to be played after finishing off The Hundred Years' war, players can switch between the two freely, with progression data like levels, money, equipped gear, and distributed skill points carrying over with virtually no restriction.  Graphically, Bladestorm works best on newer hardware. Aside from the added special effects and improved draw distance and environments, the frame-rate drops that I experienced on the PS3 are absent on the PS4 version. Additionally, the Nightmare campaign on PS3 is prone to drastic loss of frames as well, likely due to the much larger squad sizes and the hordes of monsters.  Both modes essentially boil down to an expansive form of territory control. Each of the battlefields is divided into numerous forts, towns, and castles defended by allied or enemy troops. Most missions ("contracts" in merthenary lingo), particularly in the more open-ended base campaign, will task players with conquering one or more settlements by killing off their defenders and beating their commanding officer. The bigger the settlement, the tougher the commanders, and some particularly large castles are basically defended by mini-boss enemies with distinct attack patterns. In Nightmare mode, those defenders can even include dragons, cyclopes, or grim reapers. Doing the killing involves taking command of a squad of troops. Though broken down roughly by weapon type, each soldier type is unique, with strengths, weaknesses, and a set of special attacks mapped to the face buttons. Players can pick up or drop squads they find in the field, or summon reinforcements directly. New to Bladestorm: Nightmare is the ability to create multiple squad leaders, commanding them separately via the battle map or attaching them to a personal unit as a bodyguard, ultimately allowing for up to 200 troops to move and act as a single unit, rolling everyone in the way (hence the Katamari analogy). This type of of structure provides Bladestorm with the same kind of dynamic as the typically more action-oriented Warriors games. Like in those titles, players in this game are often "fire-fighting," moving as quickly as possible between crisis zones, keeping scores and rewards up by plowing through everything along the way. Though ultimately shallow, Bladestorm's battle mechanics do lend the game an impressive sense of scale, particularly when playing as a cavalry leader. I must have done it hundreds of times in my hours with the game, but it never gets old to trigger a charge and flatten dozens of enemies under the hooves and lances of your soldiers. It also never gets old to watch horses slide across the ground like they are hovercrafts, a testament to how rough-hewn the game can be at times. Balance issues are also a concern, as properly leveled cavalry units basically trivialize the whole game except at the highest difficulty levels. I'd actually be more mad that cavalry are so overpowered if they weren't already the most fun class to play, but that's neither here nor there. Bladestorm: Nightmare isn't a Dynasty Warriors game, but it doesn't aim to be, and still ends up being good time when taken on its own merits. In fact, it's a little ironic that its unusual qualities doomed the original release commercially, but help this new release feel much more fresh and engaging than even the latest "core" franchise entries. [This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
Bladestorm review photo
Merthenary Lyfe
Bladestorm: Nightmare is not a Dynasty Warriors game. That bit of information might be good or bad news, depending which side of the fence one falls on with regard to Tecmo Koei's long-running brawler series. At the same...

Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online establishes in-game memorials for Leonard Nimoy

In Memoriam
Mar 08
// Josh Tolentino
Leonard Nimoy passed away last week. Though his legacy is broad and varied, most people know him best as Spock, Star Trek's most recognizable Vulcan. The same goes for the MMORPG Star Trek Online, as developer Cryptic Studios...

Review: Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines

Mar 03 // Josh Tolentino
Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines (PS Vita [Reviewed], PlayStation TV)Developer: Alfa SystemPublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentReleased: March 3, 2015 MSRP: $19.99 About that "dead soon" thing: It's the premise of the game. Players start as the head of a Japanese clan (that they construct themselves in a rather detailed character-creation interface), murdered to a man in a gruesome ritual of human sacrifice after being framed for the disasters rocking 12th-century Kyoto. Fate is kind, though, and a few members are brought back to life to exact revenge upon the wrongdoers. Unfortunately, everything has a cost, and the price for a second chance is the dual curses of Ephemerality and Broken Lineage. The first curse dooms all members of the clan to drop dead two years after their birth. The second prevents them from having offspring with humans. Talk about a double-whammy!  Thus the mission is set: Continue the family line long enough to break the curses, by having children with willing gods and spirits (sidestepping the "Broken Lineage" part), and having those children have their own children before their two years are up, in addition to becoming strong enough to defeat the villain that cursed the clan in the first place. It's a morbid and deliciously effective premise, so much so that one wonders why it hasn't been thought of before. [embed]288441:57592:0[/embed] has, for Oreshika is technically a sequel to 1999's Ore no Shikabane wo Koete Yuke, an influential PS1 RPG that involved largely the same concepts. That said, the game never made overseas, which makes it completely new to most players. Its relative age, though, would explain why Oreshika feels like a pleasant throwback to the early years of Japanese RPG-making, when the primary influences on design came from free-roaming dungeon-crawlers like Ultima and Wizardry. That same narrative-light, systems-heavy approach largely defines Oreshika's play experience, which should delight fans who've begun to chafe under the typically linear storytelling of most JRPGs. That isn't to say the story beats are absent. Oreshika has its own complement of directed cutscenes and dialog sequences, most involving named, voiced side characters. They appear during certain missions to drop some exposition or plot twists, and in some cases join the party. The meshing of traditional narrative with the game's more free-form structure isn't perfect, and it's during these moments that the player's own created clan can feel like extras in what is ostensibly their story. The missteps are mostly inoffensive, though, and to be fair, the story does end up going deeper than might have been possible without the benefit of more defined characters to fall back on. Then again, perhaps that more traditional story wasn't that necessary at all, because for me, the most memorable moments in Oreshika come with each passing minute of my family's short, short life. The game is conducted on a month-to-month basis, either raiding or preparing to raid one of the land's many labyrinths. The preparation involves buying gear and items for use during the raid, improving the local town to upgrade the various shops' offerings, or performing the "Rite of Union" with many gods and goddesses to create offspring and ensure the family's continuation. That might sound like a lot of babies to magic up, but considering that thanks to the rigors of dungeon-raiding many of the clan's members will kick the bucket long before their two years are up, a deep bench is critical. Longer games can go for hundreds of generations, and every death can hurt, thanks to the "XCOM effect" of growing attached to people one had a hand in creating and customizing themselves. Dying family even leave semi-randomized "parting words" upon their passing. Oreshika's also quite adept at making that customization feel like it matters. Every new addition to the family takes on the characteristics of their parents, including inheriting physical features (which can turn out hilariously when uniting with some of the less "human" gods), and statistical traits. The game's item creation system allows "heirloom" gear to be created that gains power every time a departing family member bequeaths it to a new generation. And the game is all too happy to use the PS Vita's built-in screen capture function to take "family album" photos and collect them like fond mementos of bosses beaten and dungeons delved. It's almost strange that for all the time one spends preparing for dungeon raids, Oreshika's combat and exploration are designed to be over and done with as quickly as possible. When out in the world, players are literally on the clock. A real-time counter ticks down towards the end of a given month, which lasts between five and ten minutes, depending on how many battles one gets into. At the end, players are given the option to go home, or continue the raid through the next month without rest, increasing the chance that tired or injured party members might die permanently. Given that every character is already born with a very short lifespan, the timers instill a kind of frenzied pace and tension to what could otherwise have been a ponderous affair. "Frenzied" is also a good way to describe Oreshika's visuals, which are a riot of color and animation. The game's watercolor tones and melding of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock style, traditional folkloric creatures, and anime character design make it one of the best-looking titles on the platform, and possibly one of the prettiest "anime" games since the original Valkyria Chronicles. And thankfully, unlike many games that involve procreation as a concept, Oreshika lacks much of the prurient undertone that make such titles slightly embarrassing to play at times. As lovely as the characters are environments don't fare quite as well, as the pace at which a typical dungeon run is conducted doesn't leave a lot of time to admire the sights. A limited camera setup and frequent use of revisiting (often to unlock a shortcut using a key found in some other dungeon) can also sap locations of their initial charm. Despite the fact most of us will never have played the game it's a sequel to, the quality of Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines shines through its gorgeous visuals and deep mechanics. Come to think of it, there's no more fitting way for a game that's about leaving a worthwhile legacy to conduct itself. [This review is based on a digital retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Oreshika Review photo
Generations of phwoar
Like many games of its type, Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines features a tiny graphic in its text boxes to remind players they can press a button to advance to the next line. Usually the graphic is of an X or O button pressi...

Homeworld Remastered photo
Homeworld Remastered

Homeworld Remastered's new vid is a modern trailer for a modern launch

The Age of S'jet begins again
Feb 25
// Josh Tolentino
My Steam clock tells me that Homeworld Remastered Collection unlocks in less than nine hours, but that just means there's just enough time left to put up this here launch trailer, which is brimming with all the bombast ...

Review: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary

Feb 22 // Josh Tolentino
htoL#NiQ: The Firely Diary (PS Vita)Developer: Nippon Ichi SoftwarePublisher: NIS AmericaReleased: February 24, 2015MSRP: $19.99 First, to that bit about minimalism: htoL#NiQ has virtually no written or spoken dialog, or even text. Apart from some prompts explaining the basic controls and a brief crawl in the opening, players won't even encounter so much as a lettered sign in the background. The plot, such as it is, is delivered almost entirely in-game, via environmental clues and lightly interactive flashbacks.  The game screen itself is largely free of HUDs and icons, and combined with low-lit environments that flicker as if beaming from a vintage film projector, gives off a universally gloomy, unsettling aura that contrasts well with the cutesy character design. The flashback scenes are rendered in a totally different, isometric style that recalls older RPGs like Contact. [embed]287859:57450:0[/embed] Exploring this downbeat dystopia is Mion, a silver-haired waif with big eyes, a pair of branches growing from her head, and all the self-preservation instinct of a videogame lemming. Accompanying her are Lumen and Umbra, the titular fireflies and the only means by which players can guide Mion through the wilderness. Players can use the touch screen to move Lumen, with Mion following her Navi-esque companion wherever it goes. Lumen can also signal Mion to throw switches, push boxes, and other puzzle-solving interactions. Umbra, on the other hand, resides in Mion's shadow, and can only be controlled by shifting to an alternate dimension with a tap of the rear touchpad. From there, Umbra can move through shadows freely - including those cast by Lumen's glow - and interact with objects too far away for Mion to reach. Manipulating the environment and using the firefly duo to help maneuver Mion past various hazards forms the bulk of htoL#NiQ's mechanics. This all sounds simple enough, but the game in which these mechanics are employed is an artifact of what I can only describe as gleeful, knowing sadism. htoL#NiQ is one of the most difficult games I've ever played, and the bulk of my playtime has been spent dying, over and over and over again. That's not necessarily a bad thing, seeing as the last few years have brought a new renaissance for tough, uncompromising game design, but the type of pain dealt by htoL#NiQ is of a very particular type, one that's been justifiably abandoned by most modern titles. Simply put, this game trades in pure, trial-and-error frustration. Thanks to a combination of deliberately lethargic controls and deathtrap-obsessed level design, virtually no challenge the game poses can be passed on the first try - or the 48th try, for that matter. That's how long it took me to overcome just a single checkpoint in the second level, a checkpoint that, performed successfully, takes about a minute to transition through.  Since Mion can only be moved by moving Lumen ahead of her, a slight delay accompanies every movement, and Mion herself hits her top speed at "leisurely stroll", even when pursued by rampaging hellbeasts made of shadow. The awkwardness of using the touch screen and rear touch pad to control Lumen and Umbra can be alleviated somewhat by switching to an optional control scheme that uses the analog stick and face buttons, but the precision and sluggishness in movement remains. Worse still, some challenges demand precise timing to trigger environmental actions using Umbra, but the pauses that accompany attempting to switch to Umbra's dimension make that timing even tougher to nail down. Add in hidden enemies, barely-telegraphed hazards, instant death, and occasional randomized factors that cheapen every death, and htoL#NiQ ends up embodying a strange sort of videogame Murphy's Law: Anything that can kill Mion, will kill Mion. Several times.  To clarify, there's nothing wrong with deliberate, "slow" controls. As a fan of Monster Hunter and the Souls games, I can appreciate that style, and intention behind them being in this game is fairly clear. htoL#NiQ aims for the kind of dynamic that defined the likes of classics like Ico. The problem here is the decision to combine the tension of having to escort a helpless charge with such demanding level design. The stress of both having to keep the charge safe as well as perform feats of precision timing and speed is almost too much that would stand to gain the most from the game's low-key storytelling and unique aesthetic. Extending the comparison further, if htoL#NiQ were to be compared to Ico, the difference between the two in terms of difficulty would be akin to trying to shepherd Yorda through the Tower of Latria from Demon's Souls.   It simply isn't fun to have to redo every section just to pass - or replay certain portions perfectly just to access all the game's collectible flashback scenes (which form its most substantial narrative payoff), but then again, I did retry a single section forty-eight times in a row, so there may be something to htoL#NiQ, after all. The creepy atmosphere and interesting visuals were just enough to keep me hooked alongside its grim, intriguing story. And of course, there's the stubborn, bitter, vengeful thrill of finally defeating a game that's seemingly designed with the middle finger extended towards its players.  I won't lie: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary feels like an ordeal to play, but it is worth noting that historically, surviving an ordeal was often taken as a sign of being blessed by a higher power. That notion may appeal to some types of players, and it's they who'll find the fun in this gorgeous, cruel game. Everyone else should just hang back and ask how it went. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
htoL#NiQ Review photo
Oh Dear, Diary
No, that isn't an encoding error up there in the headline: "htoL#NiQ" is indeed this PS Vita game's title, and is essentially a very stylish way to type "The Firefly Diary" in Japanese. Whatever personal peculiarities led the...

Touhou x PlayStation photo
Touhou x PlayStation

Touhou games may come to PlayStation this year

But probably not the games you want
Jan 27
// Josh Tolentino
Ah, Touhou Project. The hyper-popular series of bullet-hell shooters has long been a Holy Grail of sorts for non-PC-owning otaku, and the efforts to get games with the Touhou brand on various consoles have been mighty indeed...
Homeworld Remastered photo
Homeworld Remastered

We Can Go Homeworld Again: Gearbox sets date for Homeworld Remastered

Engine trails ahoy!
Jan 25
// Josh Tolentino
Finally! The Mothership has arrived. It's been quite a while since we last heard word from Gearbox and its plan to spruce up the Homeworld series for a much-needed rerelease, but more details have just jumped in, includ...
Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online goes to the Delta Quadrant in October

To Boldly Go Where Captain Janeway Went Before
Sep 19
// Josh Tolentino
Get your replicator rations ready, folks, because Star Trek Online is about to get itself catapulted by weird aliens to the Delta Quadrant, which was last visited in the 1990's by the Star Trek: Voyager TV series. ...
In Space We Brawl photo
In Space We Brawl

In Space We Brawl produces intense faces, spaceships

The Last Starbrawler
Aug 12
// Josh Tolentino
Back in my day, when trailers and game ads showed players making real intense faces at the screen while clutching their controllers, it was because a game was TOO XTREME for a normal facial expression. Now it seems that such...

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