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5:12 PM on 08.24.2015

Grandia 2 is out on steam! Why was I not notified?

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11:02 AM on 08.15.2015

Jam kuradoberi was announced for guilty gearxrd revalator!! I'm beyond happy right now!!

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3:38 PM on 10.16.2014

Rollcall!! MCM Expo attendees sound off!

The main Dtoid EU meet is widely regarded as the Eurogamer expo weekend (tho that remains to be seen in the future) but there were a few questions asked regarding another big event held in London and that would be the MCM Expo which is happening next weekend.

Generally, it gathers a smaller group than EGX but I thought it would be good to hear if anyone will be attending the event and see if we can all meet up at the venue. I'll definitely be in attendence on Saturday for "stuff" which I won't get into but it'll be good to meet others who will be at the event so if you're going to the expo, drop your name off at the comments and we'll see what we can all come up with.

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2:21 PM on 09.15.2014

Mini Review: Tales of Xillia 2

There have probably been a bunch of community reviews for this game now but I thought I'd throw my own into the pile and also provide a small sweetener in the shape of an unboxing of the European "ludger Kresnik" edition of the game in there as well.

It’s not too often you find direct sequels for JRPGs and those which do get made are often though of as inferior to their predecessor and the series in general. Just think of FFX-2, or FFXIII-2 (though XIII was a turd anyway). The tales of series can’t escape that fate either. We’ve had Tales of Destiny 2 (a decent enough game but not as good as Destiny) and Tales of Symphonia: dawn of the new world. The less said about that, the better!

And so we come to Tales of Xillia 2, a direct sequel to Tales of Xillia which was released a year ago. Does it break the curse of the poor sequel? Erm… no.

 But first, let's take a look at the Ludger Kresnik edition of the game. A limited edition available to those of us in Europe. it follows the same pattern as Xillia, which got it's own "Milla Maxwell" edition back when it was released a year ago...

 

The story of Xillia 2 takes place 1 year after the events of XIllia so all that stuff you saw in the epilogue in the first game happened with only Leia really being markedly different from what the first game showed (she’s a journalist now instead of helping out at her family inn). The main character this time is Ludger Kresnik, a man with a mysterious power which allows him to go into alternate dimensions and destroy distortions within those dimensions and effectively wipe them out of existence. That kinda raises an interesting question about whether he’s destroying worlds or “merely” eliminating possibilities. Anyway, early on you meet a little girl by the name of Elle who joins up with you and you journey together. You also find ludgers brother being blamed for a terrorist attack and, due to a major event at the start of the game, you’re saddled with an immense amount of debt which you need to pay off in order to progress in the game.

Gameplay-wise, Xillia 2 keeps most of the systems from the first game. This is a very good thing as Xillia is definitely one of the better entries in the series. If I took the time to get the platinum trophy for it, you know it’s doing something right! But there are some changes here and there. Not all of them for the better. Now, the game limits you to 4 characters in dungeons and the world map. You can only change your party members (assuming they are available) at towns and you can no longer swap them out during battle. Lillium orbs have been replaced with allium orbs which allow you to accumulate element points which will unlock skills and artes when you gain a certain amount of them. Some are unlocked when you have enough of 2 different elements and it’s generally less linear than the lillium orbs in Xillia but it makes it very difficult to plan your characters growth too far ahead. Attacks are now also split into strike, slash and gun attacks with enemies being strong and weak to these new attack types as well as elements.

And then, there’s the debt. At certain points in the game, you need to make a payment towards clearing your debt before you are able to progress in the story. A job board allows you to take on sub-quests to bring in money to pay the debt if the main story didn’t provide enough. a neat enough idea but it tends to hinder more than make things interesting… The battle system is pretty much identical to the one seen in Xillia along with link artes and sacred artes returning for another round. The areas you visit are the same as the ones seen in the first game, although there are a few new areas and others have been expanded. Still, seeing the exact maps again in the game does feel a little lazy on the part of the devs.

Tales of Xillia 2 had some really big shoes to fill and it didn’t manage to do so but there were some bits which were worked well…

LOVED

  • Allium Orbs – the new level up system is far more interesting than the lillium orbs in Xillia and allows for a much more customised level up system for characters. The only problem is that it is difficult to plan too far ahead as you cannot see what you can unlock much further up the tech tree but it definitely beats slowly filling up the web in the lillium orbs.
  • The battle system – Tales of Xillia had a really great combat system and since Xillia 2 lifts it wholesale, the combat in Xillia 2 is really fun too (for the most part)
  • The Skits – there’s a lot more humour in the Skits in Xillia 2 compared to its predecessors. Still not on the level of tales of Graces f but still pretty fun.

HATED

  • Dull protagonist – No offence to Ludger but he’s boring as heck! It doesn’t help that he’s a silent protagonist after we got so used to the banter between Milla, Jude and the others. I guess it had to do with the dialogue trees in the game where you pick what he should say but would it have killed them to let him speak and have a little personality?
  • The new attack types – As mentioned above, the battle system added new physical attack types to give enemies new immunities and weaknesses. That’s great in theory but in practice, it means that, unlike in the first game, switching control between characters is discouraged as each one is restricted to only one type of attack, which means that the characters will be weak against certain enemies. The only exception is Ludger, who is able to switch weapons so you’ll just use him for the entirety of the game. This is a marked difference from the first game where I randomly switched between Milla, Jude and Leia for kicks.
  • Ridiculous difficulty spikes! – This game really enjoys going from easy as pie to downright sadistic in the blink of an eye. Most of these spikes occur at boss battles where victory seems nigh on impossible unless you go back to the nearest item shop to stock up on items before going back through the dungeon again to the Boss. There was one exception though, and it occurred at the start of the game where you were able to access the Tatilan Abyss. This was an optional dungeon near the end of Xillia and now you can access it at the start of the game! and it’s almost as if the developers didn’t bother to scale the enemies to your current level. One hit kills are commonplace and occur simply because enemies are that damn powerful! And the game forces completionists to go because several high paying jobs can only be completed in the abyss… The place is just brutal…
  • Fewer linked artes – The number of different linked artes is drastically decreased in this game as many combinations now trigger the same attack. Moves which don’t do their own unique attack also not trigger a weak combo attack. This means that linked arte combos are much harder to keep going
  • The Debt – a major part of the game is the huge debt Ludger is saddled with at the start of the game. As you pay more of it off, then you’re able to proceed to new locations and progress in the story. The only problem is that it was implemented haphazardly. the game will only recognise that you have paid off the debt installment and allow you to progress if you pay the installment when the objective tells you to. If you paid it off earlier during a different part of the story, the installment resets and you have to do it again to progress. So, basically, there’s no point in paying it off early. Just wait until they call you and pay it off and then save your money until the next time they start bugging you about it. Once you reach the endgame, then you can do what you want. Oh, and your friend who also acts as your debt collector is really annoying!!
  • So… much…. backtracking… – Unlike the first game, you will find yourself travelling back and forth from various locations from the start of the game. This in itself isn’t much of a problem but you don’t get the world map (which allows you to warp to various places you have visited previously) until you’re quite a way into the game. So the first few hours are massive grindfests as you traverse over the same areas over and over again to get to the desired location to complete your jobs to pay your debt to progress… It eases up a fair bit when you do get the world map but there’s still a lot of grinding and the pace of the game in general is vastly inferior to Xillia.

To be fair, Tales of Xillia 2 isn’t a particularly bad game but it has quite a few flaws which severely hit the enjoyment level. That coupled with the fact that it’s a direct sequel to a very good Tales game and it makes Xillia hard to recommend to anyone other than the more ardent fans of the series and/or JPRGs in general. Heck, I think even the Milla Maxwell edition of Xillia was better overall than the Ludger Kresnik edition of Xillia 2! Xillia 2 just can’t seem to get a break…

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4:03 PM on 07.28.2014

MIni Review: Battle Princess of Arcadias

Looks like Kyle managed to beat me to it this time around but I thought I'd post this review up anyway.

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Well, this is a difficult one. I had planned to post this last week but wanted more time to progress more into it to ensure that I had a good grasp of what the game had to offer… Then the Destiny beta happened. Oh well, I did progress a fair bit so here goes with a mini review of Battle Princess of Arcadias.



Now, this is where things gets wierd because it’s very hard to peg what kind of game battle princess is. It’s published by Nippon Ichi Software but lacks a certain polish to its designs as well.

First, lets go into how the game looks. The story is presented in a stage like setting so if you’ve played puppeteer, it’s very similar. Graphics are drawn similar to waterpaintings for the backgrounds but with more vibrant colours. Characters are very basic but distinct. Overall, the look is pretty good in stills. It’s when they start moving where there are problems. The characters in particular, are oddly animated. They move as though they are puppets on strings so the arms and legs appear to stay stiff and rotate around a specific point to appear as though they are moving on the spot.

Gameplay-wise, it gets weird. Basically, it’s a scrolling fighting game with RPG elements. At it’s core, it’s most similar to the PS2 Game Odin Sphere with some major differences. Chiefly, there are three different types of stages; Combat, skirmish and Siege.

Combat is the one closest to odin sphere. You control one character and move through the stage and kill all enemies. However, at the start of the stage, you pick 3 characters from your  available cast and can freely swap between them in battle. Most characters have different weapons with different properties but there are a couple of duplicates who use the same weapons as other characters. They still retain original moves though.



Skirmish is a different take on things where you take on an enemy army with your own. Each weapon type allows you to command a unit consisting of users of that particular weapon and their levels are determined by how much money you use to upgrade them and the level of your character which uses the same weapon. So if one of your characters is level 10, you can raise the level of the unit to level 10. This is important! Combat wise, it’s fairly automatic as your units will automatically march in the background and attack the enemy. You can give them basic commands just as all out attack or defend as well as swap to the next unit in line but you are also in control of your own character who is attacking units in the foreground. Defeating these will provide small bonuses to your unit. Overall, most of the work is done by your units rather than yourself.

Siege is basically a boss battle. You send 3 of your characters to battle a large enemy and are accompanied with 150 units from your army. With this army, you need to break the shield surrounding the boss and deal direct damage until he dies. If you lose all 3 of your characters or all your units, then you lose. However, your units are replaced at a steady rate so it is possible to keep going even when you have few units left.



Storywise, it’s a mixed bag. Many of the individual characters act in tropes and stereotypes (they’ve even put in a chuunibyou sufferer in there) which makes for a lot of comic relief yet the story, at least later on, gets rather dark. Oh, and the king of the country is a Duck. Thought I’d throw that out there.

That’s it in terms of game description. From the world map, you pick a stage, which will be one of the three battle types mentioned above and work your way to the end. Characters get experience when you use them and you are able to buy/sell items and weapons from your home base as well as upgrading your troops. There’s also a limited scope for upgrading your weapons using items gathered during battles but aside from a few special skills which can be unlocked on certain weapons, I haven’t really found a use for it yet.

So, how is the game?


LOVED

Combat Stages! – I really love odin sphere and battle princess lacks the depth of the combat system compared  to odin sphere, it does have a large repertoire of moves to stop things from going stale

Interesting Story – It takes a little while to get going but when talk starts about songs which control people and force them to fight for the entertainment of another species, things start to get interesting. It’s a shame that there are also many comedy stages and ones which don’t really add anything to the plot.

HATED

Looks cheap – Going on from the odd animation style, it really makes the game look as though it was made on a tight budget. Seriously, it looks more like a doujin game rather than one with a full release on PSN.

Very repetitive – this is more of a complaint on the siege battles compared to the other 2 modes but there is an element of this in skirmish mode too. Basically, on every siege battle, you employ the exact same tactics: set your army to defend -> run up to enemy -> guard attack ->get a few hits in to lower shield -> block again  -> repeat until shield is down -> all out assault -> when shield returns, go back to defence -> repeat. It’s pretty much the only valid tactic so you’ll use it all the time and these battles can be long…

Grindfest! – This is the biggest complaint I have in this game. Sooner or later (usually when you hit a skirmish stage) you’ll fight enemies with levels might higher than your current ones and you will be slaughtered. So, what do you do? Hit the earlier stages and grind. grind a hell of a lot to raise your level to the point where you can fight on even footing. And that can take a while. Making things harder is that every new character which comes to your team will be severely underpowered so you’ll need to work to level them up before they can be used. It’s possible to just take a handful of characters and raise their levels so high that you won’t need to worry about the others, but either way, a huge amount of grinding will be required… If you don’t like repeating stages over and over again to raise your character levels, stay well away from this game!!!

That’s the tutorial? – This game is awful at explaining the intricacies of the battle modes so you’ll probably find the first few stages really tough until you learn them yourself. The game explains the basic controls but after that, you’re on your own! Normally, I like games which teach you by doing but in this case, the game doesn’t even do that! prepare to flail around randomly until you start picking things up at random.


That’s about it for Battle Princess of Arcadias. It’s a weird one to be sure and it definitely has its faults but it is mostly enjoyable and it does come at a budget price so at least you’re not paying full whack for it. Still, I’d see if it goes down in price first before taking the plunge unless you’re absolutely certain that you want to play it. Might take a while but right now, it’s not quite a game I would recommend but I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from getting it if they wanted to either. The amateur presentation isn’t for everyone either. Overall, It’s just kinda meh!   read


4:32 PM on 06.16.2014

Mini Review: Monster Monpiece

Since I don't see a review on dtoid, I thought I'd repost the review of this game from my personal blog for your perusal. Spoilers: It's pretty decent, even if some of the extra bits are annoying as hell.
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OK, I have to confess that I never thought this would get a western release and was a little adamant about buying it but decent word of mouth and general curiosity won me over… So let’s take a look at monster monpiece for the PS Vita



At its core, this is collectible card battle game (think Yu-Gi-Oh or Weiss Schwarz) with a tower defence base to the battle mechanic. But if you’ve heard anything about this game recently, it’s probably due to the additional mechanic used when you want to upgrade your cards. We’ll get into that later…

And because the game is aiming squarely for the otaku market, every character in this game as well as every card you collect is female. Cue sexism outrage!!! All done? OK. The core of the game is a somewhat simple but surprisingly deep battle system where you and an opponent face eachother in a 7X3 grid. You control 3×3 squares on one end, the opponent takes the same space on the opposite side and a single neutral area separates the 2. The object of the game is to attack your opponents base on the opposite end of the field. To do this, you summon monsters on your side of the field and every turn after they are summoned, they will either advance one space or attack an adjacent enemy card. Once they reach the opponents end of the field, the card will then attack the enemy base and deal 1 piece of damage to the base. Once the enemy base runs out of HP, they lose. Simple!



There are 4 different types of cards, melee units (who attack adjacent cards for high damage), ranged units (who do less damage but can hit from further away), healers and buffers (who strengthen the ally card it’s next to). Cards have varying stats and some have special abilities, such as being able to move forward as soon as they are summoned, and more powerful skills which can affect areas of the board. Monsters are summoned using mana, which is generated at a variable rate but by default, is 3 mana per turn. You can increase the amount you get by summoning special cards or by utilizing a special chain feature in the game. Each card is given one of four colours. If you summon 3 monsters in succession, each corresponding summon will net you a small bonus which includes stat buffs for your cards on the field and additional mana. Still with me so far? Like all other card games, it looks complicated when you read the rules but is actually very simple when you just play it.

Monster cards can also be upgraded by paying a certain amount of points (obtained by winning battles) and then playing a minigame where you rub the artwork on the card and find a weakpoint to exploit. You’ll end up rubbing, poking and pinching your card to raise a bar and, if you fill it, you’ll upgrade the card to its next form. And if you do it well enough, you might also get the extreme rub mode where you rub the front and back touchpads to fill the bar up extra quickly, all the while being “serenaded” by the voice of the monster sounding aroused. Unsurprisingly, this is what most western publications has latched onto as being inappropriate and started waving the sexism banners and generally saying they’re outraged. Personally, I don’t care. Call me insensitive but I’m just tired of everyone trying to point out that everything is sexist. It’s good to raise awareness of problems within the male dominated games industry but now, it’s just turning into noise. I have a different problem with it, which I’ll get into later.

The game itself is wrapped around a simple but serviceable story involving a quest to save your friend from some evil power which has possessed her. A staple story from old school RPGs. It’s not going to win awards but it does the job and the characters are likeable enough to encourage you to keep going.

That’s about it for the info. How did it play?


LOVED

Very deep battle system – when you start playing the game, it does feel very simple, especially when your initial cards are lacking in any special abilities but when you start getting other cards with skills and whatnot, you can really start messing around with strategies and turn situations around in the blink of an eye!
don’t always upgrade – The traditional wisdom is that when you upgrade something, the result (if successful) is generally better. Maybe there’s a tradeoff where they’re harder to use or summon in card games like this but there’s not really a reason to not upgrade if possible. That’s not the case in monster monpiece. Some cards may actually get weaker when you upgrade but they try to offset it by something else. One example is one of my ranged cards losing attack power and HP in exchange for longer range. You actually need to think about whether or not you want to upgrade your card!
Neptune is in it!! – Initially a pre-order bonus in Japan, Neptune from Hyperdimension Neptunia is in the game as a summon card! Rubbing her changes her to black heart and you can do the same again to change her back. It’s a minor thing but it’s really cool to see her in this game. Kinda makes you hope that the other goddesses might join her at a later date as DLC.

HATED

Destined to lose – This is a card game remember so ultimately, there is a huge element of luck involved and you will almost certainly find yourself in situations where the heart of the cards abandons you and find yourself in an unwinnable situation through no fault of your own…
The Rub system – Yep, I don’t like it but not because of the whole sexism thing but rather because it detracts from the game itself. It’s an unnecessary distraction which feels like it was placed in purely because they wanted a gimmick which they could market. The main game itself is solid but doesn’t grab peoples attention as much as the rub system…
Awkward deck building – One of my pet bugbears about the game is that it makes it difficult to see various cards when you want to upgrade or build a new deck. The game separates cards which are in a deck from ones in your stockpile and once you upgrade a card to its max level, it can no longer be seen in the upgrade screen so you can’t use it for future reference unless you go to a separate menu. It just adds frustration and gets in the way.
No Auto-save feature – I can’t believe that they didn’t put this in the game! You need to manually save the game in order to continue your progress if you close the game down. Even though there are chapters in the game story and clear points where it could be easily implemented, the game tells you straight up that you need to save the game yourself. And that includes after you’ve edited your deck as well! Now this wouldn’t be a major issue if it wasn’t for the next bit…
BUGGY AS FUCK!!! – I can’t believe that this game was released with as many bugs as it has! Most are centered around the card packs (how you get additional cards) and the rub system. At times, the game will just simply freeze and the only way to progress is to restart the game. Now, imagine  that you’ve progressed a fair bit in the story and upgraded a fair few cards when this bug freezes your game. Did you manually save recently? No?? Well, tough shit!! I’ve had to repeat a fair amount of rubbing and battling to progress purely because the bugs in this game appear at the most inopportune moments and force me to restart the system. well screw you too!! There’s also some bugs present in the online multiplayer. I’ve only played a few games but I’ve lost entire turns at random because the timer for my turn just bugged out. I’m given 30 seconds to make a move, I immediately pick up a card and then the game suddenly says pass for some reason despite me not pressing the button to pass my turn… Hopefully, that problem doesn’t arise in ad-hoc mode.


Overall, I have to admit that I have enjoyed the game far more than I expected and the card battle system is really quite deep and fun. If you can ignore the problems presented with the distracting rub system, it’s really quite fun. Having said that, I cannot recommend the game to anyone until the publisher patches out the damn bugs!! What makes it worse is that, apparently, only Europe is affected so this might take a while and believe me, you don’t want to have to save everytime before you upgrade a card…   read


9:56 AM on 03.07.2013

Mini Review: Senran Kagura Burst

With Shiovi Versus being released on the Vita recently, it seemed like a decent idea to repost my little look at its predecessor on the 3DS.

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Well, colour me a little surprised. Just before I was ready to complete my Japanese copy of Project X zone, it was announced that the game would get a western release! Well, the game was my primary reason to get a cool-as-hell JP 3DS but not the only reason. That would just be silly! I do have a number of other JP only games which I wanted to try out and the next game is a bit of an oldie now... Senran Kagura Burst!



Now, one of the reasons I wanted to play this game is simply because there's not much info on it! The game got some coverage on western games sites but they were all mocking in tone. You can't really blame them though, since the advertising on the game basically revolved around the gimmick of being able to see animated boobies in 3D!! Hell, even the producer of the game said that was the reason why he wanted to make the game! Not the most auspicious of starts!

This is actually the second game released. It was billed as a sequel but, to be more honest, it's more like an expansion pack, which allows you to play as the villains from the first game while also containing the previous game in its entirety! Buyers of the first game must have been peeved!!! Anyway, if you watch the Promo videos, you do get to see a little bit of gameplay, in between the scenes of clothes being torn off and whatnot and it's basically a side scrolling fighting game!



There's a whole bunch of text to go through as well, since the game does try to tell a bit of a story (Which is sorta covered by the anime adaptation) though the stories from the 2 sides don't seem to have much overlap (and when they do, they tend to contradict themselves so best think of them as separate stories).but the bulk of the game is the side scrolling fighting, with similarities to streets of rage. Stages are separated into various missions which story missions being needed to be completed to progress and must be done by a specific character (initially) and free missions which can be done by anyone. Completing missions gives your character experience points to level up as well as fill up one of 2 bars which increase your stats in the game.

Controls are very simple, with a light and heavy attack button, dash and jump button for the face buttons and a ninpo buttons and a special attack which knocks enemies around you away but takes away health. As you take damage, your clothes do as well and eventually, your character can end up playing in their undies. You can also manually trigger a mode which removes the clothes off at the start of the stage which grants you enhanced speed and strength but reduces your defence to near nothing! It's also the only way to fill one of the 2 bars to power up your characters.
Initially, you are limited to very simple combos which usually end with a launcher attack which you can follow up by using the dash button to continue your combo in the air. Once you fill up your ninpo bar, pressing the L button triggers your shinobi transformation which gives the characters their better known looks like the ones seen on the boxart. It also unlocks the characters super moves and, as they get stronger, more combo options.



The battle system in the game is incredibly simple and somewhat reminds me of Muramasa on the Wii, but without the gorgeous hand drawn graphics. There is also a high emphasis on fanservice in this game, with the ability to customise your characters looks and costumes in the game with additional costumes unlocked as you progress. And you can't really escape from the clothing damage sequences either...

So, how does it fare?



LOVED

• simple yet effective - the combo system in the game is a little too basic but you still feel like a bit of a badass when you're kicking the butt off huge groups of enemies.
• 2 games for 1 - as stated above, Burst has the characters and missions from the first game, so essentially, you get 2 games for the price of 1.
• Damn challenging - despite the simplicity of the systems, don't be fooled. Some of the missions in this game are balls hard!! Completing them all will take some time and unlocking the 2 secret characters will prove to be exceptionally difficult as well!
• Varied characters - Despite the characters having incredibly similar combos (at least initially and especially in the air), each one feels sufficiently different enough to require tweaking your tactics when you play as them. Ikaruga has long range and wide attacks so can handle large crowds well, but isn't so effective on 1v1 situations and is slower too. Katsuragi is really fast and can do hit and run attacks but it can be hard to launch opponents or get her to stop where you want her to since her attacks push her forward for example.

HATED

• Hebi Joshi Gakuen - I guess the makers thought that, by adding a story to the "villains" from the first game, it may help make them appear more human, but instead, it just made them more insufferable! Mirai and Haruka in particular are annoying as hell and none of the characters are as fun to play as the girls from Hanzo Gakuen.
• Too much service - It was made around the whole concept of fanservice in 3D but sometimes, it just gets in the way. There's just too much of it at times!
• Infinite combos against you! - In later stages, enemies come at you in larger numbers but some also gain projectile attacks, which are hard to see! To make things worse, there's no blocking in this game so it's very easy to find yourself being juggled from continuous projectile shots with no recourse for a counterattack. You just have to soak up the damage, which is a very frustrating occurrence and happens a little too often for comfort.
• The jump button - Aside from allowing you to perform an aerial ninpo, which you learn later in the game, there is absolutely no use for the damn thing!!

Senran Kagura (and Burst) are a little tragic in a way. The underlying game is playable and somewhat fun but not particularly memorable nor deep. It needed a hook to get people into it. Muramasa had a deceptive system which rewarded calm, measured play and also had amazing animated sprites to look at. Senran Kagura basically went full fanservice and that is what most people will see. Underneath is a serviceable game which people will enjoy but nothing to scream about. Not that anyone would hear you anyway over the noise regarding the stupid levels of boobies in the game. The Vita game, Shiovi Versus looks to continue the trend as well, swapping out the 2D movement for something akin to Dynasty Warriors, but with the basic combat systems in place.

The Senran Kagura series is basically like Dead or Alive. Those looking for something to mock will just go on and on about the clothes stripping and the boobies but if you play it, it's not half bad!
And yes, I'm likely to be getting shinovi Versus as well. Maybe I'll do a mini review of that too.   read


12:32 PM on 01.15.2013

(Not so) Mini Review: Project X Zone

This post is an edited version of my post on my personal blog. Some bits were cut cos it was really rather wordy and there were more videos on the original as well. If you want to see the full thing, you can find it here: http://lookingglass.kokidokom.net/2013/01/10/mini-review-project-x-zone/

OK, this one has been a long time coming. 2 months in fact! But then again, I did need to get a japanese 3DS to play it and then progress far enough to get a decent feel for the game but we're here now. This weeks post is a review of Project X zone on the 3DS



This review is going to be considerably longer than previous ones. I've noticed that the game hasn't really had much coverage since its release and there's not really any explanation on how the game actually plays. This might be because every news outlet knows something we don't and a western release is on the horizon, but I have my doubts for reasons I'll get into later. But what that means for is that this post is going to be rather long and wordy! I'll try and pad it out with some pics but there's such a dearth of pics on the net, aside from the stuff collected by andriasang.com that I had to take some myself using my trusty cameraphone (ergo, they suck!)

You might want to get into a comfy chair and have a hot cup of good tea handy as well...

OK? Here we go! Project X zone is a direct sequel to Namco X Capcom, a Strategy RPG which was released on the PS2 and combined many characters from various games from the 2 companies, spanning right down to some of their earliest titles. The game also tried to do something different by giving you limited control of your characters during the attack and defence phase. You needed to input basic button presses to launch attacks and, by careful timing, combo them together for bonus effects. Project X Zone continues in a similar trend but adds Sega into the mix as well as a good helping of another game which was developed by monolith soft...
The game occasionally references the events of NxC, especially between characters who made it into both games and certain stages from NxC are lifted wholesale and placed into Project X Zone, so it's pretty safe to say that this is a direct sequel. But for now, lets get into the meat of the game.


First, we'll get the cast out of the way. There are 2 types of units which are available to you in the game. The first is a pair unit, which are the ones which you will have direct control over. Each pair unit consists of 2 characters (obviously) who can be moved around the map and have items equipped. Each company provides characters for 6 pair units each with a new pair of original characters and the main characters of Namco X Capcom, Arisu Reiji and Xiaomu, taking another 2 pair unit slots.
The second unit type is the solo unit. Unlike in Namco X Capcom, where there was nothing to distinguish between a solo and pair unit (you used both types as individual units and some start off as solo units but become pair units later in the game. KOS-MOS, Ryu and Kazama Jin were examples of NxC solo units while Chun Li started as a solo but paired with Cammy later. Morrigan also became a pair with lilith later in the game), in Project X Zone, Solo units must be attached to a pair unit to take part and cannot do anything on their own. If they are not assigned to a pair unit in the intermission, they cannot be used in the later battle. A complete list of characters available can be found on the wiki page for the game.

As for the selection roster, the companies chose to stick with some of their most recent titles with only a few exceptions but each one comes from a very famous and relatively recent series so there's no "who the hell is that?" moment like there is in Namco X Capcom (Did anyone who played NxC know of wondermomo, bravoman or kagekiyo before they started?) The only exception might be Valkyrie from the legend of Valkyrie. But she plays a big part in some of the humour of the game so she passes! For the most part, each character takes the form from whichever was their most recent game so Shinguji Sakura and Oogami Ichiro are an item (and Sakura gets jealous if Oogami spends too much time with another lady, like Kaguya from Endless Frontier…), Jill and Chris appear as they did in Revelations (Resi 6 wasn't out yet), Heihachi is young again, like in Tekken Tag 2 and the street fighters are all from SSIV:AE. The only exception is Megaman and Zero, who take their cues from Megaman X4.



Before each stage, you are taken to an intermission screen where you can save your game, equip certain items to units as well as work on your units by experimenting with different unit combinations. Some Solo units don't play well with some pair units. Initially, you will have gaps but when you complete the full roster, each pair unit can have a solo unit assigned.



Once you get to the main battle stage, things start to look familiar. You're presented with a 3D map with a fixed viewpoint. From there, each unit on the map is designated a turn which is decided mostly by their speed stat (which can be augmented by skills and equipped items). You move units directly using the circle pad and your maximum allowed movement is shown in dark blue. While on the map, you can come across destructible items and chests which can be opened or removed by pressing "Y". Unlike in NxC, this does not end your turn and that change is massively welcome! In NxC, using a unit to obtain items usually meant sending them far away from battle and wasting a turn getting it. With PxZ, you can use units to get the item and get back into the fight quickly! Action points from NxC have been scrapped so once all units have ended their turn, the system resets so there's a definite turn end here, as opposed to NxC where they all merged into 1 long queue and you could get units to skip up the wait list.


While still able to move around, you can bring up a menu which allows you to save the game mid-battle (though you are limited to 1 save here), use items or skills on your unit. Items are used mainly to heal your units or raise your special bar, which I'll get to in a bit. Skills allow you to buff up or heal your units and each skill costs a certain amount of special bar. The more powerful the spell, the more it consumes. For the most part, you don't need to worry too much about them, aside from the heal spells and speed increase. One other skill you need to keep an eye on is the one which allows your characters to move a few more spaces than usual. This is especially important as a later stage requires you to defeat a number of enemies before they reach a certain part of the map and you CANNOT get to them without said skill!

The special bar in PxZ is called the cross gauge and is filled with cross points, confusingly called XP here. Experience points are labelled as EXP. XP are gained by beating up enemies or using up items and almost everything in the game bar moving, using items and basic attacks uses a certain amount of XP. Defence uses it, Skills uses it. the super moves of the pair units use 100 XP and the multiple assault attacks (moves which hit more than one enemy at a time) also uses them! Furthermore, in a rather boneheaded design choice, you only have 1 XP bar for your entire team! So if you have 100XP and decide to use them all on a super attack, your next unit will have 0XP (and not defend if they get attacked). This does mean that enemies can repeatedly pound a single unit until they are unable to defend due to lack of XP and kill them... This is, thankfully, rare but it can happen.



Still with me? Good! Next up, we'll talk about the attacks. There are 2 types of attacks available in the game. The first is when your unit attacks a single enemy. This is shown as yellow blocks when you move your unit. The second is when the attack can take on multiple enemies (up to 4) and is shown as a light blue block. The multiple assault moves, however, uses up XP and will not become selectable until you have 100XP. Furthermore, units need to learn their respective Multiple assault attack and some don't get theirs until quite late into the game.



Most of your damage will be done with the regular attacks and the system takes a few pages from NxC but the vast bulk of the combat system takes its cues from Endless Frontier: Super Robot Wars OG Saga on the DS. If you've played that game, you'll feel right at home. If not, basically, units can have up to 5 attacks corresponding to the "A" button and a direction on the circle/d-pad. Each attack is a short combo which is automatically done and every move has one of 2 properties; Knockback and floater.
Knockback attacks throw the enemy to the wall, where they bounce back and floaters are where they are launched into the air. As they come back, you can time your attacks to continue the assault and prevent them from touching the ground. This is important because later enemies have shields which need to be broken before you can inflict damage. Once broken, they will roll with your punches but if they touch the ground again, the shield returns so you need to break it all over again.


Now, remember the solo units which you could attach to your pair units? They are mapped to the "L" button on the 3DS and you can call them to attack once per attack phase. You can use them as an additional attack after you have spent your attack points but you can also call them in while you are doing your main attacks. This is the better option as, if both units attack the enemy at the same time, you score a cross hit, which is shown as a green X icon over the enemy unit. The cross hit will freeze the enemy in place so they won't move as you hit them but it also increases the amount of XP you gain and furthermore, it's the only way to get more than 100XP. with cross hits, you can get up to 150 total XP and that can come in very handy! On the down side, your timing has to be very good because if you miss, the enemy unit won't stop and you could also end up freezing them high above your units where their attacks cannot reach effectively!


Furthermore, if you position your attacking unit next to an ally, your ally can also join in and perform an attack like the solo units. Your pair units also have a super attack which can be performed when you have more than 100XP. This needs to be done at the end of the turn though, as your move immediately ends upon completion of the move, so you can't do a combo afterwards to raise your XP again. Here's a short video I recorded of the basic stuff in the battle stage. It shows cross hit combos, super moves and also, multiple assault attack.



still with me? Nearly there! The only thing left now is the defence options. I'm just going to leave this to another video but basically, any action will cost a certain amount of XP. If you don't have enough, your unit will take the full force of whatever attack the enemy does to you. Furthermore, some units and all boss units have super moves and multiple assault attacks like your units. these cannot be blocked. But on the plus side, everything is over really quickly so you don't have to faff around with pressing the D-pad in a mini-game of "simon says" like in NxC.


Most stages follow a simple "kill everything" objective but there are a few which throw curveballs at you. Nothing major. They're usually something like "reach character X and press "A" within Y amount of turns" but be aware of them. There are probably some guides on the net to help you if you get stuck but most are self explanatory.
That's pretty much everything there is to the game... I think. How is it overall?


LOVED

• In-jokes and references - I have no idea how localisation teams will be able to handle translations for some of these things but boy, did they put a smile on my face. The first one was when you get Kurt, Riela and Valkyrie into your team. The 3 meet in an underground cave after Riela and Kurt get teleported there. After a slightly awkward introduction where the 2 nameless introduce themselves by their numbers, despite valkyrie overhearing their names earlier. So, as a compromise, Valkyrie asks them to call her a number as well, 17. To most people, this means nothing but if I say that the voice of Valkyrie is Inoue Kikuko then, to anime fans who know her works, it has meaning! Valkyrie also says "saiyusen Jikou yo!" again, you need to be an anime fan to get the reference. But there's plenty for gamer fans as well. In fact, there's a cool little reference to the original Megaman X on the SNES (as well as another game) in the multiple assault by X and Zero. A later stage also brings back a familiar face in the form of Iris from Megaman X4. She doesn't do much but she does manage to throw zero out of the loop for a while.


• An active battle system which requires attention - for many SRPGs, it's a matter of "tell unit to attack -> think of next move" so it's really refreshing to have a system which forces you to pay attention and consider your moves more carefully. It makes it less automated and encourages experimentation. Some unit pairings also have unique dialogue between characters. Examples include X, Zero and Alisa Bosconovich as well as Lindow, Chris and Jill.
• Seriously cool attacks! - some of these animations are a joy to watch.
• The music - Hearing remixes of the themes for the characters is also really fun. Especially when Tekken Tag theme or Zeros theme starts playing! I still prefer the battle theme for Xenosaga episode 1 though! But hearing Subarashii Shin Sekai is sweet!!!


HATED

• The Camera - this was an annoyance which was much larger than it should have been. Basically, because the maps are fully 3D, there are times when the camera angle prevents you from seeing what you are doing. Here's an example.
• Artificially long stages - Later stages have nearly 100 units on screen at once. You'd think that would be cool but all it means is that you have a very large number of enemies to plough through and you can sometimes have to wait a long while between your moves while you wait for the AI to finish all its moves and attacks.
• Setting up your units... Again! - At certain parts of the game, your characters can get split into smaller teams with solo units going one way or another, depending on the story. This can wreak havoc on your unit setup as you may have spent ages moving units around until every pair unit has a solo unit which works with them and then suddenly, *poof* the units are split and you have to figure out something else with limited resources. And to add insult to injury, when the paths combine again, you need to put your original setup back manually!!!
• Missing some big titles - No Soul Calibur from Bamco? I miss Taki and Mitsurugi.
• Single XP gauge for the entire team! - This is just annoying and stupid. Particularly since super moves take a huge chunk of the gauge and yet are the only real way to inflict any serious damage on boss units. It just ends up dragging the fight. I would have preferred to have seen individual XP gauges for each unit but made them harder to fill or certain moves to cost more.

Overall though, I can't really complain. The game is lots of fun but it does feel like Monolith soft fixed many of the annoyances of Namco X Capcom but replaced them with new issues instead. The single XP gauge really irked me but overall, it's just great to watch these random mashups smacking things around! Veterans of previous monolith soft games may be glad (or dismayed) to hear that KOS-MOS has been severely nerfed in this game. She's no longer the one unit map clearing weapon of death she was in NxC (seriously, she could stand toe to toe against most boss units! ALONE!!!). She still hits hard but her speed is quite low (though one of her skills increases it for one turn) and she doesn't have a skill which allows her to move twice in one turn or have items which restores her MP like in NxC. Hell, she was stupidly powerful in Endless Frontier as well. Never take on a boss without her!! But in Project X Zone, she's just very good!
Also, Wing Wanderer is a decent enough song but it doesn't hold a candle to Subarashi Shin Sekai, the opening song for Namco X Capcom



It's just a shame that Nintendo has chosen to keep such gems out of the reach of most western gamers by putting in region locks on the 3DS. I know there's talk of a western release for the game and a part of me hopes it happens but I'm skeptical due to the licensing minefield the game is. Most of the units are fine but there are just a few which could cause headaches, such as Bruno from Dynamite Cop. That game was released here as Die Hard Arcade, so they might need to ask FOX for permission to use it. Sakura wars V is also licensed to NIS America and the Super robot Wars titles to Atlus USA. Now, they might be fine with the licenses and play ball or they may not. And it only takes one team to not play ball for the release to collapse. Legend has it, this is what happened when a company tried to bring Super Robot Wars alpha on the PS1 to the US. ADV held the license to Evangelion and sank the idea by asking for an extortionate amount of money to use the Evangelion license. Not sure if it's true though.

Speaking of which, Yumeria and .Hack also have anime shows attached to them. God knows where the licenses to those are held, but I know they aren't with Bandai! I'm not saying a release won't happen, but I wouldn't put my hopes up either. In any case, I've had the opportunity to play the game and I like it a lot! If other gamers get a chance to experience the game without having to import a whole new handheld, then I'm happy for them, but for now. I'm having a blast playing through the only release so far on my limited edition Char Aznable 3DS!

That's about it then. Well done for making it this far. If you have any requests for videos from the game, provided they won't take too long (no walkthrough requests), I'll take them under consideration. I've also purchased Senran Kagura aka 3D boobies game. Perhaps I'll do a review of that when I've played through some more...   read


7:29 PM on 10.11.2012

Ninty loves you baby, yeah!

A few months ago, I posted a mini review of Pandora's Tower on the c-blogs and, while I spoke about various things about the game itself, I also spoke of a special item which was given to buyers of all three titles. Something unique to Europe. Sadly, Nintendo didn't like being straightforward so buyers ended up having to wait until October before we got the promised item and, since it's not often Europe gets to 1-up the guys over the other side of the pond, I just felt that I had to do a little gloat post!! It's a bit late, seeing as the item arrived at the beginning of the month but... meh.

And this is what you get if you bought all 3 games!



A box...



Yup! A box!!! And inside said box is the real prize.



That's it! A commemorative coin set. One for each game!



On one side, you get the title printed out as they appeared on the game boxes and on the other side...



You get an icon that represents the game. For Xenoblade, you get the kanji which appears whenever the monado is fully charged, the last story gets the flame which gives Zael his power and Pandora gets the curse mark.

I have to say, the coins are really well made and have a significant weight to them! They really didn't cut any corners when they made these! Were they worth the wait? Probably not, but they are still appreciated nonetheless and a very cool little item to add to my collection of gaming memorabilia.

But there's more!!

If UK gamers bought pandora's tower from HMV, you also got a little box to hold all 3 games together!



The Box also came with a small artbook



Nothing outstanding in there either. Just some bits of art from each of the 3 games. Some may be familiar to you all.







Nothing to really write home about but a nice touch in any case. The high point is definitely the coin set. You Yanks will be happy for us eternally suffering brits, right? Afterall, it's not often we get to gloat about getting something you guys don't, right? It's usually the other way around!!   read


1:48 PM on 07.25.2012

Better to be hated than forgotten?

a few weeks ago, a promoted clog by RenagadePanda talked about how he loved Bad games and it got me thinking about bad games in general. I'm sure we've all had experiences with games so bad, we can't possibly defend them. yet we don't necessarily like them but we still remember them, even if it's not for the best reasons…

I will openly admit to owning a few duds in my games collection but there are just a few which I will be talking about. The first is Bullet witch.



I bought the game on the cheap as it was a pretty aged title by the time I got it though I have no idea why I went for it anyway. When I popped it into my 360, I found a very shoddily made but fully functional game. I played through it a couple of times in a rather painless fashion and then… Nothing! After I had my fun, the disk has been sitting in it's case just wasting space. When i try to think back to what the game was like, I pretty much draw a blank. With no real memories of the gameplay, I find that I have no desire to play it through again to remind me of what it was like the first time around.



The next game is Another Century Episode R. A Next gen sequel to a trilogy of games released on the PS2. The ACE games (as the series is more commonly known as), are known for allowing players to control mechas from a variety of anime shows which have been thrown together into a mashup of epic proportions. Think Super Robot Wars but with you controlling just 1 unit instead of an army. Now, the first ACE game was OK but had flaws, quite big ones. The second was a masterful game and fixed everything that was wrong with the first game and the third game refined the formula.
Then we got ACE:R. And it sucked!! It sucked HARD!!!! The main problems were due to ridiculously unwieldy controls and a shit camera and lock on system which almost actively hindered your ability to play the game. I didn't get too far into the game because my mind (and my controller) couldn't handle it. But when I see my copy of the earlier ACE games, I think to myself "how could they screw up ACE:R so badly?" or when I play other mecha games, I find myself thinking "thank f*ck it's not as bad as ACE:R!" The bottom line is that I remember ACE:R, even if it's for being unplayably bad. Heck, recently I tried playing it once more, thinking that I must have been too harsh on it and it's not as bad as I thought (hint: I was wrong. It is that bad!)

And then finally, there are the anomalies. These are different for everyone but they're basically the bad games which know are bad beyond belief but yet don't quite hate them. For me, one of the more recent titles like this was Hyperdimension Neptunia.



Destructoid reviewed it and slammed it. Heck, most publications did. Eurogamer even went on and ranted about the over sexualised character designs. The thing is, Neptunia was designed for a specific type of gamer in mind, and they weren't one of them.
But even the gamers which the game was made for would find it an almost impossible task to defend the game. Where do I start? Maybe the level structure which split the world of the game into 4 distinct areas where you were expected to complete one after the other but weren't designed to be played sequentially? What do I mean? Imagine a game where you are taken to area 1. You play through the area, completing quests and level up to a decent level and finish the area. You then move over to area 2 and the first enemies you encounter were designed to fight you as if you had just started the game.Yes, it was that retarded!! Then, there was the fact that you could only use healing and resurrection items if you were in battle and had the appropriate skill equipped as the game only had an auto-item usage system available. You could not heal outside of battle. Let me give you a moment to let that sink in… YOU CANNOT HEAL OUTSIDE OF BATTLE!
*ahem* these were only 2 of the flaws inherent in the game and yet, in spite of those flaws, I managed to complete the game.

But the biggest mystery is yet to come. Even greater than the question of "how the hell did I manage to play the game until the end?" Even greater than "how the hell did this game manage to spawn not 1 but TWO sequels?" but rather, how did they make a sequel which had none of the failings of the first game but was utterly pedestrian?



Neptunia mk2 had a lot of things going for it.The game structure was more linear and better catered to you ever increasing strength, Items could be used at any time and at your discretion and the battle system was completely rewritten to make things far more tactical and severely limiting your characters abilities to transform into their powered up modes.

And yet, when all things are said and done, it doesn't stick in my memory as much as the first game. Mechanically, it's superior in every way to its predecessor but yet, it feels far more bland and pedestrian because of it.

Taking things a step further, when one talks about older retro consoles, you will see a plethora of top ten best and worst games on the system. There may be some general differences but most of the lists will be populated with many of the same titles. But what about the rest? You don't honestly think that those lists cover all the games that were released on those consoles, right?

It is said that the worst insult is to be ignored. If that's the case, then it has been inflicted on far more titles than the ones which are genuinely considered good or bad. And there were lots of titles which have been forgotten. Like Plok on the SNES.



Everyone remembers rise of the robots almost as much as Mortal Kombat and StreetFighter 2, but what about the other fighting games which flooded the 16-bit generation? And let's not forget that almost every other game in those days was a platformer. How many do you remember which wasn't Mario, sonic, Bubsy the bobcat or Zool?

The truly bad games will be remembered just as much as the truly great as time passes. They may not be remembered in the same way but the bad games have a way of sticking in our memories and get recalled far more easily than many other titles that have come and gone, just because they were that damn bad. As for games we initially pass off as bad, may not be as bad as we initially think…   read


5:40 PM on 07.10.2012

Mini Review: Pandora's Tower

I'm back! And with an uber late mini Review of Pandoras Tower, the 3rd major JRPG release along with Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last story. This was originally posted a couple of weeks ago on my personal blog lookingglass.kokidokom.net but now I'm putting it on the CBlogs so others can take a gander and try to make up their own choices about the game!

OK, this mini review is late... Really late!! In fact, I could have finished the game twice more since I last saw the end credits up until now, but I have a good reason!! Basically, in an unprecedented move where Nintendo wants to appear to actually care for European gamers, they announced a special offer whereby if you register your copy of all 3 major JRPG releases (Xenoblade, the Last Story and Pandora's Tower), they were going to give you a cool little something for free to commemorate their release. You needed to register within a few weeks of the release of Pandora's tower to be eligible so we're not talking huge numbers here! Anyway, once registered, we got a message saying that they would contact us in the first week of June to ask for a shipping address. I think most of us assumed that they would spend the time crafting said items ready for shipment since they knew how many they needed by then. Then, after we told them our addresses, we got a followup email saying that the item would be shipped in October... FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF!!!!!!!!!!! Even when they try to act nice, Nintendo still manages to screw over European gamers!



The original plan was to wait for the special item and then show it off as part of the review, but that's not going to happen now if I'm not going to get it until November (they ship near the end of Oct!). By that time, even the US might actually get the game, leaving us with one less thing to gloat about! So I'll revisit the games again later but for now, here's a very belated review of a very underrated game!

Pandora's Tower is the 3rd in the "JRPG trilogy" release after Xenoblade and the Last Story but without any big names or companies behind it, many people dismissed it as the weakest of the three before it even arrived in the shops! A view which is incorrect IMO. At its core, it's a dungeon crawler RPG. The setting is a world at war between 2 major powers. You play a soldier named Aeron who fought for the opposing side from where the story takes place and was nursed back to health by Elena, your love interest in the game. Then, during a festival, Elena was cursed and slowly started transforming into a monster. With the help of an old lady who knows more than she lets on, the 2 of them make their way to a desolate area which has been closed off and houses the 13 towers, where the game is set.

Very early on, you are provided with a weapon called the Oraclos Chain and find out that feeding Elena flesh from the monsters in the tower allows her to revert back to her human appearance. However, only by eating the flesh from the most powerful monsters at the top of the towers will stop her change completely so your objective is to climb all 13 towers, defeat the monsters and feed Elena their flesh to cure the curse affecting her. The initial 12 towers follow 6 distinct themes representing the elements (fire, water, earth, etc) and each element has a tower guarded by a male and female deity, and boss. What that means is that once you complete the first 6 towers, the next 6 will look and feel very familiar as the basic layouts are the same although they are not identical or even mirrors. There is one cool bit at the end where the 2 towers are actually linked and you need to warp between them in order to find a path to the top as one will allow you to progress faster than the other.



When first arriving at the towers, you will find that the doors to the bosses are locked by a number of chains which increase as you proceed to later towers. Your first order of business is to break those chains to gain access to the boss and then defeat them to acquire their flesh, usually by using your chain to pull their cores out of them. While this is going on, the curse is still affecting Elena, who will slowly transform into a monster again unless you feed her flesh. So your exploration is peppered with trips back to your base to feed Elena the required flesh to keep the curse at bay as if she transforms completely, it's game over! (As a side note, it's worth noting that the religion of the game (which plays a prominent part of the story) ensures that everyone who follows it is a vegetarian, yet Elena is forced to eat meat in order to survive.)



In terms of gameplay, it's an action RPG with some similarities to the legend of Zelda series but the exploration and layout of the dungeons themselves, remind me more of a metroidvania style game, which is a shame because there are several points where you wish that the dungeons were interconnected to allow you to move around and find your own shortcuts and ways to progress. The structure definitely feels like it could support that style of gameplay and you do acquire new abilities for your chain as you progress but it feels like the developers didn't want to push things so the dungeons are independent and, for the most part, rather linear. Combat is simple but effective. You start off with a sword which can be upgraded as you collect items in the dungeons and give them to the old lady, Mavda. 2 other weapons become available as you progress but I stuck with the sword throughout. Your chain can also be used to immobilise the enemies as well as throw smaller ones around. In a neat little twist, the larger enemies have various areas to target so attaching your chain to their weapon arm allows you to disarm them if you're quick or attaching the chain to their legs prevents them from moving. Where you attach your chain also affects what item you can get from them once they are defeated. Aside from that, the chain also operates like a hookshot from the legend of zelda, allowing you to hoist yourself up to ledges, swing off certain ornaments and also unlock certain doors.



That's pretty much it. Unlike the previous 2 games, there's not too much depth or development in the story. As you proceed, you do learn more about what happened in the tower before it was abandoned and, by helping Elena and providing her with gifts, your affinity with her will increase and will affect what ending you get at the end of the game. So, how was it?

LOVED

Boss fights - To heck with the Lollipop Chainsaw bosses! The ones in Pandora's Tower may lack the personality of the zombie horde, but they're unique in their own right and the methods of defeating them are totally different and require completely different tactics. They're definitely the highlight of the Dungeons!
Simple but effective story - There's no "gotta save the world" or "must protect my Country" plot here. It's just one guy trying his best to help the girl he loves. That's it! And it feels kind of refreshing. It also helps that Elena isn't a girl you're chasing after or a hindrance. You're never left with the feeling of "Why the hell am I having to chase after this girl through all this crap?" like you do in the Legend of Zelda games nor does she get in your way during the bulk of the gameplay.
Surprisingly deep combat - Initially, I didn't even realise that I could aim my chain at other body parts of the enemy, but once I was certain, it definitely livened up things as I was able to disable one enemy while focusing on another and there were even little puzzles like lighting lanterns around a darkened room by throwing flaming bugs at them to light them!
Characters you actually care for - When you think about it, not that many RPGs do this part right. Even for the best ones, you don't often progress through a game wanting to genuinely help a character. Instead, you do it to find out how things progress or what happens next, like the plot in a film or book. There's a slight disconnect between you and the game characters so it's pretty impressive that Pandora's tower made me care for Elenas wellbeing rather than just simply looking at her as a way to push some parts of the plot forward.

HATED

Dubbing - All I can say is, I'm really glad that Aeron is mostly silent for the game as his voice is just awful! Elena is a weird one as she seems OK when she's just talking but at certain parts of the game, she sings... and there's a MASSIVE disconnect between her singing voice and her normal one. There's just no way that her speaking voice could produce singing like that! Then again, the original Japanese VA was Noto Mamiko. Not my favourite VA, but even she would probably sound a little off. The singing was a proper full blown Soprano part!
Dark as HELL! - *SPOILERS* this game does not have a happy ending!! There are 7 ending in total and each one basically has someone being screwed over, even the "best" one! When I first finished the game, I got the "B" ending and my first thought was "are you serious??" after working your way though the game, it really puts a downer on things, even if it is a logical conclusion!
Missed opportunities and a lack of Polish - As I stated before, there are quite a few points where one feels like this game could have been made into a brilliant metroidvania style game which pushed exploration if the designers were more clever with their level designs but it never happens. But the biggest fault of the game is simply how things seems to just stop at "satisfactory" without pushing beyond that, aside from the boss encounters. Combat feels like it could have been much better with some refinements, but it just stops short because it does its job well enough as it is.

Ultimately, Pandora's Tower feels like a game which could have been amazing but decides not to push the envelope and is happy with what it has accomplished. That doesn't mean it's a bad game but it keeps bugging you with thoughts about what if?
Having said that, saying it was a failure or even the weakest out of the 3 Wii JRPGs is off the mark. For me each one brought something to the table and had some glaring issues.



Xenoblade gave us a massive, expansive world with so much to do but was marred by poor storytelling which required you to suspend your belief several miles. At times, I wanted to just slap the characters and spell things out for them because it was just painful watching them progress the way they were doing.
The last story gave us a masterful story which was concise yet large in scope and put in a competent battle system but was marred by being too linear and felt like you had no control over where anything was headed, even though it wanted to give you the illusion that you had some say (the "choices" given to the player sums it up neatly).
As for Pandora's Tower, it gave us the best sense of exploration, made me care about the characters more than the previous 2 games and showed that a story doesn't have to be epic to be a JRPG.

And, incidentally, I enjoyed my time with Pandora's Tower more than Xenoblade. Xenoblade may have been the larger title in pretty much every way but it really started to drag near the end. At the same time, the Last Story felt a little too abrupt, even though you could see the end coming a mile off! Ultimately, there was no "best" between the 3 but each one catered to a different element that makes a great JRPG. If you miss out on one, you're missing out on something!   read


3:48 PM on 04.18.2012

Mini Review: Ridge Racer Unbounded

I'm back with yet another mini review. Given how polarising the game has been if review scores are to be believed, it seemed like a good choice to review this game, which I did last week, but I haven't posted it here until now. Here's my Mini review of Ridge Racer Unbounded!
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This was one of those things which had to be done. I'm still a little amazed that I have this game in my collection seeing as I played an early build back at the Eurogamer Expo last year and hated it with a level of hatred saved for only the most heinous of things.



My original intention was to gleefully ignore the game and let it sink as I was confident that it would. Then I read the reviews and, instead of a critical mauling, I found that some respectable publications, such as Eurogamer and Edge magazine were giving the game very high scores and praising the game while others fell in line with what I was expecting. It was one of the most divisive games I have read up on for a long time and there seemed to be no middle ground. So, I decided to check it out as I was able to acquire a copy without having to pay full retail.



Now, if you've been keeping up with the game at all, then there's nothing much to add. This game is basically Ridge Racer in name only. The mechanics are more in tune with burnout and Split/Second as opposed to the "pure racing" that Ridge Racer Represents. There's also no Reiko Nagase so you KNOW that this isn't a canon RR game now!! There are several events available in the game, all of which ram home the point that this is not anything like the Ridge Racer you know. The main one is domination, a standard racing fare with destructible environments, hidden shortcuts and the ability to take out (or "Frag") rival cars. Next up we have Frag Race, where you just eliminate as many cars as you can in a set time limit; time trial, where the developers make weird stunt tracks with lots of ramps, half-pipes and god knows what else, pepper the track with tokens which shave seconds off your time and just tell you to get to the end within a certain time limit; Drift events, where you drive and perform drifts to accumulate points and extra time and finally, there's just plain old racing (though this is not a common event).



The unofficial slogan for Unbounded seems to be "Forget everything you knew about Ridge Racer" but it may be more accurate to say forget everything you know about EVERY racing game! And that was part of the problem when I first played it and it seems many others have hit the same wall. The developers of RR:U actually changed the method of drifting in their game to the point where it's pretty alien and there's not a single tutorial or set of instructions to explain this in the game! If you haven't played Unbounded yet, let me say this, if you try to play this game like any other racing game, you will fail HARD!!!
In Unbounded, the handbrake button has been changed to the "drift" buttons and to drift in the game requires you to hold down the button while simultaneously doing the usual steps of release accelerator -> brake -> accelerate like in almost every other arcade racing game. Except that the drift button also slows you down so you need to balance the presses with the other inputs to ensure that you don't slow down too much or spin. And it's VERY tricky to do well! My technique is basically down to lightly tap once on the brakes and then continue to tap the drift button repeatedly to maintain the drift and speed. It's not perfect but it kinda works for most situations and the game is more enjoyable once you break from the ways you are used to. However, there are quite a few other problems which rear their head when you play...

LOVED

Drifting: As I said above, drifting is very different from other racing games and is quite hard to do. It requires a fair bit more thought and concentration but when you get it right, the feeling is sublime!

Pure Racing: It may sound odd, considering how the game has been marketed, but for me, the most fun to be had is when you're on the racing events. Just 7 other cars, you and boost. No shortcuts, no Frags. Just pure racing and it's here where I think the game excels

Track editor: the game allows you to make your own tracks and, once you've unlocked a number of parts from the main game, it's pretty in depth! Sadly, it can be abused for easy exp points to unlock other stuff, but the system itself is solid.

HATED

F**KING CHEATERS!!: Let's get this out of the way first because it's pretty much unavoidable. This game cheats like hell! The most obvious method is by the blatant rubber banding which is performed by the AI. We're talking Mario Kart Wii levels of rubber banding here! It doesn't matter if you're 5 seconds ahead of the pack, just one mistake, a corner taken too wide for example, will have your lead not only disappear but more than likely your position will be knocked down to outside the top 3! You don't need a catastrophic error like a crash or spin for it to happen either! They will always be right on your ass! Furthermore, I have seen some races where opponents will simply drive past you and gain a massive lead WITHOUT BOOST! At several points, the car in front of me managed to maintain the same distance from me while I'm boosting and they're not. That just isn't right!!

Fragging: Fragging is basically the equivalent to a takedown in other arcade racers but with the difference being that you can only really do it if you are either boosting or drifting. It hits almost ridiculous levels as you are practically invincible under normal circumstances until someone boosts or drifts, at which point, you become as strong as wet tissue paper. Even if you are fragged, should your flaming wreck of a car hit another car before you restart, the other car would come out pretty much unscathed. You need to get into several head-on collisions with traffic before your car hits "damage critical' levels but you still need one mighty shove before you get fragged. On the other end of the scale, if you're boosting, you just need to touch the bumper of another car to get a frag. If you're driving side by side and jostling for an advantage, boost is it because as soon as one of them boosts, the other is fragged! There's simply no consistency beyond you frag if you're boosting/drifting and you get fragged if you're not!

A general lack of understanding: The developers said that they didn't add any tutorials or help because they didn't want to hold the players hand when they played. The problem is that not explaining things made it arguably worse! Many shortcuts (which are marked but can only be accessed if you are boosting. If you just drive in at top speed or your boost cuts off just before you hit, you will crash!) don't seem to provide much of an advantage in terms of distance from other racers, if any BUT they do often provide significant boost power. This isn't explained so while you can get a free boost bar from taking shortcuts, it's often not economical to hold your boost you've accumulated until you reach one. Also, when you frag an opponent, at times, you can earn a lot of boost power while at other times, you get next to none. At this point 2/3rds of the way through the game, I still don't know what controls how much boost you get!! All these question marks hurt the game because it makes it very difficult to think up strategies and plan ahead! And there's always the guy right behind you just waiting to frag you!



Ultimately, I think the game is above average but has so many flaws, it might just stand out for the wrong reasons. From the looks of things, many of the low score reviews are "playing the game wrong" by adhering too strongly to traditional control styles while the high scoring reviews are giving the game too much credit. My experience with the game paints it as an incredibly frustrating and confusing racing game with some exceptional high points appearing from time to time. It says a lot when I say that the time I have the most fun on the game is when I don't have to worry about frags, shortcuts or any of the stuff which was pushed so heavily in the advertising of the game! It's best when it's just being a racer! The other side events feel out of place (especially time trial) and domination will frustrate many a gamer as this is where the cheating is most obvious and prevalent. There's a solid base to be found in unbounded but it needs a lot of refinement before it can stand up to the big boys. The burnout games are still the kings of the destruction derbies while racers still have the standard Ridge Racer titles and Reiko Nagase to hold up the series so where does that leave unbounded?   read





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