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12:21 PM on 12.03.2010

Fire Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow review.

One of the best Fire Emblem titles with something for everybody.

Fire Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow (FE:HLS) is Intelligent Systems' (IS) latest title in the flagship turn based tactical Fire Emblem series. It's a remake of the third FE title on the Super Famicom titled Monshou no Nazo, continuing Marth's adventures after Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon to put an end to the reptilian (dragon) menace once and for all. FE:HLS is a significant improvement over FE:SD in both plot and character development, combat mechanics, content, balance, and difficulty settings.

The My Unit system lets you create and customize your own character to fight alongside Marth. You can select their appearance, class, and provide them with stat and growth boosts. As you might expect, an optimally configured My Unit will easily best anyone else in your army. My Unit gets his or her own prologue and side story chapters focusing on a group of assassins out to kill Marth.

Maps are better designed than FE:SD, with plenty of variety and unique conditions. Frequent enemy movement and reinforcements encourage the player to keep moving. There are few choke points for the player to turtle up and hide in, and if there is a choke points, you can be sure there will be large numbers of enemies trying to pass through it. There are many groups of enemies that are scripted to not move out and attack until you move one of your own units deep into their collective attack ranges, ensuring you'll need a durable unit that can take punishment from multiple enemies to proceed. The many scripted events and tactical map design ensures most players won't get bored or feel like they are dealing with a brain dead opponent.

Side story chapters are far easier to access than FE:SD, accessible by clearing the chapter with a very lax turn count, or meeting a very easy optional objective. You practically can't miss them this time around. This should appease gamers who were highly disgruntled at having to kill off more than half their army to reach the side story chapters in FE:SD.

New to the series is Casual mode, where units that reach 0 HP during chapters do not die permanently. Instead they are temporarily removed until the next chapter with no other penalties. Casual mode is selectable independent of the difficulty level selection, so you can play any difficulty while remaining on Casual mode. This should appeal to audiences of gamers that don't like the permanent death feature of Fire Emblem. Classic mode is still available for those gamers who enjoy their carefully laid plans going awry by a stray critical.

FE:HLS features the widest range of difficulty levels of any Fire Emblem game. You may choose from Normal mode up to Hard, Mania, Lunatic, and Lunatic Reverse (note: Japanese names, may not be the same in NA). On top of the difficulty selection, there is a ranking system that grades you on Speed, Survival, and Tactics. The easiest mode is a walk in the park, perfectly suited to beginners or those who aren't interested in a hard slog. Hard mode is most comparable to the original Super Famicom version - it can get a little stressful here and there, but you probably won't be losing any sleep over it. Mania mode is fairly difficult, but it doesn't go all out like Lunatic mode. Lunatic and Lunatic Reverse mode is a sadistic test of skill, patience, and planning that only gifted tacticians will be able to dominate. Clearing Lunatic unlocks Lunatic Reverse, which is a version of Lunatic mode where enemies always get the first attack in combat even during player phase.

One major difference in Lunatic mode compared to easier modes is that you don't get game altering items such as the Warp stave, so there are far fewer easy 1 turn victories like in FE:SD. Enemies promote earlier, come in vastly greater numbers, show up as reinforcements earlier or more frequently, wield powerful forged weapons as soon as the first chapter, and always have the highest weapon rank with a bonus +10 to hit. By the mid-late game enemies have almost fully capped stats with very powerful forged weapons. Having characters who can take more than one hit before dying are a valuable commodity on Lunatic. Finally, Lunatic mode has an anti-boss farming feature that awards decreasing amounts of XP for hitting any boss with regenerating HP. Getting low turn counts, every possible item, and every recruit on Lunatic Reverse is a worthy challenge for even the most experienced tactics veteran.

The class change system returns. There are no characters with abnormally high growth rates like in FE:SD, so the system is far more balanced this time around. Mid-battle save points make their return. These are a useful way to keep random bad luck to a minimum or reload for level up growths. Game balance isn't all perfect. Some classes such as Heroes are particularly worthless in comparison to the better classes. On Lunatic difficulty you'll be restricted to a handful of the best characters in the game if you want to survive. The ranking system only goes up to A, no S this time around. Veteran players will not have much trouble reaching an A rank on most difficulties, which is a disappointment.

During intermission, you'll have access to Everybody's Situation, where you can get free items, weapons, temporary stat boosts, and support conversation levels. This feature is somewhat unbalanced as you can get some of the best weapons in the game if you get lucky or wait long enough. There should have been more restrictions built into this feature, such as only being able to use it a limited number of times per chapter and removing the powerful weapons.

The plot and characters are more fleshed out, with lots of personal conversations, base conversations, and an expanded plot featuring My Unit. Much like Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, supports are developed by deploying characters in the same chapter together then initiating support conversations during intermission. Gamers disappointed by FE:SD's bare bones plot and low character development will like the greatly increased personal development of the cast.

Wi-Fi features such as the Wi-Fi store are back. Nintendo is offering free Wi-Fi goodies like the 77 use Rainbow Potion that gives your party members +2 to every stat for a chapter. Expect the Rainbow Potion to show up 3-6 months after the expected NA release, if the JP release is anything to go by. The Wi-Fi store contains the usual selection of items that you make the game significantly easier with, such as a Rescue and Again stave and hero weapons. I would have liked to see more restrictions on Wi-Fi store usage on Lunatic difficulty mode.

The UI is responsive and well designed as would be expected from IS, but not everything is perfect. The intermission management could have used some consolidation between the unit selection, trading, and class change sections. There are a lot of unused buttons that could have been employed to do so. The roster details section doesn't include pages where you can check a list of your army's weapon levels, which is something that previous FE titles had.

Clearing the game unlocks features like the ability to change male characters into a wider range of available male classes, adding stat boost items in the base store, unlocking 4 extra missions, and other goodies. The extra maps have their own scoring system independent of the campaign and getting a top score is not an easy feat.

FE:HLS is a major improvement on FE:SD and one of the best console tactics games thus far. There's something for everyone, no matter your skill level or whether you like combat or plot. I highly recommend you pick it up if you're at all interested in tactics games. I would definitely call it the best console tactics game of 2010 in Japan.

If you'd like to read more about FE:HLS, check out my guide <a href="https://sites.google.com/a/tbstactics.com/mjguide/fire-emblem-heroes-of-light-and-shadow-guide-walkthrough-faq">here</a>.

Strategic Depth: Medium-high. All of the micromanagement and tactical combat you'd expect from a Fire Emblem title.
Strategic Difficulty: Low to very high. A very wide selection of difficulty modes ensures just about every player will be satisfied.
Overall Score: 9.2/10 - A great tactics title that only falters when it comes to balance and abusable features at the higher difficulty modes.   read


12:35 AM on 07.13.2010

Reign of Swords Review (iPhone/PC) tactical game

2008/09/09 [iPhone/iPod Touch/PC] [1] Reign of Swords
Version Reviewed: 1.2.42



Reign of Swords is a wargame lite for iPhone and PC. It's got a fairly basic selection of generic units, a few special abilities, and a beginner level campaign. The single player campaign consists of main story missions and optional skirmishes. Skirmishes can be grinded repeatedly for more recruits and upgrades, while multiplayer fights can be won for the same sort of rewards. Even if you stay offline and don't play the skirmishes more than once, the campaign difficulty is still around the beginner level. The campaign is fairly non-linear, so if a skirmish or mission is too difficult, you can come back later with more appropriate units. I do like that there is a deployment cap for each mission based on the value of each unit, so you can't just grind until you have a mass of the best units in the game and slaughter everything. Unit upgrades are handled with currency earned by winning fights - if you screw up your unit upgrading, you can always grind skirmishes until you get what you need, although if you plan correctly you will not have to grind or fight online to get the units needed to clear the campaign.

Strategies are fairly basic and you're generally just moving from point A to B killing everything using standard tactics, aside from two or three missions. Rarely you'll be put into a defense or escape situation but they felt pretty uninspired. There are quite a few missions where you're expected to siege enemy fortifications, which tends to be boring as it takes a while to push through chokeholds even using the best ranged and air units, especially when you need to wait around for allied and enemy units to take their turns. If you're a beginner to the genre you'll probably appreciate the simple combat, as most of the mainstream reviewers seemed to. The main problem with the strategic depth is that there aren't many units that feel different from your average generic foot soldier/mounted unit.

There's multiplayer, but not in the way you'd expect. Instead of a full on battle, you give your units general tactics then the AI plays the game for you in your absence and reports the results. This is meant for people who don't have time to play out a long battle, but it defeats the purpose of tactical combat if you're relying on the computer to do most of the work. Even stranger, once you commit your units to a "PvP" fight over the net, you can't use them elsewhere to keep playing the single player campaign. Reign of Swords 2 does away with this so apparently it wasn't as popular as the developers thought it would be.

The touch controls on the iPhone version are unfortunately poor. The game fails to register a tap unless it's placed perfectly on the games smallish grid, leading to repeated tapping just to get the game to recognize a tap. I've played the majority of tactical TBS titles on iPhone and this is the first I've ever encountered such a sensitivity issue, and looking at other reviews suggests I am not alone. Once you issue a move command to a unit, the UI changes to a vastly different setup where you need to drag from the selected unit outward instead of being able to scroll the map as usual and click on the destination. This is both needlessly confusing and inefficient. The PC version using a mouse and keyboard is generally the superior choice for controls.

Graphics and sound are fairly bland and unassuming. You can't turn off movement or combat animations but they go by quickly so it's not a big deal. There are no fully animated cutscenes for combat between two units. The plot is a simple empire conquest tale and all the units on the field are generic, so don't expect an SRPG level plot here.

Strategic Depth: Low-mid. Wargame-lite with a couple units, not a lot of customization.

Strategic Difficulty: Mid to high beginner level. Sometimes you'll need to bring specific units to win efficiently, but it's pretty obvious what to take most of the time. Grinding takes all of the guesswork or strategy out of what units to upgrade.

Overall Score: 6.9 iPhone, 7.6 PC. Despite costing a few dollars more, the PC versions controls are far better. It's mildly amusing if you need something to occupy your time while mobile, just don't expect much besides the basics.

Reign of Swords II brings much of the same, with the addition of about 8 new units, and real tactical turn based multiplayer. The pace of the game is helped by more responsive controls, faster movement animations and better map scrolling, and the game auto-selecting the next unused unit automatically. There are additional graphics and the campaign has a bit more story to it. Whereas Reign of Swords felt like a freshman effort, its sequel feels a bit more experienced and the additional unit variety helps keep things from getting too monotonous. The difficulty is about the same, though, and there are some boring stretches where you have to move your units around the map and through teleports with no combat whatsoever. I'd give Reign of Swords II an 8.0 and I'd recommend getting it over the first game if you have a choice.[img]   read


5:34 PM on 07.06.2010

Types of tactical level turn based games.

Wargame:
Wargames were the first type of tactical game to be developed, sometimes based on even older tabletop games back before personal computers. Wargames attempt to be as historically accurate as possible, with many combat variables, hundreds of historically accurate military units, and real life nations. Wargames are sometimes played at the operational level with battalions and groups instead of individual units, such as The Operational Art of War, which most resembles the old tabletop games.

Most recognizable Wargame examples in NA:
Panzer General
Daisenryaku


Wargame-lite:
A tactical level Wargame with reduced strategic depth compared to full fledged wargame titles. The wargame-lite usually replaces the hundreds of historically accurate units and nations with a handful of generic units and fictional nations or factions. Most wargame-lite titles add unrealistic or abstract combat systems that separate them from traditional wargames. Wargames and wargame-lite games rarely have any kind of repetitive grinding or easy to abuse combat systems, making them a better indicator of tactical skill.

Most recognizable Wargame-lite examples in NA:
Advance Wars
Military Madness


Simulation RPG or Strategy RPG (SRPG):
SRPGs primarily come from Japanese developers, and they are usually fantasy based with living creatures instead of military machinery. They typically take the standard RPG format and place it on a grid with more units. While some titles attempt to make legitimate challenges that can't be mitigated through grinding, save/load abuse, etc., the large majority of SRPGs simply use the grid based format as an excuse to tell yet another generic RPG tale. There's little point to playing most SRPGs unless you're interested in the plot and characters.

Most recognizable SRPG examples in NA:
Final Fantasy Tactics
Shining Force
Front Mission
Fire Emblem
Super Robot Taisen/Wars


Sandbox SRPG:
A tactical game that contains a sizable amount of strategic depth by the way of gimmicks and combat systems, yet rarely requires the player to utilize it to solve a challenge. Instead the player is allowed to develop whatever strategies they want and almost always win, provided their numbers are big enough. Usually involves copious amounts of repetitive forced grinding and a focus on abstract numbers instead of strategy. This type of game usually feels like messing around with an obscured graphing calculator instead of playing a strategic chess-like game. These generally require the least amount of skill and the most amount of patience out of any type of tactical level turn based game. Almost always features fanservice for the ronery crowd.

Most recognizable Sandbox examples in NA:
Disgaea and other NIS titles
Record of Agarest War and other Idea Factory titles   read


8:22 AM on 06.22.2010

Fire Emblem: Shin Monshou no Nazo Hikari to Kage no Eiyuu (DS) Preview

2010/07/15 [DS] [1] [2] [3] Fire Emblem: Shin Monshou no Nazo Hikari to Kage no Eiyuu

The next entry in the Fire Emblem series is a remake of the new content in Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, also known as Fire Emblem 3 for SNES. The English translation of this title is Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem - Heroes of Shadow and Light. However I doubt the official English name will be so wordy. Most of the details about the game are now official, so let's get started.

The original SNES title contains 21 original chapters, which is a bit slim for a main Fire Emblem entry. Thankfully, Nintendo is adding a new story for "My Unit", a character you create and customize to your liking, including class, appearance, and background. Your personalized unit will star in the tutorial prologue, fight alongside Marth in the main story, and engage in their own side chapters throughout the game. In addition, 4 trial maps from the SNES Satellaview releases will be included. This should push the number of chapters to an acceptable level, somewhere between 30-35.

Your personalized unit will be able to talk to others in your army during intermission, although it's not clear if there are any rewards for doing so. There will be over 300 conversations available throughout the main story. This is akin to the Base Conversations of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. Much like FE: Shadow Dragon, the interpersonal character guide will return, plotting out how every person is related in the Fire Emblem story. There will be characters added to the game from Shadow Dragon, the Satellaview maps, in addition to completely new characters to the series.



The reclassing system will return, where you can change a characters class and alter their base stats and growth rates. Hopefully it's a bit more balanced than it was in FE:SD. Gaiden chapters featuring your personalized unit will be available provided you meet certain requirements, which probably don't involve killing off more than half your army this time around, like you had to in FE: Shadow Dragon. I'm sure the developers have heard the sentiment of disgruntled fans who didn't like the lack of character development, personality-erasing reclassing, and having to kill off most of your army to access the side chapters, and it looks like the developers are working hard to address those complaints.

Wi-Fi returns with a couple new features. You'll be able to download new maps from Nintendo, both multiplayer skirmishes and single player chapters. The DLC single player maps will include new story content, not just trial maps with no plot development. You can trade characters with other players, although I'm not sure what the details on this are. The online store will be returning, which is one of the things I really disliked about FE: Shadow Dragon. You can go online and buy very rare items and ruin the games balance and difficulty, and you have to wait for a specific time of the month to buy the item you want.



Keeping with Nintendo's philosophy of catering to a wide range of player skill levels, there are now two difficulty altering settings available. New to the series are the addition of Casual and Classic modes. In Casual mode, if a unit reaches 0 HP, they will not die permanently, while Classic mode is the typical Fire Emblem permadeath feature. There are four difficulty settings, Normal, Hard, Maniac, and Lunatic. The two difficulty mechanics are independent of one another, so you can play Casual mode on Lunatic difficulty if you choose.

I have not heard anything about a score or ranking system, so I'm guessing there isn't one. That means this games challenges are not legitimate because you can boss/arena abuse, use the online store, etc. and ruin the games difficulty. I appreciate the extra difficulty modes, but they are pointless when you can spend infinite turns on a chapter farming XP and weapon skill, or going online and buying rare, powerful items that are only available once a month. And who knows how wi-fi unit swapping will upset the balance of the game? We're far removed from the legitimate rank based challenges of older Fire Emblem titles.



Graphically, the game looks a lot like the Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. It uses the same sprites and character art. Whether you like it or not, it seems like it's here to stay on the DS.

As you may already know, Fire Emblem and Advance Wars set the gold standard for tactical turn based strategy user interfaces. They are always extremely responsive and packed with useful features and management tools. I've seen quite a few tactical level games botch the UI and make the game a drag to play. Not so here. Expect the same polished quality that Intelligent Systems has been delivering for decades.

Import gamers may be unhappy to learn that the game may be 'DSi Enhanced', which means it will be region encoded if you try to play it on a DSi system. You'll be fine if you play it on a regular DS or DS Lite, however.

Overall this looks like another solid Fire Emblem title, difficulty issues not withstanding. It should please fans who were soured on Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, and the new casual mode should bring in more sales, appeal, and fans of the series. Look forward to import impressions once I've spent some time with the game.   read


1:29 PM on 06.18.2010

Valkyria Chronicles II (PSP) preview

2010/08/31 [PSP] [1] [2] Valkyria Chronicles II



Valkyria Chronicles II is the direct sequel to Valkyria Chronicles for PS3. While the BLITZ combat system remains intact, the developers have made some significant changes elsewhere to suit the new portable format.

The first significant change is that you no longer fight on one large battlefield. Each mission is broken up into small segments that can be traveled between. This significantly alters the battlefield making each area into a small combat zone that favors mobile classes that can shift from one area to another without being vulnerable. To match with the smaller map size, you can only deploy up to 6 units per battle.

Next, quicksaving has been removed. You can no longer save and reload abuse until a potential procs or a lucky shot hits. Orders are back, but they are more expensive and harder to abuse. You can no longer stack orders on a scout and send them running to finish a mission in one turn while nearly invincible. This balancing out of the game may frustrate poorly skilled players who relied on these tactics.

The developers have added multiplayer PvP and co-op play, which is a bit of a strange decision to me. VC is not optimized for speedy multiplayer gaming. Each unit needs to move, aim, and fire, which will make for some very long turn waits even with the 6 unit limit. It may end up feeling like playing a squad TPS in super slow motion.

To make up for the small deployment limit, you're now able to customize your units with far more detail. Characters can choose between 30 different classes when upgrading from the original 5. Weapons can be customized into hundreds of varieties. There's also a few new vehicle types to deal with. The new morale meter changes based on your performance in battle, which should reward efficient play. The scoring system remains the same as before. You're graded based on turns taken, with extra points given for destroying aces, leaders, and tanks.

The game progresses month by month. Instead of a straight single campaign, there are a variety of side missions that can be completed before moving on with the main story and advancing a month. There are a large number of missions available, over 100, although some of them don't take very long.



As for hands on impressions, I've completed the Japanese demo that was released a while ago. The BLITZ system feels fine, but the confined maps take away some of the epic scope and strategic depth of the original. It was also very easy, to the point where you'd have to try hard to lose. From import reviews I've read, the most of the game is quite easy. I doubt you'll be seeing anything as difficult as the original EX-Hard missions.

The plot and characters target a younger audience, with less war and more school dating sim. It's definitely got more of an average anime feel and less of an epic war story like the original.

VC2 should appeal to anyone who enjoyed the originality of the BLITZ system, anime fans, and anyone looking for an original turn based multiplayer experience. I don't expect much of a challenge but maybe the developers will have some surprises in store.   read


5:58 AM on 06.17.2010

E3 2010 tactics and strategy wrap-up.



There were three big pieces of SRPG news to come out of E3 2010. Atlus has announced a NA port of Knights in the Nightmare for PSP with a release date of October 19, 2010. This SRPG is a little unusual with some realtime elements like bullet dodging, but it's a fantastic and creative game. If you have any love for the genre you'll enjoy learning and mastering what Knights has to offer. If anything, you should buy it so I don't end up weeping at the sight of a bunch of good Atlus titles in the bargain bins next to the shovelware and yearly sports titles. Just do it!



Valkyria Chronicles 2 has an official release date of August 31, 2010. Sega has taken the title portable, cutting the big battlefields into smaller segments. The game is aimed at a younger audience and the main campaign is apparently quite easy. According to a developer interview, the PSP was chosen not only for portability but also for multiplayer, which is new to the series. There are a lot more customization options available, but it remains to be seen how balanced they are, or how much of it is utilized by the mission content. I'm probably going to write a video guide for VC2 like I did with the original, so look forward to that.



Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions has been announced for the iPhone/iPod Touch with a release date of September 15, 2010. This is one of the most popular SRPGs in NA, with a frenzied Final Fantasy fanbase that still obsesses over the game to this day, even going so far as to hack and modify the game files to make it more challenging or balanced. The PSP version suffered some lag and load time issues that I'd assume an iPhone 4 or iPod Touch 3rd gen would avoid, in part because the data will be stored on the phones flash memory and not accessed from a disc. FFT is a decent game but suffers from slow pacing, many overpowered and imbalanced classes/characters, and general lack of difficulty. I doubt this version will do any balancing, but it proves Square is serious about the iPhone/iPad Touch as a games platform.



One last tactical game at the show was Magic: The Gathering Tactics for PS3 and PC. This is an online multiplayer game that's free to play with purchasable card decks. Each player has a summoner that uses cards to summon their creatures, and if the summoner dies the game ends. Like any card based microtransaction game don't expect to compete without spending some coin. This game was only being shown off behind closed doors at E3 2010, so there's not much news about it. You can read some impressions here and here.



Finally I'll talk a bit about Civilization V, which was revealed at E3 2010. According to a developer interview, they have revamped the tactical level combat with inspiration by games like SSI's Panzer Tactics. That's on top of all the strategic level diplomacy, nation building, resource control, etc. If they can successfully merge quality tactical combat with the strategic level play Civ is known for, it could be a standout title for any kind of strategy fan. The screenshot here shows off some of the tactical or operational level combat that will be taking place.

I didn't see any news regarding Skulls of the Shogun, but don't give up hope yet. It looks like a fun title that should do well on Xbox Live Arcade.

There was a new trailer released for Disciples III: Renaissance, although the game wasn't being shown at E3 2010. This is an RPG where combat takes place on a tactical level turn based grid.

Coincidentally or not, 3 SRPGs were announced in Japan around the time of E3 2010. Fire Emblem 3 DS, Blue Roses (PSP), and Agarest Senki 2 (PS3). These were not at the show and there's no news regarding a NA release for any of them. Fire Emblem 3 DS is pretty much a given, while the other two I'm not so sure about. NIS is publishing Blue Roses in Japan and given their pro-NA stance I'd say there's a good chance Blue Roses will see a NA release. Agarest Senki 2 may also see release by Aksys, although it may be DLC only on the PS3.   read


5:13 PM on 06.15.2010

Military Madness: Neo Nectaris review (iPhone)

2010/02/08 [iphone] [1] Military Madness: Neo Nectaris




Nectaris is a venerable series almost as old as Nintendo's Wars series. It's another wargame-lite style game that isn't as complex as a full blown wargame, but makes up for it with creative and strategic missions. This game is a port of Military Madness 2 for mobiles, which itself is a port of the 1994 Neo Nectaris for the TG16, making it the first time Neo Nectaris has been available outside of Japan.

The campaign is made up of 48 missions, which is a good amount of content for a $5 game. There's a tutorial to walk you through the basics if needed. The difficulty is aimed at an intermediate skill level. There's only one difficulty mode so if you're not fairly experienced with the genre you might want to look for an easier title. Some of the later maps can be huge and missions can take up to 30 mins on the first try, so if you like Military Madness there is lots of it to be had here. There are a wide variety of unit types available, including creative units like flying blockades to prevent enemy movement and artillery that can only fire with an allied infantry nearby.  That must have been pretty cutting edge stuff back in 1994.

There are no funds or unit production, instead you rush to capture factories that have units inside them, which usually decides whether you win or lose the mission. The mission strategy is mostly about rushing to capture factories and retreating your injured units into factories to be repaired. Like the original Neo Nectaris, surrounding an enemy increases the damage done to it. Zone of control is in effect in this game, which adds to the depth. The combat formulas are fairly luck based. Sometimes you'll get the full terrain/gang up bonus, and sometimes you won't get anything. Quicksaving is available and it's possible to save/reload spam until you get the results you want. I found that isn't necessary at all though since the difficulty level allows some leeway for mistakes or bad luck.

The game has a real-time timer which measures how long it takes you to complete each mission. This is an interesting concept but the game doesn't really do anything with it. The time taken is sort of meaningless without other stats like units lost or turns taken, which the game doesn't record, although you can take a screenshot to record it manually. At least there's some kind of stat tracking going on here.

I'm not sure why the developers removed multiplayer for this port but it's a disappointing omission considering the iPhone's connected nature. Interestingly, the original Neo Nectaris had multiplayer support with 5 maps to play on.

The UI is mostly context sensitive which is good, although you have to touch the 'abort' button to move into enemy attack range without attacking. Some very basic features remain missing like unit numbers next to each unit on the map, or damage numbers appearing above the units after combat. The original Neo Nectaris for TG16 was like this as well, but that doesn't seem like a good reason to leave those basic UI features out.

The graphics look quite dated as you might expect. The units look decent with good detail but the terrain and some icons are low resolution, making for an ugly mix. There's no music and the sound effects sound like they came from the original TG16 version.

Strategic Depth: Low-medium. No unit building, gas, ammo, etc. but there is a fairly wide selection of units.
Strategic Difficulty: Intermediate. If you capture more factories than the CPU, you win.
Overall Score: 7/10. Good value for $5 if you like the series, but Neo Nectaris needs a bit more than just a straight up port with multiplayer cut out.   read


4:00 AM on 06.14.2010

Skulls of the Shogun (XBLA/PC) preview



It seems Advance Wars has inspired a whole generation of western game developers, as games inspired by the venerable Wars series continue to be revealed. This preview is based on info at the official site and a 1up.com interview. Skulls of the Shogun will be playable at E3 2010 so look forward to some more coverage tomorrow.

The development team is going for a tactical turn based strategy game similar to Advance Wars. The developers are aiming for an "arcade like experience" with simple and fast paced tactical fun. The focus of the game will be on tactical interaction between a limited variety of units and as little time spent in menus as possible. Like Advance Wars, there's no customization or unit growth between battles. Attention is being paid to streamlining the UI and making the game fast paced and easy to pick up.

Instead of a grid, units are allowed to free move within a circular radius. Zone of control becomes in effect when two allied units movement radii overlap each other. Buildings can be captured to produce income to purchase spells and new units. You'll also be able to summon creatures with special abilities. Your ghostly units can advance in rank by killing other enemies and 'consuming their skulls'. Tasty.

The game seems like a primarily multiplayer affair. The goal of multiplayer battles is to kill the opposing sides general. You're limited to moving 5 units per turn to keep the pace of battles fast, according to the 1up interview. The simplified nature of the games combat means it's more likely to be balanced and easy to pick up.

The game has a feudal Japan theme with lots of ghosts floating about. The cities are rice paddies and the factories are temples. The art style is clean and simple and gets its info across well. Skulls of the Shogun is definitely a game to look out for if you're interested in a fast paced multiplayer TBS game, and hopefully there will be some good single player content in there as well.   read


3:44 AM on 06.14.2010

Mecho Wars, Highborn, UniWar iPhone review



2009/07/13 [iphone] [1] [2] Mecho Wars
Version Reviewed: 1.53

Mecho Wars is a straight up Advance Wars clone with only a few minor changes and simplifications to the formula. The only twist is that every 20 turns or so, the water freezes for a few turns and ground units can walk over it. A few of the units have altered stats from Advance Wars, and the rock-paper-scissors format has been simplified down to air-infantry-heavy.

Most of the 20 mission campaign is an extended tutorial, introducing the familiar Advance Wars style cast of units each mission (minus a couple units). Beginners will enjoy it, while more experienced players may consider it a waste of time. The AI is dumber than usual, and won't even bother to pick off your infantry as they capture everything in sight. Most maps are played out using the same strategy, so don't expect any surprises or creative challenges. The campaign missions tend to drag on needlessly because you need to capture every enemy HQ long after it's obvious you've bested the map. Mecho Wars is currently being ported to the PSP, DS, and Wii, where hopefully the developers will spend some time on a campaign that isn't a long tutorial, as well as some more units to add depth to the game.

There are 20 skirmish maps aimed at novice to intermediate players which can be played in HQ capture or elimination mode. A couple of these skirmish maps are identical to the campaign maps. The original maps are well designed and if you liked the campaign they offer about the same experience and difficulty level.

The multiplayer, being a Wars clone, is fairly balanced, but it's simplified to the point where not a lot of strategies can be made, especially with the simpler than Advance Wars depth. For example, there's no anti-air sea unit to ward off air units, like the AW Cruiser. For the $1 price point though you can't go wrong if you're looking for some multiplayer action.

I felt the playing tiles were a little too small for my fingers, and I don't exactly have big hands - it's easy to fudge a position and there's no way to zoom the map. This game might be best played with a third party stylus. I also don't like how the UI is not touch sensitive - you have to touch Stay every time to end a movement instead of just being able to click on the just-moved units position, and you have to touch Attack every time to be able to hit a target. There's further inefficiency between every player turn where you have to sit through scrolling lists of whose turn it is, environment changes, and then city/factory income ping animations. There's also no option to speed up or skip the movement animations. All of this unnecessary time wasting adds up and makes for an unsatisfying experience to anyone used to better designed UIs and faster paced TBS games.

The art design is full of otherworldly colors and strange alien creatures. It's a neat concept, but my eyes began to grow weary of the unnatural palette. Maybe a martian would feel more at home playing this game. The games sound effects are well done, and the ambient music is repetitive but listenable while playing. Plot and characters are pretty much nonexistent.

Strategic Depth: Low. Simpler than Advance Wars.
Strategic Difficulty: Low. The campaign is for beginners only, and the AI is extra stupid.
Overall Score: 6/10. Above Average.



2009/06/15 [iphone/CEL] [1] UniWar
Version Reviewed: 1.06

UniWar is a wargame-lite style TBS game like Advance Wars, with a heavy emphasis on base capturing and unit building. There are 3 playable races (Sapiens, Titans, Khraleans) with 8 fairly similar units per race - not a whole lot of strategic depth. Apparently the multiplayer is popular although from my single player experiences I can't see it being very balanced. First of all, each race has a specialized unit that can take control of an infantry unit from one of the opposing races, but not the other. This means certain race matchups clearly favor one race, presumably because the game is balanced around a 3 player free for all with each race, which seems like an odd choice. A quick browse of the official forums confirmed my suspicions that the game is far from balanced and the ladder is full of cheaters.

The 21 mission campaign is a mixed bag. On Hard mode the developers make up for the AIs weaknesses by giving it far more funds per turn than you, which means you'll often be swarmed by a large and aggressive enemy force. The difficulty is inconsistent, with a few missions like 4 and 19 being nastier than the rest, and a few of them being 5 minute easy. The 1.06 patch makes the campaign far more difficult than it was at launch, probably as an unintended side effect of multiplayer balancing or AI improvements.

Most of the mission strategies are fairly simple, involving massing one or two unit types or rushing to capture neutral factories, but you still need to have strong general tactics on top of that to get the upper hand. Almost every mission is completed by capturing all bases on the map, which can lead to some boring clean up duty when the doomed CPU refuses to give up. Also a minor annoyance is that you can't auto-skip the 5 second wait countdown after ending your turn (there is a button to skip it, but you have to press it every time). However I did like the UI's efficiency - touching a unit or hex is usually context sensitive, and the game auto-rests your units if you leave them unused. This means less endless menu touching and faster gaming.

The graphics are well done with good animations. The game looks clean and easy to read even with dozens of units on the screen at once. The music is forgettable and the sound effects are average. As for plot and characters? There literally isn't any besides endless hostility between the Terran, Protoss, and Zerg.. er.. you know what I mean.

If you want a quick portable tactics experience $3 is not a bad price for the 21 campaign maps.

Strategic Depth: Low. It's even an even simpler wargame-lite than Advance Wars.
Strategic Difficulty: Low to moderate. The 3 difficulty modes should appeal to most players.
Overall Score: 6/10. Above average.

2010/06/02 [iphone] [1] [2] Highborn
Version Reviewed: 1.00



Highborn is a Fantasy strategy/tactical TBS game. There's no unit growth/changes between missions which is unusual for a fantasy turn based game. There are both generic and hero units in this game, with the heroes sporting a unique spell that can be used on the overhead screen. A number of cooldown limited combat spells can be cast before any encounter, most of which are damage or buffs. Recruiting during the mission is done by capturing buildings. If you lose the building you lose the unit, and if you lose the unit but not the building you'll get a new unit after a few turns. Monolith structures can be captured for new combat spells, and towers that can be captured for support attacks during combat between units. Towers tend to be overpowered and trying to fight while being hit by one is a death sentence for generic units and dangerous for heroes as well, so taking control of them is very important.

While there are only 8 campaign missions, each mission is large and unique with its own plot, dialogue and scripted events. The difficulty of the game is low to intermediate - don't expect a challenge here if you're experienced. You can't undo movement or attack commands, which might slip up beginners, but you can quicksave if needed. There's not a whole lot of strategic variety, just move through the map capturing buildings and slaying whatever enemies show up, then finishing off the mission boss. The 8 missions manage to stay entertaining, but I'd hope to see some variety in later missions other than point A to B slaughter. Additional missions will be added with a future patch to the game.

The UI is mostly context sensitive allowing you to tap to move, attack, and capture, although it requires a quick, precise double tap to pull off. Unfortunately there's no way to skip movement and combat animations, which makes the game unnecessarily slow. Units move along the map at a plodding pace for no particular reason. In addition you have to click off whether you want to use a combat spell in every fight, when it would have been more efficient to have the spell selection during the overhead screen directly before combat instead. And there's no reason to split the common 'wait' command into what's called "hold position" and "hold action" in this game. Maybe they can do something with that "Useless Slider" in the options menu in a future patch, because the game could use a whole lot more speed-up options that are standard in most turn based games.



With those game slowdown issues in mind, it's fair to say the multiplayer is far slower than it needs to be. It's best played one or two turns a day, instead of in a single (very long) sitting. Towers are overpowered with high damage, infinite support attacks, the nonsensical ability to support itself when being attacked, and frequently respawning mage recruits. Trying to fight while being hit by tower support is more or less suicide, so if someone grabs a tower they pretty much own the area around it. There are a couple of maps available but I don't see the multiplayer being much more than a casual diversion in its current state.

The game has a wry and goofy sense of humor. Conversations and unit descriptions are full of jokes making fun of RPG culture and history, frequently breaking the fourth wall to do so. Sometimes it's corny, sometimes it's chuckleworthy, but it's more entertaining than another turgid medieval politics fantasy plot. The humor provides a good motivation to play even if you find the difficulty too low.



Graphics are well done, especially the map and building tiles which have lots of detail for such a small screen. The 3d battle cutscenes are good although you'll probably get tired of looking at them by the end of the campaign. Sound effects tend to follow the humor of the game with cartoonish sounds and corny trumpet fanfare.

At $5 this is one of the pricier iPhone titles, but it's worth a purchase if you can overlook the slow pace of the game. Highborn would make for a good full featured console/PC game if the developers added more content and fixed the UI issues and lack of options.

Strategic Depth: Mid-low. Spells, recruit, and tower capturing add some depth to the game, but it's fairly basic overall.
Strategic Difficulty: Low to intermediate. Not a challenging game but still entertaining.
Overall Score: 7/10. Good for a $5 game.   read


3:38 AM on 06.14.2010

Dawn of Heroes (DS) preview

Dawn of Heroes for the Nintendo DS is a fantasy strategy/tactical RPG being developed by Wicked Studios based in Montreal and published by Majesco. This preview is based on video and screenshots on the official site and developer interviews at Joystiq and RPGamer.

Dawn of Heroes packs a full featured SRPG experience into the DS, with an ambitious 50 mission branching campaign, online multiplayer, and combat and customization systems that distinguish it from other SRPGs.



There are 26 different heroes available with their own stats and abilities. Heroes come in different classes like Supporter, Attacker, Guardian, and Controller. There's a wide variety of special abilities which should add plenty of strategic depth to the game. I'm impressed by the sheer number of abilities on display in the preview videos. There are buffs, debuffs, all sorts of damage spells, spells that move targets around, etc. I'm pretty sure each hero has a limited number of ability slots and the player can choose which abilities they want to take into battle with them. Heroes can be decked out in a wide variety of weapons and gear that all have different effects, and items and scrolls can also be equipped and used. The combat system reminds me most of a turn based Guild Wars, with the ability slotting and small scale fights with about 4-6 heroes.

The campaign has around 50 missions and there are also optional, sometimes hidden objectives and optional bosses. Bosses can sometimes be 4 squares large and possibly larger, taking up a lot of space on the battlefield. On the world map you can enter towns where you can hire new heroes and buy gear and consumables. In the camp screen you can customize your heroes name, palette colors, and swap around their gear and abilities.

The "fair fight rule" prevents a unit from being attacked twice in one turn. I don't recall this ever being done in an SRPG before, so it will be interesting to see how they balance this mechanic, considering that focus fire is an integral part of strategy games of all kinds. In some of the gameplay videos I see multiple units attacking a boss so maybe the rule has been changed, or it doesn't apply to bosses.

The developers have placed a big emphasis on multiplayer being balanced and strategic, not just a side thought thrown in at the last minute. It will certainly be impressive if they can successfully balance the huge variety of abilities and equipment in the game. You must build up your heroes in the campaign before you can use them in multiplayer, from what I can tell in the videos.



One big UI distinction is that the game is played with the DS stylus only. From looking at the videos on the site there are no text menus to speak of, only a bar at the bottom with icons representing your heroes abilities. Having recently played a bunch of iPhone games that are also touch only, I think there's a lot of potential in a stylus only context sensitive UI that bypasses menus entirely.

Graphically the game looks great for a 3D DS game - it's up there with the upcoming Dragon Quest 9. I'm hoping there's an option to turn the animations off, even though they look good. The music is decent and sound effects fit with the cartoonish nature of the game.

I've been told the game has been delayed due to the approval for production process, but hopefully those issues are cleared up quickly and the game arrives on store shelves this year. Even so, it's likely the print run for this game will be relatively small, so it's best to pre-order your copy to be sure. Dawn of Heroes DS looks like it will be an innovative and well made SRPG, so don't hesitate if you're a fan of the genre.

  read


2:26 AM on 06.06.2010

My new review methodology.

After spending time writing and revising my SRPG 101 article and working on the list, I've come to a more useful and organized methodology of writing my reviews that will be appearing on this site.

The first part of the review will be a factual, technical analysis of game systems. For example, if I were reviewing chess, I'd be talking about the size of the board, the variety and balance of the game pieces, and the strategic depth available. The second part of a review is subjective - how I feel about the game design, difficulty, artistic merit, etc. It's important to me to describe the facts before moving on to the opinions. Each review will be described in 4 categories: Strategic Depth, Strategic Difficulty, Plot and Characters, and Graphics and Sound.

Strategic Depth, as I already defined in my SRPG 101 article, is the number of options or legal game positions the player can make over the course of the game. For example, checkers has a relatively lower amount of strategic depth compared to chess. Strategic depth is only one side of the story, though - depth is meaningless without challenges that take advantage of it. Disgaea has a good amount of strategic depth, but the lack of challenges and emphasis on raw numbers and grinding means that its depth mostly useless and the game is more of a sandbox experience where you can do just about anything and still win. On the other hand a game like Advance Wars does not have a lot of strategic depth, but its challenges require you to learn all of that depth and apply it appropriately if you want Advance Campaign S-ranks.

Strategic Difficulty is rated based on challenges that require the player to search through the strategic depth and choose an optimal solution. The more complex and puzzle-like the solution is, the higher the difficulty. Any kind of real time skills like timing or reaction time are also important. If a game has multiple difficulty levels, a scoring system, or if its difficulty varies significantly, I'll describe the range of skill levels that the game is capable of catering to. There's also game balance, artificial intelligence, variety of challenges, user interface quality, and legitimacy to consider when factoring in difficulty. A games difficulty can be heavily altered by one or two overpowering units or abilities, or if the challenges are simple and/or highly repetitive, or if the user interface is clunky and hard to deal with.

When dealing with a primarily multiplayer game like chess, the strategic depth is more apt to be referred to as the 'skill cap', that is the highest maximum level of complexity and strategy a player can employ against another player. For example, Chess has a higher skill cap than checkers. Similarly, the strategic difficulty is more about how much and what type of skill is required to reach that skill cap, including things like reading your opponent, reacting to random behavior, etc.

Legitimacy is determined on whether the games challenges can be mitigated through mindless repetitive actions like optional grinding, save and reload abuse, or by pre-order bonuses/DLC that make comparisons between players impossible. If a game is legitimate then the difficulty is generally set in stone because it can't be altered. If a game is not legitimate then I will describe how that impacts the games difficulty and what the experience is like if you choose not to grind or take advantage of overpowered units/abilities.

On to my subjective views and perceptions of a games strategic depth and difficulty. I tend to like higher amounts of depth and difficulty, but I do my best to describe which player skill levels will enjoy the games difficulty the most. I like it when developers offer legitimate challenges, a scoring system, and multiple skill levels, which increases a games appeal and longevity. If a game has only one difficulty mode and no legitimate challenges, that will reduce its appeal and longevity and thus its overall score. I like lots of variety in a games challenges and I dislike repetitive actions, grinding, or filler which tends to bore me. I like a fast responsive UI with a decent amount of features, and I really don't like it if the UI is clunky, unresponsive, buggy, or hard to deal with. I try my best to describe what kind of player the game will appeal most to, even if it doesn't appeal to me personally. I dislike unfair or cheap difficulty such as excessive, uncontrollable randomness, or difficulty that arises through forced simple repetitive actions instead of strategy.

My own level of skill factors greatly into my comprehension and understanding of a games systems. I don't make logically incorrect assumptions like "you will get frustrated with this game" which ignores the fact that players of other skill levels may find it subjectively more or less frustrating. I also don't make false statements like "you must partake in optional grinding to progress in this game" when it is actually possible to progress without grinding by using more strategy and skill. I will always do basic journalistic research into a game challenge that seems daunting or impossible to me to confirm if players more skilled than I have accomplished what I could not, instead of arrogantly assuming that since I couldn't do it, nobody could. These factors plus my experience and skill set my reviews apart from your average reviewer or games journalist.

Plot and Characters is a mostly subjective category that looks at the more artistic side of the game. Graphics and sound again looks at subjective elements of the game. These elements don't factor very heavily into my score, although if the graphics or camera make the game hard to deal with or if the music can't be turned off, I'll probably be subjectively unhappy.

And finally there's the subjective overall score. I don't like giving out numbers but if you want to be counted you need to pick one. I choose the overall score by starting with 100, then subtracting points for what I feel are valid criticisms, most of which I've already noted in my preferences above. This is basically a pros/cons list except it has direct bearing on the score. So there you have it. Look forward to more comprehensive, reviews, previews, analysis and opinions soon!   read


12:54 AM on 06.02.2010

New FE3 Remake details.

Nintendo has added some new details on the upcoming DS title Fire Emblem: Shin Monshou no Nazo Hikari to Kage no Eiyuu.  It's a remake of Book II in FE: Monshou no Nazo, or FE3.  The translated name of this new DS title is Fire Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow. The official website still has some links grayed out, so expect more updates before the game is released.
The release date seems to be July 15 2010.
You'll be able to create your own custom character sometime during the game. Your hero is the 'hero of shadow' referred to in the title of the game. Your hero will get their own prologue and side story missions with new maps.
Graphics seem to be the same as Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon.

Update:
4 Difficulty modes from Normal, Hard, Maniac, and Lunatic.
2 Game modes, Casual and Classic. In casual mode you keep your allies if they fall in battle.
In game plot and character encyclopedia.
The Wi-Fi shop is returning. This is bad for the legitimacy of the games difficulty, and it's just a gimmicky use of Wi-Fi. It's easy to go online and buy overpowered items that are rare in the actual game.
The re-classing system is back.

It looks like Nintendo is following the principle of appealing to gamers of most skill levels which is good. Unfortunately the Wi-Fi shop kind of ruins the chance of the game being legitimate in difficulty.

More info at Serenes Forest.   read


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