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Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

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

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

Elite: Dangerous gets Horizons expansion, planetary landings

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

Legend of Legacy published by NIS America in Europe

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

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

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

Chris Avellone has left Obsidian Entertainment

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

Star Trek Online starts summer event, answers important question

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

Maximum Warp: GOG bringing back classic Star Trek games

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

Review: Chroma Squad

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

Review: Omega Quintet

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

Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

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

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

Power Ranger sim Chroma Squad gets dated, trailered

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

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

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

Review: Bladestorm: Nightmare

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

Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online establishes in-game memorials for Leonard Nimoy

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

Review: Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines

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

Homeworld Remastered photo
Homeworld Remastered

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

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

Review: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary

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

Touhou x PlayStation photo
Touhou x PlayStation

Touhou games may come to PlayStation this year

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

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

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

Star Trek Online goes to the Delta Quadrant in October

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

In Space We Brawl produces intense faces, spaceships

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

Guns Up! takes aim at a new trailer, early access

Advancing warfare
Aug 12
// Josh Tolentino
Guns Up!, the top-down free-to-play strategy game coming for PS3, Vita, and PS4, is looking much the same as it did last month, but the new Gamescom trailer makes a more detailed pitch with regards to features and multiplaye...
The Order: 1886 trailer photo
The Order: 1886 trailer

The Order: 1886 trailer shows people messing up their orders

And other things too
Aug 12
// Josh Tolentino
The new Gamescom trailer for The Order: 1886 has a lot of things in it: Fancy PS4 graphics, Nikola Tesla's verbal handwringing, a release date of February 20th, 2015, and lots of shooting up Victorian monsters with big guns,...
Freaking Meatbags photo
Freaking Meatbags

Freaking Meatbags is tower defense with a unique style

All hail our new robot shift managers
Jun 30
// Josh Tolentino
"Meatbags." There are few more apt terms to represent the views of a theoretical intelligent robot than the word Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic's HK-47 used to refer to people. Considering its timelessness it's actual...
Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online Season 9 goes live, gives peace a chance

Well...sort of
Apr 23
// Josh Tolentino
Did you like Star Trek: Voyager? I know I did. And from the looks of things, Cryptic Studios does, too, as the newest big update of Star Trek Online titled "Season 9: A New Accord", involves quite a bit of content straight f...

Review: Strike Vector

Mar 17 // Josh Tolentino
Strike Vector (PC)Developer: Ragequit CorporationPublisher: Ragequit CorporationReleased:  January 28, 2014MSRP: $24.99Reviewer's Rig: Intel Core i7 920, Geforce GTX 560 Ti, 6GB RAM, Windows 7 First off, even calling Strike Vector a "Brutal Aerial FPS" is underselling it a bit. Sure, it's definitely brutal, and aerial, but merely labeling it an "FPS" brings to the contemporary gamer mind something more like Call of Duty. But those types of ground-bound shooters, their souls weighed down by gravity, can't deal with the kind of sensation Ragequit's game provides. Your first, exhilarating, terrifying moments in a Strike Vector multiplayer match (and there are only multiplayer matches) are more likely to call to mind a bizarre fusion of Descent's omni-directional movement and the blistering speed of mecha anime like Macross or Robotech. First, you'll join any given match by selecting a pair of weapons (from a total of eight), then picking a pair of perks for them, grabbing a special ability that wasn't elaborated on at all in the nine static instructional slides that make up the new-player tutorial, then finally hammering the big red button on the garage screen marked "LAUNCH." All of a sudden, you're screaming out of an endless sky on a jet of afterburner flame, aimed at the nearest bit of grimy, improbably-hovering level scenery. You'll just barely avoid it by kicking in your plane's -- excuse me, your Vector's -- hover mode, allowing you to aim and shoot from a stable vantage. And then a more experienced pilot blows you up, and you end up crashing into that scenery you just avoided anyway, except this time you're on fire. That's the meat-grinder cycle of a typical Strike Vector session, for while Ragequit has succeeded at conveying a splendid sense of speed and motion, they've married it to a multiplayer-only game whose skill ceiling seems at times to bump shoulders with the likes of Quake III Arena, demanding precision, skill, and affording little forgiveness. You'll likely finish your first few matches in the negative scores, as crashes count against you. You'll try to recall both the shooter and flight-game skill sets that you've let molder in the days since guns with iron sights took over the FPS market. You'll find out what all those extra abilities actually do by using them, being killed for using them wrong, then trying something else.  Strike Vector is refreshing in its old-school sensibility, though it's clear that its lack of hand-holding will drive off some players unused to classic shooters, as well as those who came in hoping for more of a simulation-style game than an action shooter. Or those hoping for a single-player campaign, or at least AI bots. Or those hoping a game whose level-up progression unlocks are more useful than Vector skins (that are difficult to see in actual play) and concept art. Or even just a title with less demanding latency requirements. Even playing on the nearest available servers, a ping of greater than 100ms seemed like a ticket to the bottom of the scoreboard. Still, there's a lot to love about it if that's an itch you've been looking to get scratched. The collection of weapons and mods for each makes for a small, yet distinct experience no matter the combination. Even novices can score a couple of newbie kills with the game's two flavors of homing missile. The variety, as well as the exotic qualities of the special abilities lends an interesting optimization and style component to a weapon selection that might otherwise seem limited, compared to the endless stream of samey guns you might find in a contemporary military shooter. Available game modes cover the essentials of competitive shooting, with team deathmatch, free-for-all, and a King-of-the-Hill-esque mode that increases the score value and visibility of the top players, making them attractive for all. Purchasers of the game gain all future DLC content for free, and the first pack was released just recently, adding Capture-the-Flag and more maps. Serving three masters as it does, Strike Vector might not have a whole lot of mass-market appeal, but what it lacks in that field, it more than makes up for by being a gorgeous, intensely competitive experience that matches its aesthetic appeal with pure shooter satisfaction. If you happen to be looking for that, Ragequit's new baby might send you soaring.
Strike Vector review photo
Fire in the sky
Flying is great. Fighting while flying is pretty great, too, but for some reason, dogfighting in good ol' atmosphere hasn't caught on as quickly as dogfighting in space. Despite the resurgence of space games brought on by the...

Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online's anniversary adds Tuvok, transformers

We're all in the Delta Quadrant!
Jan 29
// Josh Tolentino
Believe it or not, Star Trek Online's been around for four whole years now, and on January 30th, they're opening their 4-Year Anniversary event to celebrate. To get players old and new hyped for that, the developers at C...
Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online teases changes in Season 8.5

Starships for everyone!
Jan 23
// Josh Tolentino
Did you know that Star Trek Online calls its major updates "Seasons"? It's as if the MMO were a TV show! That in mind, it's almost funny that it's also following TV trends with its latest update, which is called Season 8...
Republique photo

Republique dated on iOS, reveals pricing model

Kickstarter darling finally coming to market
Dec 17
// Josh Tolentino
[Update: Date corrected.] Hey guys, remember République? It was part of one of the earlier waves of game crowdfunding, and developer Camoflaj aimed to make their stealth-action game a "Triple-A iOS experience". And now...
Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online details Season 8 update in a new trailer

Cadets shouldn't be drunk on the shuttle!
Nov 09
// Josh Tolentino
It's almost time. Star Trek Online debuts its next free content update, titled Season 8: The Sphere on Tuesday, November 12th, and Cryptic are tickling Trekkies nacelles' with a new trailer, courtesy of Massively.c...

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