hot  /  reviews  /  video  /  blogs  /  forum

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] Except...it 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

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...
Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online to add Dyson Spheres, dinosaurs


Set phasers to OH CRAP DINOSAURS
Oct 17
// Josh Tolentino
I must confess: Star Trek: Voyager was my "gateway" Star Trek. So no matter how bad you tell me it was - or how bad I realize it was, the adventures of Captain Janeway and the crew of the Federation starship Voyager ...

Review: Total War: Rome II

Oct 09 // Josh Tolentino
Total War: Rome II (PC)Developer: The Creative AssemblyPublisher: SegaRelease: September 3, 2013MSRP: $59.99 Reviewer's Rig: Intel Core i7 920 (2.66GHz), 6GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce 560 ti (Min. Specs here) First off, any Total War fan wondering if The Creative Assembly has made any fundamental changes to the series' core formula shouldn't worry: Rome II is as much a Total War game as any that have come before, once again delivering that hybrid of turn-based strategic empire management and real-time tactical army battles that form the basis of the franchise's identity. Also being a sequel to the original Rome: Total War, my favorite entry in the series (barring Shogun 2), the game once again allows you to take charge of one of nine major powers (twelve if you pre-ordered) and, by hook or by crook, conquer the known world. Yes, despite the existence of "Cultural" and "Economic" victory conditions, this is no Civilization game. The series is called Total War for a reason, so strictly dovish would-be imperatores need not apply. Rather than true sea changes, Rome II instead implements many smaller, iterative improvements that streamline some of the longstanding pet peeves that have plagued the series, while layering on new systems to greatly increase the game's depth and scope. Because the truth of the matter is, despite its name, Rome II is about more than Rome itself. Instead, Creative Assembly have put together something of a military-minded classical period simulator. The game's playable (and non-playable) powers range from all over Europe to North Africa and the Near East, covering four broad cultural groupings (Latin, Hellenic, Barbarian, and Eastern). The unit roster is practically a who's who of iconic warriors from the ancient world. Mid-Republican manipular legions, woad-painted berserkers, Spartan Hoplite phalanxes, Carthaginian war elephants, Egyptian camel cavalry, and more will all crash against each other in large blobs of slaughter on the real-time battlefields. And it helps that Rome II has made getting to those moments of glory comparatively easier, thanks to a host of updates to the UI and an improved approach to strategic management. In fact, if the last Total War game you played was Rome (or perhaps even Shogun 2), the various changes Creative Assembly has wrought for Rome II expose a potentially uncomfortable truth about the series' strategic component: That much of it essentially amounts to busywork.  The most significant single change on Rome II's strategic layer acts to condense the traditional management of conquered and annexed regions by "bundling" groups of regions into "provinces." For example, the city of Rome herself belongs to the province of Italia, which consists of Rome, along with Neapolis, Velathri, and Ariminum. All four settlements are shown on a single pane, allowing you to manage their building makeup and taxation as a single entity. When every settlement in a region is owned by the same player, special "Edicts" can be enacted to provide ongoing bonuses to things like public order, tax revenue, growth, or other benefits. Really, the provincial system is a minor tweak, but it does much to streamline the "management creep" that tends to affect these types of sprawling, map-conquest games. Rather than clicking on eight regions separately to issue orders, you're instead tabbing through two pages on Rome II's well-condensed central tab, briefly pausing to bring up a tooltip, or summoning a dense encyclopedia for more detailed mechanical help. Additionally, the system adds new strategic considerations, since provinces can only be managed as a whole if one faction owns every settlement within. You'll find yourself agonizing over whether to antagonize otherwise peaceful neighbors because their ownership of a settlement prevents you from "completing" some provinces. My apologies to the Carthaginians and Spartans. You were all put to the sword because I wanted to declare Magna Graecia to be one big party for a decade or two. Other alterations also serve to tighten the experience of mustering and moving armies and fleets. Units can be recruited from anywhere within an owned province, eliminating the old "ant lines" of individual units marching from all across the map to join armies at the front. Moving land forces across water is a snap as well, since armies automatically spawn their own (unarmed) transports when ordered into the drink, and allowing you to say goodbye to the single-ship "mule fleet" of old. A "stance" system allows you to set armies to different postures, aligned for ambushes, defensive forts, or forced marches, giving more dynamism to a typical campaign. Rome II also takes steps to distance its armies and fleets from being generic by expanding the RPG-like character progression Shogun 2 used on its agents to encompass most aspects of the game. In addition to the traditional level-up process and the acquisition of traits, army and fleet leaders can "equip" members of their household to gain more bonuses, not unlike slotting gems in a socketed Diablo III weapon. Even the armies themselves can gain traits as they fight, developing traditions, history, specializations, and even unique capacities. Oh, and they also get their own semi-random names (which can be customized at your discretion).  The result is an ancient world that feels simultaneously sprawling and intimate. The whole map is open to you, to conquer with the aid of your most trusted subordinates, and your most decorated and venerable Legions. The feeling of emergent "story generation" feels almost like XCOM, except on the scale of armies rather than squads and individuals. This all sounds wondrous on paper, but in execution, Rome II's attempts to breath more life into conquest feel a bit too prosaic for their own good. Most traits, household items, and skills convey limp mathematical benefits rather than the dramatic differences their flavor text and stylized iconography imply. Creative Assembly's attempt to simulate the perils of classical politics also falls flat, thanks to an utterly opaque "Faction" system. Replacing the family tree of Shogun 2, the faction system attempts to replicate the wheeling, dealing, and influence trading on the Senate floor (or royal court, if your faction's a monarchy). It's an intriguing idea, but I'll be damned if I can get it to do something I understand. In theory, you should be watching out for overly ambitious generals and admirals, walking the thin line between celebrating their accomplishments and checking their rebellious tendencies. In theory, this would also be the system through which a Roman Republic might become a Roman Empire (and vice-versa). But in practice, the results of your manipulations feel insubstantial, or even contradictory, such as when some political gambits deliver the opposite result from the one predicted by the game's tooltips. The same vagueness affects diplomatic dealings with other factions. Though the game surfaces more information than ever about how exactly your faction influences a neighbor or rival, little of it ends up being of use to bend towards practical results, like trade agreements, alliances, or vassalage.  Thankfully, the complexities and missed opportunities of the strategic layer haven't quite dampened Rome II's bloody-minded other half: Its real-time tactical battles. "More" is the operative word to describe what Creative Assembly has added. Rome II has more units, larger maps, more details, more particle effects, and most importantly, more approaches to the totality of ancient warfare. That totality now includes the most heavily advertised addition to Rome II's battles: Amphibious attacks. Now friendly fleets can assist ground-pounders by landing troops onshore in real time.  And it all looks stunning, to boot. Even years ago the quality of Shogun 2 seemed able to match those of a mid-range shooter, but Rome II ups the ante with complex facial expressions, individualized details, and a new "cinematic camera" that allows for direct control of things like siege equipment, for that extra bit of drama.  The game's AI -- always a point of contention for players -- has received an upgrade, but perhaps not one as substantial as is needed to truly satisfy series veterans. Though I'm rather incompetent when it comes to most games of this type, even I could tell that the AI has grown more reactive, but also increased in stubbornness, almost to the point of passivity. It's less vulnerable to being baited out of formation (though it can still be done), but seemed less likely to take advantage of opportunities. At one point the AI was reticent enough to simply wait and let me make the first move ... during a siege assault it started. Strategically, the AI had a tendency to throw tiny armies at my massive forces without a hope of winning, particularly once I had taken their last province. These kamikaze-like attacks were rarely disruptive to the play experience, but did lead to me clicking "autoresolve" more often than was necessary. But alas, dear reader, the fault is not in our stars, nor in ourselves, but in Rome II's technical state. While it's not quite in the "half-baked" state some critics asserted at launch, Rome II is about as rough-hewn as a Woad Berserker's wooden shield, and one worries that between this and Empire, we may have witnessed the limit of Creative Assembly's ability to execute on its ambitions.  Performance was all over the board for my rig, despite favorable reports from the built-in benchmarking sequence. Perhaps the greatest offender was just how damned long it takes to simply resolve a turn, with the game cycling through dozens and dozens of NPC factions to process their actions. Even with "Show AI Turns" checked off, an early-game turn of Rome II took longer to end than a endgame turn of Shogun 2 at its most crowded. We're talking on the scale of minutes, in some instances. The problem is exacerbated, ironically, by the very changes Rome II makes to speed up play. The provincial system and the streamlining of army movement and mustering revealed that much of a pre-Total War: Rome II game consists of "maintenance" actions, but the result is a goodly number of turns, particularly in the early game, are spent simply clicking the "End Turn" button and waiting for the endless scroll of AI processing to pass through again. Having written that, most of Rome II's issues aren't related to the design of the game, but to glitches and poor optimization. In fact, three major patches have been released to date (and form part of the reason I delayed writing this final review), and significantly improved performance in multiple aspects of the game, including framerate, AI quirks, and even some tweaks designed to slow down the pace of battles in response to player feedback.  All the same, despite the improvements, the patches haven't quite mitigated the concerns expressed above. But it is easy to imagine a point, perhaps soon, when most, if not all of the kinks have been patched out and the waiting times cut down, leaving players with Total War: Rome II its best: a game that can actually make good on claiming "epic" scale and delivering a truly grand strategic experience coupled with blockbuster production values and satisfying tactical challenges.
Total War: Rome II photo
Veni, Vidi, Sustínui
Picture, in your mind's eye, a testudo. If you're up on your Roman history, you'll know that I'm referring to that ancient Roman formation in which soldiers tightly align their shields to protect themselves from every an...

Analogue: A Hate Story photo
Analogue: A Hate Story

Analogue: A Hate Story coming to iOS, Japan


*Mute and *Hyun-ae await!
Sep 16
// Josh Tolentino
Visual novels are cool games, but if there's a pet peeve I've developed with the genre lately, it's that most of them are PC-based. Visual Novels, dating sims, and the like are the perfect type of game to play on mobile and t...
Attack on Titan 3DS photo
Attack on Titan 3DS

Attack on Titan anime gets a proper 3DS game


Wir sind die Jäger!
Aug 07
// Josh Tolentino
If you're into watching anime, you may know that Attack on Titan is the new hotness this season. The story of a bunch of angry kids chopping up funny-faced giants while using weird Spider-Man grappling hooks has captured...
Ace Combat Infinity photo
Ace Combat Infinity

Ace Combat Infinity teaser looks like proper Ace Combat


Things look Strangereal up here
Aug 02
// Josh Tolentino
Namco Bandai's just dropped a new teaser for Ace Combat Infinity, and I'll be damned if what's shown doesn't look like proper Ace Combat. Let's go down the checklist of "Ace Combat-y Things", shall we? Vaguely awkward-soundi...
Naruto Storm 3 PC ver. photo
Naruto Storm 3 PC ver.

PC Ninja Race: Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 getting port


DLC to enhance console toy versions
Jul 05
// Josh Tolentino
It's a good day for Naruto fans, fans of PC fighting games, and fans of "enhanced edition" rereleases. Namco Bandai has just announced that its Ultimate Ninja Storm series will be making a PC platform deb...
STO Summer Event photo
STO Summer Event

Star Trek Online debuts new summer event on Risa


Beach vacations, jetpacks, and space Tikis, oh my!
Jun 26
// Josh Tolentino
Summer is here (for folks in temperate regions anyway), and even in the far future of the 25th century, that's time to party. At least, that's the kind of future Star Trek Online will be debuting, with the free-to-p...
Minecraft Xbox One photo
Minecraft Xbox One

Xbox One getting Minecraft: Xbox One Edition


Looks pretty much the same
Jun 10
// Josh Tolentino
It looks like Minecraft may be on the road to becoming the next Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds when it comes to getting on multiple platforms, because Microsoft has just announced Minecraft: Xbox One Edition, ...
JoJo ASB trailer photo
JoJo ASB trailer

JoJo All Star Battle is the most fabulous game not at E3


Voguing as manly combat
Jun 10
// Josh Tolentino
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle is heading to the PS3, one of the "old" consoles. But I'd bet good money that even after E3 is over, after Microsoft and Sony have blown their game loads all over the internet, ...
Womulans! photo
Womulans!

Star Trek Online adds a new preorder ship, goofy clothes


Spiffy combining Warbirds and head-cases
May 16
// Josh Tolentino
Star Trek Online is less than a week out from its latest big free content update, Legacy of Romulus, which, as may be expected, will introduce the playable Romulan Republic faction and a new line of Romulan Warbirds...
Womulans! photo
Womulans!

Star Trek Online decloaks Legacy Packs for its expansion


Now you too can 'buy' Star Trek Online's free expansion
Apr 18
// Josh Tolentino
We're just about a month out until Star Trek Online gets a bunch of funny-foreheaded Vulcans stuffed into it for its Legacy of Romulus expansion, which is set to debut a whole new faction to step into the 25th century. ...

Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3

Mar 21 // Josh Tolentino
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 (PlayStation 3 [reviewed], Xbox 360)Developer: CyberConnect2Publisher: Namco BandaiRelease: March 5, 2013MSRP: $59.99 As a direct sequel to 2010's Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 retains most of that game's structure while incorporating some of the mechanical refinements introduced in last year's Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations. Players can expect to power through a ten-to-twelve hour "Ultimate Adventure" story mode, covering the core plot of Naruto Shippuden following Naruto's battle with Pain (the endpoint of Ultimate Ninja Storm 2), then recounting most of the major events of the Fourth Ninja World War, with brief flashback missions featuring Naruto's parents. If all of that sounds like gibberish to you (or if this is your first time with Naruto), you'll be out of luck hoping everything will be explained to you in Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. That's mostly due to the game's placement in the overall Naruto canon, which is still a long way from over.  Imagine starting on the Mass Effect series with Mass Effect 3, and you'll be close to the level of prior knowledge Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 can't help but assume the player possesses. Many of the smaller details and characterizations will fall flat unless you have at least some level of investment in the Naruto universe and its dozens-strong cast. The story ends up somewhat less coherent than in Ultimate Ninja Storm 2. In fact, just to get it where it was the game makes a number of tweaks to the plot, which may annoy fans that want to see every single event portrayed.  Further, even a bumping-up of the game's age rating (in Japan it went from the equivalent of an "E" to a "T") doesn't save it from feeling a tad bloodless, which isn't the greatest thing to be when trying to portray how awful global war is for all involved. As a result some of the more shocking moments of the manga have their impact diminished. Narrative foibles aside, though, Naruto is, and remains, a superhero story targeted at teens and tweens. Its messages of friendship, legacy, and brotherhood are universal (and universally cheesy). Provided players have a certain tolerance for that kind of heavy-handed mushy stuff, it's a fun ride and can even be touching at times. Players will explore the story much in the same manner as they did in Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, walking about static environments such as the Hidden Leaf Village in the fashion of an old-school Japanese RPG, visiting shops, taking on side tasks, buying and collecting items, and viewing cutscenes. Though these JRPG trappings aren't the most refined that genre offers, and in some ways could be interpreted as folderol designed to pad out the game time, it feels like a pleasant diversion in practice, and lends a weight to the narrative that one would never expect a fighting game to possess, let alone an anime-series tie-in.  The item collection and shopping serves a secondary purpose, as well, by allowing players to fill out their "Ninja Tools," which function as powerups and sub-weapons during combat. This time around the tools have been split into the "Hero" and "Legend" categories, with "Hero" tools seemingly used for healing and stat boosts, and "Legend" tools for damage-dealing and trap-laying. The tools are leveled up by participating in Ultimate Ninja Storm 3's version of a Paragon/Renegade choice, the "Ultimate Decision" system, where during certain events players can pick a "Hero" or "Legend" path affecting which tool type gets improved. In execution the system feels somewhat superfluous. With few exceptions, each choice only really changes the difficulty of a fight ("Legend" usually being tougher), or perhaps the order in which certain events play. But, as is usually the case with this sort of narrative fare, the joy and glory isn't so much in the story itself but the telling, and Cyberconnect2 has pretty much mastered the art of spinning Naruto's type of blockbuster yarn. Barring some cutscene sequences that seem to approach Xenosaga-length around the middle of the game, much of Ultimate Ninja Storm's best storytelling happens right in the thick of battle, when players are most engaged with the actual mechanics of the fighting system. The fighting in Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is quite simple, and is unlikely to win the franchise a main stage spot at the next EVO Championship. Two characters face off in a 3D arena. One face button throws ranged shuriken, one attacks, one jumps, and one does a "Chakra Load," which modifies the next action press, either unleashing a powerful Ninjutsu attack, throwing supercharged shuriken, or performing a "Chakra Dash" that instantly closes (or opens up) the gap. Double-taps and holds further expand the options, triggering heavier versions of Ninjutsu or a quick-stepping dodge maneuver. There's a button for blocking, and another for the "Substitution Jutsu," which can instantly break an enemy's combo, setting them up for a back attack. Two buttons are reserved for Support Attacks, calling in selected support characters to defend or attack an opponent. Summoning one's mates often enough charges a Support Gauge that increases their potency and unlocks powerful team attacks. Many characters also have "Awakened" modes, a powered-up state active at low health that locks out some moves but vastly increases damage and speed, and in some cases, changes a character's appearance or moveset -- a trait that manifests quite dramatically for "Jinchuriki," a set of characters (Naruto himself among them) that play host to living weapons of mass destruction. None of the dry technical descriptions above do much justice to what actually happens onscreen, though, as the game is at almost all times a mind-blowing riot of color and over-the-top animation. Manga creator Masashi Kishimoto's colorful and diverse character concepts mesh perfectly with the dynamic, over-the-top style, resulting in something epic happening most any time you push a button. Fighting is a joy to watch both as player and spectator, with characters career about the screen, dashing to and fro and beating the snot out of each other with fireballs lightning strikes, rocks, bombs, balls of energy, clone armies and all manner of other things.  After their absence from Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations, the series signature setpiece boss encounters make a return, and have characters facing off against everything from a personal duel against a former friend to a Godzilla-scaled encounters between giant ninja and giant monsters. Cyberconnect2's flair for the audacious (the same one that eventually birthed the likes of Asura's Wrath) is most apparent in these lavishly produced, elaborately choreographed sequences, peppered with Quick-Time Events (here called "Interactive Actions"). Nailing button prompts perfectly gains points during a match, unlocking "Secret Factors" like extra dialog or extended versions of certain scenes, as well. Certain sections also change the pace by introducing "Mob Battles," a mode best likened to Tekken's "Tekken Force" gameplay, where players chop through crowds of fodder enemies. While somewhat awkward due to movement and controls still being tuned for one-on-one combat, they do serve as a pleasant diversion and don't outstay their welcome. A lineup of over 80 characters ensures that while every character has the same basic move set, everyone feels relatively different. Granted, veteran players may find less novelty in the roster. The majority of the roster return from previous games, gaining little more than a tweak in costume or an update to their move set. Only a dozen or so can be genuinely considered new.  Despite the simplicity of the input, the system is refined enough to allow for a decent amount of tactical consideration, particularly when fighting other humans rather than the AI. Rather than a contest of knowing specific moves or combo memorization, a pitched Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 bout is more about timing, disruption, and opportunism. Because Ninjutsu and Ultimate Attacks are easy and quick to deploy, and because the Substitution Jutsu is practically a get-out-of-stun-lock-free button, keeping opponents on the back foot while using support attacks to make sure those highly damaging techniques actually hit, rather than waste Chakra. Unfortunately, with such a large roster balance seems to be a secondary priority. The online matches I've played feature a preponderance of faster characters over the slow "bruisers." Network performance ranged from fair to poor, though this may have been a result of my locality rather than inadequate netcode. There's little compensation in place for laggy players, though, so folks looking for the fairest matches may wish to search closer to home.   While the game isn't a genuine sea change from its predecessors, it stays true to the franchise's foundations, and makes up for any lack of innovation with the grand, beautiful spectacle that is its hallmark. The iterative refinements Cyberconnect2 have implemented over the series' history have helped to deepen the gameplay as well, bringing a more satisfying competitive experience while still maintaining accessibility. Though it stumbles somewhat due to unfortunate narrative placement, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is a must-play for any Naruto fan, as well as anyone looking to have a good time wallowing in fun anime ridiculousness.
Naruto UNS 3 review photo
Real Ultimate Power
As with its brethren in the Ultimate Ninja Storm series, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3's approach to depicting super-powered ninja action is best described as a bit "Hollywood," with all pros and cons that such a d...

Womulans! photo
Womulans!

Star Trek Online introduces Romulans in its May expansion


A third faction warps in
Mar 21
// Josh Tolentino
Big news for Star Trek fans of the MMO-playing persuasion, as Cryptic have decloaked the next big update to Star Trek Online. Titled "Legacy of Romulus", it's pretty much the largest single expansion since the game went Free...






Back to Top


We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
What is the meaning of life, and do you have any more pizza rolls?
You may remix all content on this site under Creative Commons with Attribution
- Living the dream, Since 2006 -