enfrdeitptrues

RPG

  • Nights of Azure (PS4)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Nights of Azure
    Developed by: Gust
    Published by: Koei Tecmo
    Release date: March 29, 2016
    Available on: PS3, PS4, Vita
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for blood, fantasy violence, partial nudity, suggestive themes
    Price: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Koei Tecmo for sending us this game to review!

    Several hundred years ago the demon lord was sealed away by a saint.  That seal is losing its power and there’s an outbreak of fiends roaming the streets.  The fiends are former humans who came into contact with blue demon blood.  Arnice is a halfblooded knight that is sworn to protect the saint, Lilysse.  Both of these characters are female and their relationship is very close.  While an intimate relationship is suggested, nothing is shown in that regard.  

    What is shown is a lot skin.  Some of Arnice’s outfits are very revealing. In order to level up, Arnice must make a blood offering with the blue blood she’s collected in battle.  Her ritual attire is very tattered and doesn’t leave much left to the imagination.   Demon blood is a currency used for leveling up, purchasing, and summoning demons.  In order to get the help from a servan, you must collect their artifact/fetish and actualize it (for a cost) into existence. 

    Arnice and her servans have the ability to equip relics that can grant abilities/immunities, or enhance stats.  At first Arnice can only equip one, but like many things you can increase that limitation by spending her skill points.  You can also increase the amount of quests Arnice can take on as well as the default amount of time given to explore the streets at night.  Anrice can fight by herself or with the assistance of her servans.

    Nights of Azure
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent music and an engaging story about love and sacrifice 
    Weak Points: Repetitive and unchallenging gameplay; glitched quests
    Moral Warnings: The relationship between the two main characters seems to be more than close friends; blood and violence; magic use; summoning demons; very skimpy and revealing outfits shown throughout the game; language (sh*t, d*mn, *ss)

    You can have up to four servans summoned simultaneously.  Each servan is added to a deck and you have a maximum of four decks at your disposal.  There are different types of servans ranging from attacking to support ones that can heal your party.  The servans have elemental strengths and weaknesses so keep that in mind during battle.  

    Since the battles are in real time, Nights of Azure can be described as an action RPG. Arnice can slash away at foes with her sword, daggers, war hammer, or ranged weapon.  She can also direct her servans to use their special attacks on the enemies.  

    In general, I found the battles to be quite easy and wasn’t challenged until the fifth chapter’s boss.  Like all of the bosses, I was able to take out the sixth chapter’s boss on the first try.  The final boss in the seventh chapter required me to level up to level nine before taking it out.  Unlike many RPGs I’ve played, there’s a level cap of ten in this title. 

    Besides the storyline quests and missions, Arnice can take on side quests to increase her stats and unlock various abilities and bonuses.  The quest types include searching, investigating, or slaying a set number of demons.   The rewards for the quest range from items to money, or blood.  If quests aren’t your thing, you can spend some time at the arena to complete various battle challenges.  

    Nights of Azure
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 46%
    Violence - 3.5/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 2.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The story isn’t very unique and the yuri (female + female) relationship sets it apart in that regard. I liked the characters and their silly dialogue.  I wish the voice acting was localized, but the Japanese dialogue is well done regardless.  The background music is exceptional and I’d be happy to buy the soundtrack if it was available outside of a game bundle that costs $100 or more.

    Graphically, the visuals are good with lots of eye candy during the attack sequences.  The enemy types are recycled a bit with altered colors and different elemental attacks.  The bosses are intimidating and have deadly attacks that shouldn’t be underestimated.  As long as you have a healing type servan in your party, you should be fine.  

    As I mentioned earlier, too much is skin is shown for my tastes.  Other issues worth noting are the blood and violence.  Whenever the fiends are attacked, blue blood will splatter on the ground. Since Arnice is half demon, she has a blood lust and longs for Lilysse’s. Magic, demon summoning, and blood offerings are required for progressing in this game.  Last but not least is the language which consists of the words sh*t, d*mn, *ss.

    While Nights of Azure isn’t a deep or challenging action RPG game, it still is fun.  The game can be completed in roughly fifteen hours, but if you want to see all of the possible endings you’ll have to play through it a few times.  Unfortunately, there’s no way to change the difficulty to provide a great challenge.  

     

  • Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon (Switch)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon
    Developed by: Koei Tecmo
    Published by: Koei Tecmo
    Release date: October 24, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Switch, Windows
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes
    Price: $41.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Koei Tecmo for sending us this game to review!

    Another azure moon is on the horizon and if it fully eclipses, what is left of humanity will fall into an everlasting slumber. To seal the Moon Queen’s powers, the Curia arranges a saint to be offered as a sacrifice. The Moon Queen is well aware of the saint’s special time-altering power and wants to claim it for herself. If this happens, the world is doomed so a guard has been assigned to the saint. Aluche is a knight of the Curia and a childhood friend of the saint, Liliana. Aluche is well aware of Liliana’s role and does not want to see her friend die and would like to avoid it if possible.

    Another female named Lourdes is also after Liliana and wants to stop the Curia from offering as a sacrifice. Since Liliana gets separated from Aluche early on in the game, it’s a race against time to see which character, Aluche or Lourdes, reunites with her first.

    The story and gameplay mechanics are pretty similar to that of the first game. Again, the girl being offered as a sacrifice is a dear friend of the knight sworn to escort her to her doom. Since there are new characters this time around, you don’t have to play the original to enjoy this title. Arnice is referenced and one of the characters in this title is infused with her demon blood.

    Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Runs pretty well on the Switch; fun combat
    Weak Points: Story is similar to the first one; scaled down visuals; not used to B button being used to confirm
    Moral Warnings: Same sex attraction between females, kissing is shown; blood and violence; magic use; summoning demons; very skimpy and revealing outfits shown throughout the game; language (d*mn, *ss, hell)

    Nights of Azure 2 is broken down into seven chapters that are further broken down into days. During each day Aluche can go explore and battle nearby demons to collect their blue blood for leveling up her attributes. Like the original game, the amount of time you can battle/explore is limited, but you can add more time by leveling up. Every day spent causes the moon to eclipse further and if it fully eclipses, the game will end. Thankfully, for every boss beaten, the eclipse will reverse a bit.

    Aluche doesn’t have to fight alone. In fact her companions, both human and demon, are quite helpful in battle. You can change out her battle partners which have different fighting styles and benefits. As she fights more and more with a person, her affinity/relationship will grow. Servans (summoned demons) are also available to assist in battle and they have a wide variety of skills to utilize in battle.

    Be sure to level up your servans and Aluche. You can equip them with valuable relics to give them a further edge in battle. Aluche’s leveling up outfit is quite revealing and leaves little left to the imagination. Besides lots of skin being shown, there is some female/female kissing and the vampire is shown feeding off another female character. Other moral issues worth noting are the language (hell, d*mn, *ss), magic use, and lots of demon blood is spilled during the battle sequences.

    Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 46%
    Violence - 3.5/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 2.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The combat is enjoyable in this game. Besides guarding and dodging, you can use strong and normal attacks on the swarms of enemies. With the special attacks and magic use, there is plenty of eye candy to be seen. The enemies have a lot of variety to them and the bosses are intimidating.

    While not gorgeous, the graphics on the Switch version look good and run well when played on the small screen. Many of the graphical details will suddenly pop into place in the background. If you’re planning on playing on a bigger screen, you may want to opt for the PS4 or PC version of the game, as it does not look good blown up. The portability is great on the Switch version though.

    The Japanese voice acting is well done. The background rock music is great as well. I was hoping the Steam version would have a soundtrack to download, but there isn’t one available. There are some DLC side stories available though. One of them is free while the other sells for $8.99.
    In the end, Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the new Moon is a decent action RPG though I found the lack of clothing and female attraction elements annoying. This game definitely earns its Teen rating and I don’t recommend playing it around children.

  • Nine Parchments (Switch)

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    Game Info:

    Nine Parchments
    Developed by: Frozenbyte
    Published by: Frozenbyte
    Release date: December 5, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of players: Up to four
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for mild fantasy violence
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Frozenbyte for sending us this game to review!

    Nine Parchments takes place in the Trine universe at the Astral Academy. The students there are a ways away from graduating, as they have to master their spell casting techniques and not be a hazard to anyone near them. In the middle of a lecture, there is an explosion in the building and nine of the academy’s parchments go flying away in the wind. To redeem themselves, students vow to return each of the parchments safe and sound.

    When first launching the game you’ll get to choose your gametype (single or multiplayer), difficulty level (Easy, Normal, Hard, Hardcore), and mage. At first, there are only two mages available, but as you collect staffs and complete quests you’ll unlock others. Each mage has a starting spell set that can be altered later on. The mages can equip hats and staffs that can enhance their appearance or boost their spell casting abilities.

    Nine Parchments
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Wonderful visuals, music, and voice acting; fun multiplayer gameplay
    Weak Points: Multiplayer joycon controls are trickier to use than a pro-controller
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence and magic use, pentacles adorn some of the staffs

    The tutorial level will show you the basic movements and techniques. I found that playing in twin stick mode is much easier than using a joycon by itself. I couldn’t figure out how to flash (quickly dash) when playing in multiplayer mode using a joycon. Jumping and spell casting are other critical skills that need to be mastered before venturing out from the academy.

    While exploring and taking in the beautiful scenery, you’ll need to keep an eye out for treasure chests and collectible blue quills. The treasure chests can blend in and are not easily noticeable. I like how the game lets you know how many quills you have collected and how many remain on the level. Since backtracking isn’t always possible, you’ll need to stay alert at all times. Monsters will come from out of the ground and other areas and will start swarming and/or pelting your character with magic attacks. Your mage has a limited number of spells and mana at their disposal. Many of the creatures have elemental affinities so if you attack them with their weakness, you’ll do more damage. However, if you attack a fire creature with a fire spell, no damage will be taken. If you’re in a pinch you can do a melee attack but mages are pretty weak and can’t take too much damage before dying.

    If you’re playing solo you will get resurrected once before having to respawn from a checkpoint. Multiplayer co-op allows for unlimited revivals and if all of the mages die, a random one will be resurrected once like the single-player mode.

    Nine Parchments
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As long as you exploit the elemental weaknesses of enemies, they should go down with little effort and some dodging while you’re waiting for your mana to refill. The bosses are much more challenging and they all seem to be attracted to the parchments for some odd reason. Some of the battles take place in confined spaces and when you add area of effect damage, things get pretty hairy. When playing with friends you’ll have to take friendly fire into consideration as well.

    Though Nine Parchments is rated for everyone ten and older, there are some moral issues worth noting. Magic is a given and unavoidable since enemies will use it against you. Sticking with melee only attacks is suicide. When enemies and players fall in battle they do not bleed and there is no gore; they may break into pieces though. If you use an ice spell there may be chunks of ice left behind. I was saddened to see pentacles adorning some of the mage staffs.

    In the end, Nine Parchment is a well polished game that is best enjoyed with friends. Just make sure that your allies are accurate with their spell casting and don’t hurt you too badly. If you don’t like magic or occult symbols in your games, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

  • Nioh: Complete Edition (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Nioh: Complete Edition
    Developed By: Team NINJA/Koei Tecmo Games
    Published By: Koei Tecmo Games
    Release Date: November 7, 2017
    Available On: Windows, PS4
    ESRB Rating: M for Blood and Gore, Violence
    Genre: Action Role Playing Game
    Mode: Single Player with online co-op
    MSRP: $49.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Koei Tecmo Games for sending us this game to review!

    Nioh mostly takes place in historical Japan not long after Oda Nobunaga’s death. It starts in London, where the protagonist, William, has his childhood guardian spirit Saoirse stolen by the antagonist Edward Kelley. This spirit is quite powerful, as it allows him to easily locate Amrita, which is a spiritual energy with powerful effects in the real world, and is the reason Kelley stole it from him. His deep relationship with Saoirse is also why he never stays dead – after every fatal encounter, he is restored to the last Kodama Shrine that he prayed at. Amrita acts as experience does in most games, and he does lose all Amrita collected after death; if he wants all of that back, he better be prepared to work to find his grave again.

    Shortly after his initial encounter with Kelley, William determines to find Saoirse once again, and sets off across the world in search of her, which eventually leads him to Japan. What he finds there is a land filled with demons and death. He soon meets a ninja named Hattori Hanzo, and eventually makes an alliance with his lord, Tokugawa Ieyasu. William is soon renamed Anjin, and becomes the first foreign-born samurai.

    It doesn’t take too long before William’s skill with a blade becomes renowned in its own right. But this skill is not without work and sacrifice. As the player, you must learn and understand the movement, blocking, counterattack, skills, stances, and ki systems (at a minimum) to be able to do well against the many and quite tough opponents that you face. The first two levels, the ‘tutorial’ level in London, and the first Japanese level, were quite brutal to me, with many, many deaths required for me to have any hope of passing them.

    The combat is very fast-paced, with the 3D third-person action being both quick, and very precise. Even the simplest enemy can destroy you in about three hits. Blocking and dodging is required, and once you learn about the differences between armor weights, you soon discover that lighter armor leads to a more dodge-focused playstyle, while heavier armors lead to a blocking-focused playstyle, simply because you just can’t dodge that quickly. I found that, for me, medium armor with agility level ‘B’ was the best compromise between movement and armor. There are ten different types of weapons; three of them are ranged, with the rest various kinds of melee weapons. They are all interesting, and each one truly is different from the other. Not only do they differ in base stats, but also in how they feel while playing, as well as the skills that they offer.

    Nioh: Complete Edition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Long and interesting game with deep and rewarding gameplay; excellent graphics; lots of historical (or quasi-historical) lore; very challenging, and rewards skilled play
    Weak Points: The early part of the game is very frustrating until you learn how to play properly; long loading times; crashed once
    Moral Warnings: Lots and lots of violence, including tons of blood and gore; some female enemies wear revealing outfits, including lots of visible cleavage; some curse words like ‘h*ll’ and ‘b*tch’; lots of mystical references, including magic used by both enemies and the player; there are evil spirits (yokai) and friendly ones (guardian spirits) and the main character, William, can see them both, while most cannot; a magical substance, called Amrita, is something that only a small number of people can see, but it can both help and wreak terrible havok on the world; lots of political fighting, death, and intrigue, including discussion of mistresses; alcohol use shown

    Stat stacking is another seemingly simple mechanic that becomes much more important as the game goes on. There are many, many ways to increase various stats and bonuses as you go on. Each piece of equipment is randomly rolled. What bonuses it grants makes a huge difference in your effectiveness. If it was just equipment, that would be easy; but no, there are prestige bonuses, armor and weapon sets, guardian spirits, Kodama bonuses, and probably other things I am forgetting that all can add up to increases in power, skills, or other ways to increase effectiveness. And of course, you gain levels, too.

    Bosses took me many deaths, and lots of practice to figure out the patterns to get them just right. As your gear and skills get better, they do seem to be a bit easier – but just a bit. Living Weapons, which are powerful attacks that you can use with your guardian spirits, can really help turn the tide, or wipe out that last chunk of health once you have your enemy’s health down far enough.

    Unlike many games, Nioh has a humongous level cap of 750, and it has many difficulty levels that you use to get there. As you keep using New Game+, everything just gets harder and harder, and you get more and more powerful. With continuous loot drops, more and more skills and challenges to keep you going, there are many players with hundreds of hours into Nioh.

    And I have over 100 hours in myself, and haven’t quite beaten my first playthrough yet (though I am pretty close). There are six base regions, with even more in the included DLC (PS4 had the DLC released over time, rather than at release as on PC). Each region has between seven and nine areas, and some areas have more than one level to play each. On top of this, there are Twilight and Master missions, which can be even more difficult, but with greater rewards, too. The content quantity in this game is just immense. There is a ton to do, and plenty of value – even at full price. And the New Game+ grind just keeps it going for as long as you want to keep playing.

    There is very interesting lore, that I found even more fascinating once I realized that the William in this game is based on the historical figure William Adams, and that the Japanese figures represented are almost all based on reality. Yes, some artistic liberties are taken, and on some characters more liberty was taken than on others, but the game is overall based on actual history. As recent events corroborate, truth can often be stranger than fiction – but even despite all of this, it’s really the gameplay that takes center stage here.

    You will spend most of your time beating (or getting beaten by) various human or yokai enemies in Nioh. Yokai are evil corrupt spirits, not all that much different from demons or poltergeists. While humans can be powerful enemies, and sometimes definitely are, most of the nastiest foes are yokai. These enemies often take the form of undead skeletons, horned demon-beasts, odd umbrella-shaped creatures, and more. From what I read, many of the enemy designs are based on Japanese lore, so they are very interesting and varied.

    Nioh: Complete Edition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 96%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 58%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Not only are many of the creatures dark and magical, but your character also can speak to (generally helpful) spirits, often called guardian spirits. These represent your grave when you die, are the powers unleashed when you use your Living Weapon, and give various bonuses that can make a significant difference in your power level, or grant you a massive bonus against certain bosses. Your character can also use Ninjitsu skills or Onmyo magic, which often have elemental properties, and you can build a character to be mage-like if you wish, though you cannot truly neglect the way of the sword (or other chosen weapon).

    As you probably surmised by now, Nioh has plenty of violence, blood, and gore. You chop enemies to bits, and blood splatters all over the place during battle. Some scenes show many corpses that litter the battlefield. This game is definitely not short on blood. Fortunately, when it comes to curse words, they only very rarely use a PG-13 curse word like ‘h*ll’ or ‘b*tch’. There is discussion of political intrigue that includes putting close ones to death, as well as mistresses and such. There is nothing romantic on screen. Some female enemies show significant skin and cleavage, but no human females do that as I recall. There is alcohol use and drunkenness shown.

    I had a mostly bug-free experience, except for one crash, and a funny but inconsequential bug: if you Steam screenshot while watching a cut scene, the voices get really slow as the game slows down then catches up. It’s pretty funny, but does no harm. The gamepad controls are excellent; they more recently added mouse and keyboard controls, but this kind of game is probably best with a gamepad anyway.

    Nioh: Complete Edition is a truly excellent game, in both quantity and quality. The adventure is long and interesting, the battle and loot systems are varied and truly carry the game by itself, not to mention all of the other, deeper systems, like forging clans, online modes, and more. I really love how you can fight other player’s revenants, which are basically computer controlled AIs with the equipment and stats of the player character that died there. I got most of my best equipment from killing them, rather than enemies or monsters. (A double thank you to the guy who dropped an Odachi with AA Strength on it!) It’s awesome to think about who else I have helped with my great equipment, and I also wonder how many of my own pieces someone else improved, and then I got them back myself from their corpses.

    Nioh is fantastic – though not without its moral issues; I strongly recommend sticking with the M for Mature rating system on this one, assuming the dark atmosphere, bloody violence, and dark spiritual forces don’t keep you away from this title.

  • Octopath Traveler (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Octopath Traveler
    Developed By: Square Enix, Acquire
    Published By: Square Enix
    Released: July 13, 2018
    Available On: Nintendo Switch, Windows PC
    Genre: RPG
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol
    Number of Players: 1, offline
    Price: $44.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Different characters should interact with the world in different ways, and that’s exactly the premise for Square Enix’s latest old-school JRPG. Eight quirky characters await you on your journey, each with their own story and their own special ability they can use to overcome obstacles.

    Besides the beautiful 3D pixel art, the game looks and plays much like a polished Final Fantasy game from Square’s SNES heyday. You explore the world, brave random encounters, fight turn-based battles, and of course, level up your party. But upon this solid, well-worn foundation, Octopath Traveler delivers an innovation that is truly unique.

    Each of your party members has a special ability called a Path Feature, which they use not only to progress in their own story, but also as a way to interact with the world while they are in your party. For example, when the thief Therion is in your party, he can pick the pockets of any character you meet. And with the friendly alchemist Alfynn, you can delve past a character’s brief dialogue to get a deeper sense of their personality. This does wonders to make the world feel more alive, and much more fun to play in.

    Octopath Traveler
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A JRPG with real depth to its world. Character abilities provide a sense of discovery. Combat is among the best in the genre.
    Weak Points: Minimal character interaction. Repetitive.
    Moral Warnings: Aside from standard fare like fantasy violence and obscenity, there are serious themes of sexual exploitation that are likely unsuitable for most children.

    This is especially true when you use your party’s abilities in tandem with each other. Alfynn might learn that the spear Therion stole from an old woman was a memento of her dead husband, a fisherman. The knight Olberic can challenge any character to a duel, but when he is bested by a dung-slinging swineherd, you can use the dancer Primrose to take the boy into combat as a follower, where he can lob his biohazardous waste at any unfortunate goblins who cross your path.

    This all ties in nicely to the game’s nuanced turn-based combat system, which is one of the best in the genre to-date, alongside such luminaries as Bravely Default and Final Fantasy 6. Each enemy has weaknesses that you can target to interrupt their attacks and break their defenses. Along with the usual resources like HP and SP (mana), your characters also gain one battle point each turn, which can be used to power up abilities or attack multiple times. If you save them up, however, you can cash them in to unleash massive damage on a vulnerable enemy. In challenging fights, this all adds up to an intricate dance of death, with an immense sense of satisfaction when you prevail.

    For those who are more story-inclined, Octopath Traveler certainly has a lot to offer. It is jam-packed with quality writing and stories that are legitimately compelling. I enjoyed each and every one of the characters, a rarity for me when it comes to JRPGs, which are often littered with flat, one-note characters who I prefer to stash in the reserve core rather than travel with.

    My only gripe is the lack of inter-party dynamics, something that other RPGs like the Tales series and Fire Emblem do quite well. Lovely little merchant Tressa hates stealing because of the way it hurts the economy, but when it comes to her sticky-fingered companion Therion, she is conspicuously silent. This is a man who will literally steal medicine from a sickly child to pawn for a new set of daggers, yet she can’t even needle him a little bit about it? And once Alfynn learns that the feeble old woman is also half-blind, might he think about stopping Olberic from knocking her dizzy with a great sword and leaving her unconscious in her own drool? Sure, the ridiculousness of these juxtapositions is entertaining, but a few in-character conversations outside of the main story could demonstrate their relationships without spoiling all the fun.

    Octopath Traveler
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 57%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 1.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    I have already touched on it briefly, but underneath the good-humored veneer of Octopath Traveler is a veritable narcissism simulator. The characters, regardless of their backstory or personality, are expected to operate with the same cold, self-serving logic that we, the detached gamer employ. There is no reward for good behavior, or any kind of real punishment for pillaging and terrorizing your way across the land. Even as a relatively desensitized person, it’s hard not to feel guilty when you deceive a naïve farm boy into taking a spear for you in the depths of some dank cavern miles away from his sleepy hometown. Or when a merchant declares “I’m not one for physical activity,” as you coerce him into an unfair duel.

    These moral qualms are not limited to the decisions of the player either. The story of Primrose the dancer is particularly grotesque, hinting at, alluding to, and outright showing incidents of abuse, rape, prostitution, sex slavery, and murder at the hands of a vile tavernmaster. Despite the expressionless pixel art and minimalist voice acting, these scenes are as shocking as they are powerful. The implications of this (admittedly brief) portion of the game will raise difficult questions far beyond the scope of most T-rated games. The game doesn’t contain the kind of titillation and violence you might find elsewhere, but I would venture to say that most children are unprepared to face these themes without adult supervision.

    Overall, Octopath Traveler continues the trend of strong retro RPG offerings from Square Enix, cementing the notion that while Final Fantasy has moved in a different direction, the company still has a strong commitment to the traditional turn-based JRPGs that made them a major player in the video game industry. I couldn’t be more pleased to report that their latest adventure stands right alongside those seminal classics.

    -Dylan Sitterly

  • Omega Quintet (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Omega Quintet
    Developer: Idea Factory
    Published by: GhostLight LTD
    Release Date: April 28, 2015 PS4, December 15, 2017 PC
    Available on: Windows, Playstation 4,
    Genre: RPG
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen for Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol
    Price: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you GhostLight LTD for the key!

    I want to make a few things clear before we get this review underway. I have not been influenced by Christ Centered Gamer's moral scoring when when giving this game a score. Despite what people believe, I have no negative bias against Japanese pop culture. I have enjoyed extremely niche games of varying types despite people thinking I cant look past my own biases. That being said Omega Quintet is a boring game with strange design choices that make it an overall frustrating experience. Somewhere under all the "by the numbers" design is a unique title wanting to get out yet it never reaches that point.

    Omega Quintet stars the verse maidens, magical girls who slay creatures called the MAD using song and dance. These monsters are spawned by the Blare, a strange black substance that turns organic beings into MAD. With the old verse maiden Momoka retiring, it's up to Otoha and the newest verse maidens to defeat the MAD once and for all.

    Omega Quintet
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: The game has a fun and complex battle system, if you're the kind of person who loves complex skill trees and grinding this game's for you.
    Weak Points: The cutscenes are mostly just cute moment cutscenes and the story is poorly paced. Everything else in the game seems boring or unnecessary. 
    Moral Warnings: Underage dress up, clothes ripping up. A lot of sexual scenes.

    So I want to talk combat first because that's probably the best part of the game. The battles are turned based; the unique selling point is that through proper use of skills you can delay the enemy's turn. They can do the same to you. Past a certain chapter, you learn harmonics. This allows you to have the girls do attacks all at once, and if you use particular abilities you can activate chain skills. As you slay enemies in battle you build up a voltage meter up to level five. You can use this meter to activate live concert mode for a certain number of turns. While in live concert mode all of your abilities are stronger.

    The story I would usually judge based on the beginning, yet today we are going to start at the end. This story already targets a niche audience as it is and on its own I can't really hate it. However, the ending is where It becomes a major disappointment. If you don't do every single side quest in this game, you get locked out of the true ending. This game only has a bad ending and a true ending to speak of. The game's tutorials do say that side quests are optional. While it did tell me that they expire past certain points, I never knew they were that important. Without spoiling too much, the bad ending is basically everything is going to get worse but I won't give up. A game doesn't have to hold hands, but it should not lead you to a destination only to say, “hey I saw 100 dollars on the sidewalk today, I should have picked it up.” This also locks you out of the DLC story; two of the DLC's you can't access unless you complete the game's true ending.

    Omega Quintet
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 62%
    Gameplay - 5/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 50%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 2/10

    Everything past the combat and story is just fluff, filler, and waste. In the visual novel style cutscenes in the main hub, it's mostly just cute and ecchi (sexualized) moments. You can unlock new outfits for the girls, but these only provide insignificant stat boosts. It's mostly just to dress up your anime girls in what you find cute. Equipment that actually boosts defense goes in a separate section from the girl's outfit. Each girl has a separate skill tree, but they all learn the same abilities, save for a unique super move and a passive that's special to each girl. One girl might learn a water move in a certain spot, another might learn a weapon skill yet both of them will have the same skill options. There are five weapon types, yet I see no reason to switch weapons out between the girls. Each one starts with the type of weapon that seems to be meant for them. By completing quests you can unlock camera motions and dance moves to make music videos for your girls. Yet there is no gameplay purpose behind it. While I get they wanted to work in the J-pop idol side to the lives of these girls, they should have tried to work it more into the combat system. Even the character Takt, the girls manager, feels like wasted opportunity. All he is in this game is an extra attack.

    With morality, you're playing dress up with underage girls; a lot of the outfits are fetishized. You can decide what style of underwear they have on. The clothes ripping off in battle seems to just be for that perverted moment too, since the outfits are not the main source of defense. You can upgrade your outfits to be more durable. A Lot of cutscenes can also get quite perverted, from up-skirt shots to wet t-shirts. The violence is what you would expect, non bloody combat and the enemies just vanish upon defeat. Also they keep harsh language to a minimum. The magical element of this game isn't forced or added on.

    I haven't played many Compile Hearts or Idea Factory games yet from the popularity these games have, I'm sure they can do better. This concert flopped, but Omega Quintet might improve, if they ever have another show.

  • Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy (Vita)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy
    Developed by: Experience Inc.
    Published by: NIS America
    Release date: May 16, 2017
    Available on: Vita, Windows
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for blood, language, suggestive themes, violence
    Price: $39.99
    (Humble Store Link)

     

    Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

    Normally I’m pro-life, but in Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy there’s a giant alien embryo floating in the atmosphere and its goal is to destroy our planet. This alien life form must be stopped if we want to survive. Other squads have tried to infiltrate the embryo and failed; now it’s up to your squad, Babyl Company, to save humanity.

    Your squad consists of six characters that you can customize or stick with the game’s defaults in the basic mode. I played through with the basic party and was happy with the default character classes and abilities. One of my party members had a knack for detecting hidden doors and items throughout the dungeons. Two of my squad members were experts at disarming traps that were left behind from conquered foes. I had stronger characters for physical attacks and smarter characters who used magic for healing and attacking the many foes that we faced.

    Of course in order to have a party member be good at any skill, they’ll need their attribute points spent wisely when they level up. You can spend points increasing a squad member’s strength, wisdom, spirit, physical, speed, and luck. Besides the character’s main abilities, you can infuse them with the blood of a legendary hero from the past to give them some new ones! There is blood available from Florence Nightingale, Leonardo da Vinci, Jeanne d’Arc, Genghis Khan as well as some Japanese war heroes.

    The headquarters is where you’ll get to see current missions, heal up and recharge magic points in the medical center, purchase/tweak equipment, and recruit more team members if need be. Sadly, I experienced a failed medical treatment while trying to revive a dying squad member and had to replace him with a new recruit. It was such a formidable foe that I’d rather retrain a character than fight it again.  In the medical center, you can purchase experience/growth points with in-game currency.  

    Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fascinating story and plenty of puzzling dungeons to explore
    Weak Points: Like many RPGs, you’ll have to spend a lot of time grinding to power up your characters sufficiently
    Moral Warnings: Turn based fantasy violence; some blood and gruesome imagery; language (d*mn, b*stard, *sshole, bullsh*t); sexual references; smoking; partial nudity

    Each squad member can equip weapons, armor, and accessories compatible with their personality, blood type, and profession. My replacement party member equipped an accessory that bypassed the level requirement to allow him to wear the higher-level equipment of the recently deceased squad member. There are also accessories that raise or lower enemy variant levels for a greater or lesser challenge. The higher the enemy level, the better loot you may get.

    In this futuristic world, many resources are in limited supply. While you can buy unlimited tools that enable your party to float (allows you to cross deep waters or avoid shock floors) or map dungeons that don’t map automatically, other handy tools like revivals and power recorders (allows you to save inside of dungeons) are in short supply. Materials for upgrading and boosting weapons and armor are scarce as well. If you come across decent equipment, you can strip them for resources to make the tools that you need.

    In the beginning, your squad will be sent to various locations to investigate unusual disappearances and outbreaks of monsters/variants. Later on in the game you’ll have to take out seven bosses that are aiding the embryo in the destruction of our planet. While you’re tackling these urgent missions, wanted variants will show up and your team can completed these contracts of tougher than normal enemies for cash and a power recorder which is very handy.

    There’s a wide variety in enemies and they range from dinosaurs, killer whales, ogres, goblins, multi-racial zombies, and more. I have played many games with zombies in them, but having them categorized as African, Anglo, and Asian is new for me. The bosses are formidable and have some nasty tricks up their sleeves. Sometimes a party member can be struck with exhaustion which will lower their stats until they go on vacation in the medical center. Other times they can be temporarily removed from the party only to return with half of their health. My least favorite attacks are the critical hits which can knock out a party member in one hit no matter how much health they had. Revival items are in low supply so save them for higher-level boss battles.

    Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 4.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    To counter some of these attacks you can have your magic users cast protection spells to block physical or magical attacks. There are also spells for raising defense in general. Some of the spells are stackable while others are only good for one round. Each squad member also has skills they acquire as they level up. One of my fighters has the ability to take all the damage for a round which is quite helpful. Another skill is "evil eye" which lets you see the enemy’s health bar.

    One ability that I didn’t utilize until later in the game is the unity skills. As the squad fights together they will fill up the unity gauge and once it has a sufficient amount, it can unlock some helpful skills. You only need one unity point to escape a battle with a 100% success rate. Another helpful ability is the magical barrier which will block attacks for a limited time. Another unity ability is to do a powerful and coordinated group attack. The more you use the unity skills, the more unity points you’ll have at your disposal.

    The dungeons have a fair amount of diversity and some tricky puzzles in them. There are many locked doors which need to be opened via levers found elsewhere in the labyrinths. One of the dungeons required collecting several orbs and making them into a key back at headquarters. Thankfully, there is helpful Steam walkthrough (http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=965782796) available to help people like me who found all of the orbs but one.

    I like how the game has an auto walk feature that will automatically plot a course and send your party to a place that you’ve already explored on the map. Of course, your party will probably encounter several random battles along the way. Another handy spell is the Call Portal which will warp your party to a previously visited spot without the walking and battles. Not surprisingly, there are some dungeon floor tiles that will prevent you from casting spells and when you’re in the embryo, warping to and from is prohibited.

    All in all, Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy is a challenging, but fun dungeon crawler that will entertain you for thirty or more hours. Like many RPGs, expect to spend many of those hours grinding to become strong enough to take down the challenging wanted variants and bosses. This game earns its mature rating for language, violence, and gruesome death scenes. It's kind of humorous when the enemies cuss you out as you defeat them. Some of the missions have missing people and you don’t always find them alive, and in those cases their remains are not intact. On a lighter note one of the stereotypical detectives is a chain smoker and your director cracks a sexual joke at a really awkward time. Last but not least, some of the female characters and monsters wear some revealing clothing.

    If you enjoy dungeon crawler RPGs, Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy is worth looking into. It ran great on my Vita and is perfect for pickup and play as well as long grinding sessions. The visuals are nice (when they’re not gory) and the Japanese voice acting is well done. While this game isn’t suitable for young people, it’s a worthy addition for an adult’s Steam or PSN library.

  • Operencia: The Stolen Sun (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Operencia: The Stolen Sun
    Developed by: Zen Studios
    Published by: Zen Studios
    Release date: March 29, 2019
    Available on: Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for blood, use of alcohol, violence
    Price: $29.99

    Thank you Zen Studios for sending us this game to review!

    I have always enjoyed playing and reviewing Zen Studios pinball games. Their attention to detail and beautiful visuals have made their pinball re-creations quite memorable. I was excited to hear the news about them making a dungeon crawler RPG and I had high hopes for the finished product. While Operencia: The Stolen Sun is well polished and exceeded my expectations on its presentation, it unfortunately fell short morally as many RPGs do.

    The game begins with you playing as the heroic King Attila and his lovely Queen, Reka. Through their adventure of sealing the netherworld and defeating a ferocious dragon, you’ll learn about the game’s movement and battle system. The levels are in a grid pattern and the battles have three rows with the furthest row taking the least amount of damage when it comes to melee attacks. The battles are turn-based and initiative determines who gets to attack first. There are many elemental attacks and most of the enemies have weaknesses and immunities to pay attention to before attacking. I like how the chance to successfully attack is shown, though I was surprised by how often my party members missed despite a hit chance of over 80%.

    After the dragon is defeated, you’re taken to the character creation screen where you can choose your character's gender and appearance. There’s a handful of character designs to choose from and the hand-drawn avatars look great along with the rest of the 2D cutscenes and 3D dungeons. There are three different classes you can be: warrior, hunter, or mage. The cartography options include normal and hard; I went with normal so the maps could show important relics and other items I need to interact with. I also chose the normal difficulty level which lets me save and quit any time instead of at campfires only. The campfire is a neat mechanic and as long as you have firewood, you can rest to replenish health, magic points/mana, and refill potions that can be used in battle. You can save at the campfires even if you don’t have firewood. The last option you get to configure is permadeath and I opted to return to a campfire at the last save/checkpoint if my party gets wiped out. If you’re up for a challenge, you can have your game save file deleted if your entire party dies.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful visuals; fun gameplay
    Weak Points: Voice acting is hit and miss; not available on Steam yet and it could benefit from its community; the desktop icon to launch the game does not work
    Moral Warnings: Blood and violence; magic use and necromancy; occult symbols; mythology and religious warfare; alcohol; references to sexual escapades; homosexual characters; language (d*mn)

    Once your game settings and character are configured, it’s time to start your journey. My character was a farm girl who kept seeing the same vision several nights in a row. With her parent's blessing, she began her search for the underwater castle that was in her dreams. Sure enough, it existed and her life was forever changed. Shortly after entering the first dungeon you’ll meet your first party member, a thief who is trying to rescue the nine enslaved women in this castle and asks to partner up to make the task easier. Unlike many trapped women, these ones were widowed and not the stereotypical virgins often held hostage. I like how Operencia: The Stolen Sun breaks the mold a bit with this title.

    Your party can have three additional members besides the main character. At the campfire you’ll hear some banter between the characters and can swap them out. The voice acting is decent, but some of the voice actors are noticeably better than others. The dialogue can be rather funny at times. Each character has a backstory and unique abilities that they can offer during battle. Healing powers and attacks that can hit multiple targets are always welcome additions. Some potions can do that as well, but they’re in limited quantities.

    As characters level up, you can increase their attributes and assign active and passive abilities. One of the more helpful passive abilities is being able to regenerate mana with normal attacks. Other ways to regenerate mana in battle is to use the party abilities. Although powerful, party abilities take a long time to recharge so I recommend saving them for boss battles.

    Operencia: The Stolen Sun
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 46%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 2.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Enemies in the dungeon don’t seem to respawn so there isn’t much opportunity to grind or level-up. Thankfully it’s not needed as this game is well balanced. With the help of potions and party abilities I’ve been able to defeat all of the bosses I’ve met. There are some enemies that spawn others and they can wear out their welcome after the tenth one respawns with no signs up letting up. Other than those, most of the battles end rather quickly.

    One of the bosses is a homosexual ghost that used to be the spouse of one of your party members. I prefer to just hack away at enemies without knowing their sexual orientation. Hopefully the characters' private lives remain that way in future Zen Studios titles. There is some cursing (d*mn) and sexual dialogue. Apparently, after Queen Reka died, King Attila had many conquests in the bedroom. I suppose that's not much different than many of the kings in the Bible. Regardless, that’s banter I could have done without.

    Magic use is unavoidable and some characters have the ability to summon creatures from the depths. Later in the game, a pentagram shows up in the party abilities wheel so it’s hard to avoid seeing it. There are references to various religions and feuds between the new and old faiths. Blood is shown when attacking enemies. Last but not least, there are references to drinking and alcohol.

    If it wasn’t for the many moral issues, Operencia: The Stolen Sun would be an easy recommendation. There’s much to like with the good dialogue, solid gameplay, and many riddles and puzzles to solve. Sadly, Operencia: The Stolen Sun is not available on Steam yet, but that hasn’t stopped people from posting questions on the Steam page forums. Epic doesn’t have forums, or a working desktop shortcut for that matter. When I was stumped by one of the puzzles I found the hint I needed on Zen Studios’ forums. I’m happy to report that I was able to solve most of the puzzles on my own though. If you like dungeon crawlers, puzzles and don’t mind the many moral issues, Operencia: The Stolen Sun is worth checking out.

  • Outward (PS4)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Outward
    Developed By: Nine Dots Studio
    Published By: Deep Silver
    Released: March 26, 2019
    Available On: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Role-Playing
    ESRB Rating: M for Mature: Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Violence
    Number of Players: up to two players split-screen or online
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you, Deep Silver and Nine Dots Studio, for sending us a review code!

    I see that your curiosity has gotten the better of you, traveler. You want to go on another adventure—one that feels truly unknown. One where you fight for survival at every turn. If those were the words that make you sweat with anticipation, come to the world of Aurai. Outward, developed by Nine Dots Studio, is an open-world RPG where a deeply rewarding experience awaits those who are willing to best it.

    In the world of Aurai you are not some chosen one, nor are you the hero of legend or even the last surviving member of a clan. You’re just some random citizen who happened to survive a shipwreck from a return voyage. Shortly after being brought home, you are politely greeted by your angry neighbors. A Blood Price has put on you since you are missing on four months of payments and you only have five days to either pay 150 silver or earn a Tribal Favor or you will lose access to your home, the lighthouse. The first thing that Outward teaches you is that some of the quests you will partake in are time sensitive. After you are given the bare essentials, you are then set off to do whatever you want.

    Outward hosts survival mechanics such as the typical hunger and thirst mechanics. Typically I groan whenever I see mechanics like these, but Nine Dots tied them towards a buff/nerf system. They are not required towards living or not, but you will want to tend to them to have as smooth an adventure as you can. Other survival mechanics include sleep and comfort. Getting adequate sleep, just like in real-life will keep your health and stamina healthy. Comfort level actually relates to the weather. Weather effects such as rain, snow, and extreme heat can occur and some of these have higher chances of happening depending on where you are. Be sure to dress appropriately or you’ll fall ill. The world changes from day to night constantly; all sorts of beasts and bandits will lurk through the shadows when the sun sets. No one is stopping you from traversing the darkness, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

    Every adventurer should be prepared to face whatever challenges await, which is why you need an appropriate backpack for your travels. Backpacks are not automatically equipped, nor do they belong to an upgrade system. They must be manually acquired and can be dropped at any point. The essentials can range from potions, bandages, and antidotes to keep you healthy, rations and waterskin (water pouch) to keep you well fed, materials to fix your weapons and items, and other items like firewood and a portable tent to rest safely. Getting from one major city to the next is quite the journey in itself. For those who are used to a fast travel system—there is none in Outward so everything must be traversed by foot. Even the map ingame doesn’t mark where you are, only the general layout and some landmarks. A realistic experience that rarely holds your hand. These (lack of) features may alienate a large group of video game players, but Nine Dots did this purposely—to provide a challenge for the people who may have grown up with these kinds of games.

    Outward
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good sense of immersion; incredible enemy design and great use of color; split-screen co-op
    Weak Points: Combat can feel clunky, especially during the beginning; huge open world that feels a bit too empty at times; difficult, although for the wrong reasons; bugs such as crashes and moments where music does not play
    Moral Warnings: Mystical and mythological creatures ranging from manticores to the undead; enemies bleed when struck; very mild language such as “d*mn”; the world practices monotheism and have a god that the inhabitants can worship—one of which you can pledge your loyalty to; some bodies can be seen hanging from posts, said bodies are typically half naked; there are a lot of classes that use magic and at least two of them are occult-based

    When you finally get into your first few fights, the combat takes center stage. Truthfully, the combat can feel clunky especially in the beginning. Hits feel weightless and cumbersome, enemies rarely stagger and everyone outclasses you quite hard. You’ll start off with light and heavy attacks, tied to your stamina. Successfully blocking attacks also decreases your stamina as well as running or dodging attacks. Health is fairly self-explanatory, but Outward does something somewhat unique with them. The more damage you take or the more actions you use that consume stamina, the lower your maximum health or stamina becomes. The only way to fully recover these bars is to get a good night sleep. Of course since the world hates you and wants to see you suffer, you’ll probably be low on both of these for the first ten hours. There are a few ways to make combat a bit easier such as dodging to the opposite of the enemy’s dominant hand or temporarily dropping your backpack to give you faster movement.

    Problems with the supposed difficulty of Outward show in the early parts. In most cases, your armor will consist of simple cloth and your weapon will most likely be something basic like a stick or a machete. You’ll quickly come across bandits (who love to attack in groups by the way), mythical creatures who can potentially take you out in one hit while also taking a long time to kill, knights and mages, and traps that will cause you to bleed to unconsciousness. In Outward, you never actually die. You’ll fall to unconsciousness no matter how hard of a beating you take and a few scenarios can play out. If you are beaten by bandits, you’ll typically be taken to their camps. If you happen to fall from a negative effect such as bleed or poison, you might just be saved by a traveler and brought to an inn. Outward starts off hard, but more in an “unfair” sort of sense, but progressively gets easier as the game goes on—and not because you’re exactly getting “better” at the game either.

    Possibly the third thing you may have noticed is that there is no leveling up whatsoever. A lot of you might be used to the whole leveling up aspect of most RPGs, but the “role-playing’ part of Outward comes from the uses of skills. Skills are taught by teachers and trainers, usually for money. Many of these skills belong to a skill tree and this is when you can become one of eight “classes” or a hybrid of two. These classes can range from the typical rogue and warrior to the not-so-typical rune sage and Kazite spellblade. This is where the combat starts to find its legs but also where it gets a lot easier. Active skills can be assigned to one of eight shortcut slots and these classes rely a lot on both the active, passive, and breakthrough (a special kind of passive) skills—all of them being very powerful. Once I was able to get my rune sage going, I was more or less a walking maelstrom of destruction. The rune sage, in particular, feels great as you have to combine certain runes together to attack, defend, or heal. The enemies that once were giving me difficulty, I was able to effortlessly stomp into the ground. Even the supposed late game enemies were barely able to touch me. I feel that the overall difficulty was done the wrong way because of this oversight.

    Outward and the world of Aurai is very pleasing to look at. The graphical fidelity isn’t all that amazing as the textures themselves look like a game that came out in the late 2000s. Nine Dots compensates the lack of graphical prowess with great use of color. There is one particular area (within the starting area of Chersonese) that is filled with purple flowers—and the transition into the area is absolutely beautiful. The visuals only go up from there when you start to reach other areas such as the Hallowed Marsh and Enmerkar Forest. The creatures also look fantastic and I feel that the design of these enemies is Outward’s strongest feature. They are simply incredible and seeing the next mythical beast left me more surprised than the last. The music also complements the atmosphere and although most of it is the typical “adventure” music, there are a few standout pieces such as the music that plays in the town of Monsoon; filled with whimsy, curiosity, and a sense of relaxation.

    Did you know that all of this can be experienced with a friend? Outward has a co-op feature, that also extends to local split-screen. If playing through online, you can make your session available for a friend to join at any time. Due to no matchmaking, I was unable to utilize the online features but was able to do local co-op for a few hours. The game runs basically the same, but with a friend—and some frame drops. Items and loot can be shared amongst each other. Perfect with a friend or your other half.

    Outward
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    In about seven sessions of me playing prior to this review, each lasting around five hours on average, I managed to run into a crash or some kind of graphical or sound bug at least once. Maybe I’m just unlucky, but I’m assuming that the crashes I’ve experienced were the real reasons as to why the game has an autosave feature. But hey, if a small team of ten can make a game where its worst stability issues are some crashes here and there I’d say they’re doing a pretty good job, unlike another company with a couple of wildly successful RPGs under their belt.

    Like any adventure, you’ll come across some rather questionable aspects. Early in the game, you’ll have the choice of joining one of three factions. One of the available factions is called The Holy Mission of Elatt. The Holy Mission of Elatt is a religious faction, and Elatt is the god of discipline. Other things include mythical creatures such as manticores, giants, wendigos, and undead creatures like skeletons and liches. Magic is very common throughout the world; both you and your enemies have access to them. The philosopher and mage are more or less based on the teachings of Elatt.

    Violence is a given, and enemies bleed when hit. Interestingly enough, corpses tend to linger around even when loading into another area. There are moments where bandits tend to hang bodies from the outsides of their camps. These bodies are also half naked of both the male and female variety. No genitals are shown, however. Mild language is uttered through dialogue, but the worst I heard was “d*mn.”

    If you ever had a conversation with a friend, colleague, or even a conversation with an online stranger and they recommended you a game while saying something along the line of “it gets good twenty hours in!”—Outward happens to be one of those games. However, Outward also has a lot of features that don’t appeal to a mainstream audience, rather taking pride in their nicheness. If you’re not part of the intended audience of hardcore, authentic features you will not like this game no matter how many hours you put into it. Beneath its flaws and issues is a game with passion and heart behind it. If you do happen to be part of the intended audience, you’ll love the sense of immersion that Outward presents, especially with a friend. A current game with split-screen co-op campaign deserves recognition as it is becoming increasingly rare these days. Also, anything is more fun with a friend.

    Outward ended up being one of the more polarizing games I’ve played this year, whether it has to do with its mechanics or morals. There are aspects of this game that I really adore, yet there are other aspects that gave me great annoyance. I may not exactly have a love for Outward due to the fact that I found myself quite bored with it half the time; however, I can still see that it is a satisfying game if it happens to appeal you. Get it with a friend, and if you have the choice, get it for the PC as the general text, layout, and controls seem to be more designed with a keyboard and mouse in mind. If everything that I’ve said still hasn’t deterred you from Outward, keep this one in your sights as there are plenty of surprises that I have not touched upon. You can easily get at least a hundred hours out of it as there is a lot that this world can offer.

  • Paper Mario (N64)


    I've spent 150+ hours playing this game. I beat it 4 times. Why? Because it's so addictively fun, and it's hard to stop playing.

    Story/Plot

    Paper Mario follows the same basic plot as all Mario games. Bowser kidnaps Peach. Mario rescue Peach and defeats Bowser. While staying with the basic plot Paper Mario is a slight variation. In the very beginning of the game you see a story (from a book) about the star spirits and the star rod. The star rod has the power to grant wishes to anyone. The star spirits have used it to keep peace and harmony throughout the lands. As the story continues, you see Bowser stick into the book a magikoopa, who proceeds to steal the star rod. Bowser makes himself invincible, then goes to Peach?s castle and suspends it in space. He also imprisoned all the star spirits through the lands and placed guardians over them. Your task is to collect all of them and use the combined power the overthrow Bowser, save Peach, and restore peace and harmony to the world. While not a new plot, it feels like a true Mario game. Really, doesn't everyone wish they were a plumber who saves the world, again and again?

    Game play

    In Paper Mario you have three major stats that govern your abilities, Heart points, Flower points, and Badge points. Heart points are your health, Flower points are used for special battle moves, and badge points are used for putting on badges. Mario has two basic attack moves, Jump, and Hammer. Mario can equip different badges for variations of these moves. In addition to Jump and Hammer attacks, you receive star moves every time you rescue a star spirit. During the game, when you defeat an opponent you receive star points. When you collect 100 star points you level-up Mario. When you level-up Mario you can choose one of his three stats to upgrade. If you upgrade heart points, you may not have enough attack to finish off enemies. If you upgrade your flower points, you may not have enough health, and you may not have a lot badges to use your flower points. If you upgrade badge points, you may not have enough health, and you may not have enough flower points to use you badge moves. Simplistic, yet complex enough the system works incredibly well for this game. Also you can purchase items. Items work to both restore heath and to use in battle. In the game there is a cooking system (with the lovely Taste T.) that allows you to make special item. Overall a well-designed system, that is easy to learn and hard to master.

    Sound

    You don't really notice the sound in the game. It blends into the game seamlessly. The music is classic Mario, and gives the game a true Mario feels. Battle sound effects are well done and add to each battle. They can be changed with a sound fx badge for custom battle sounds. Well-done sound, which adds to the game.

    Graphics

    Absolutely gorgeous graphics. The best I\'ve seen for the 64. I can't see how they could be better. The world is storybook like, and cute looking. Very detailed environments. Each town feels like a place in a real world. The graphics bring you into the story and make you feel a part of it.

    Appropriateness

    A very family friendly game. Probably the most clean RPG game. The only slight issue is the talk of the star spirits. The spirits grant wishes and keep the world in order. Also there are magicians that can cast a spell on you to make you better in battle. However these aren't dwelled upon very much. Overall probably the best game for the 64.

    Story/Plot: A Game play: A Sound: A- Graphics: A+ Appropriateness: B
  • Paper Mario Color Splash (Wii U)

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    Game Info:

    Paper Mario Color Splash
    Developed by: Intelligent Systems and Nintendo
    Published by: Nintendo
    Release date: October 7, 2016 (In USA)
    Available on: Wii U
    Genre: RPG with some action-adventure elements
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
    Price: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    One day on a stormy night Mario gets a knock at his door.  Turns out it’s Peach and Toad!  Except they don’t look very happy.  Mario lets them in and Peach delivers him a letter, which in actuality is a color-drained toad!  Mario looks at where the postage stamp came from and turns out it’s from Prism Island.  Without hesitation Mario, Peach, and Toad travel through a storm on a boat and eventually reach Prism Island, only to find the place deserted.  It’s up to Mario to find out who did this and bring Prism Island back to normal.

    Color Splash gameplay-wise is very similar to its predecessor, Paper Mario Sticker Star.  Mario finds a 3D paint bucket named Huey, who is eventually turned into paper form by Mario.  Huey travels with Mario for the whole game and provides Mario with a paint hammer, which is crucial throughout the game.  Every area Mario explores is filled with colorless patches and using the paint hammer Mario can paint them back to normal again.  Areas Mario explores range from forests to riding on a train.  Another gameplay element is called “cutout.”  Huey takes Mario out of the current place he is in and allows him to cut out a certain part of the environment in order to make it to unreachable places.  The catch with this is that you have to be EXTREMELY precise with where you're standing in order to make it work.  A hint is provided if you're near a place where you can use the cutout ability, but it’s hardly useful, if at all.  Smashing things with paint is extremely enjoyable and will have you looking for every colorless patch.  The environments are also enjoyable to explore as they are each unique.  I dislike the cutout ability because it requires too much precision in order to make it work.

    The turn-based battle system returns and Mario now uses cards to battle.  There are three different types of cards: normal cards, thing cards, and ally cards.  Normal cards are Mario's basic attacks ranging from jump, hammer, and variations of these plus other attacks.  Thing cards are powerful cards that play a funny animation that greatly damages your enemies.  Thing cards are required for most boss battles unfortunately.  Ally cards are similar to partners like in the original Paper Mario and The Thousand Year Door, except after the battle is over they disappear.  Cards can also be painted to increase attack power.  Oh, and the HP of enemies cannot be seen; you have to rely on looking at their sprite to see how much is left painted in them.  My honest opinion on the battle system is that it’s pretty bad.  Scanning through your cards is very annoying (as you can have up to 100 cards to search through), and the overall battle is just boring.  Bosses are a different story as you have to have a specific “thing” item in order to defeat most of them.  Though one touch I liked about the battle system is that enemies say little phrases every once in a while to provoke Mario to attack them, often revealing their strengths or weaknesses indirectly (so if a spiny said to jump on him, then that means you shouldn’t jump on him).

    Paper Mario Color Splash
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great exploration; graphics are amazing; dialogue is hilarious
    Weak Points: Battle system is boring and annoying; no original characters; story is bland
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; color gets sucked out of NPCs, which is basically sucking their life out; Bowser is possessed

    The story itself is pretty bland, but is an improvement from Sticker Star.  Bowser kidnaps Peach once again, but at least they give a reason behind why Peach is kidnapped besides just kidnapping her for normal reasons.  The idea of Bowser being possessed was a great idea, but they didn’t take it very far at all when they could’ve, and it ended up being pretty dull.  I’m glad Luigi and Bowser can talk in this game since they didn’t in the previous Paper Mario game.  The paint star memories of what happened before Mario came to Prism Island were a neat touch as well.

    Controls are good for the most part.  You can either play on the TV or just on the gamepad for off TV play.  Whichever one you choose the gamepad will be the controller.  Mario controls very nicely in this game.  The only time where I found the controls to be annoying was during battle.  As I mentioned earlier scanning through the cards is pretty annoying, and you have to do that via touching the gamepad screen.  This means you have to slide your finger or stylus back and forth over and over to be able to find the card you want, then paint it, and flick it into the battle.

    Audio is amazing in general.  It comes in very well and the music plus sound effects are awesome as well.  Each music piece feels just right in each area Mario is in.  Oh, and did I mention the graphics are the best in the series?  With this game being the first HD Mario game the graphics outdo every other Paper Mario game by far.  Even the animation of the paint splashing from your paint hammer is extremely nice to look at.

    Paper Mario Color Splash
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    After beating the main story there are a couple of side-tasks you can do.  There are these temples called Roshambo Temple and they play in a manner similar to Rock, Paper, Scissors.  Winning these Roshambo Temples will earn you ridiculous amounts of coins and, if you beat all three opponents, an exclusive card.

    Another side-task you can do is visit a museum that is located in a dojo house in the east part of town.  There you can donate cards of all types and in turn you will get access to different tracks in the game and artwork of different areas they worked on throughout the development of the game, including early artwork of Huey and other characters.

    The main moral warning in the game is that there is a lot of cartoon violence.  There is also a couple points during the game where NPCs are sucked of their color by enemies, and since in this game color is life, the enemies are basically sucking the life out of NPCs.  Mario also gets sucked of his color when he dies in a battle.  Also Bowser gets possessed by black paint throughout the whole game (and you can witness it happening), which makes him a bit more evil than usual.  When Mario visits a haunted mansion, he finds it filled with toads who are ghosts.  There are boos and dry bones as enemies, and there is a magikoopa named Kamek who uses magic and spells.  The bosses also use minor magic.

    My final thoughts on the game is that it’s very good overall.  When it was announced I was very excited and even preordered the game.  They fixed a lot of issues that were present in Sticker Star.  Some issues fixed are that exploration is no longer boring and they upped the amount of humor in the game.  Other issues are still around in this game such as the over-usage of toads and generic enemies but I didn't mind it hardly at all, especially with the amount of humor that was in the game.  My only real complaint is the battle system, as it's very boring and poorly implemented.

     

  • Paper Mario: Sticker Star (3DS)

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    Game Info:

    Paper Mario: Sticker Star
    Developed by: Intelligent Systems
    Published by: Nintendo
    Release Date: November 11, 2012
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: RPG
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E
    Price: $15.00 on LeapTrade

    In the toad town of Decalburg, they are preparing for the Stickerfest event where a comet comes down and grants their wishes.  In typical fashion, Bowser ruins everything by kidnapping Princess Peach, breaking the comet into pieces, and scattering them throughout the kingdom.  The comet’s aide, Kersti, blames Mario for touching the comet, not realizing that he was only trying to stop Bowser.  Being the gentleman he is, Mario takes her belittling politely and even offers to help gather all of the comet pieces and royal stickers to undo this mess.  In return, Kersti joins Mario and offers tips, training, and unique sticker abilities.

    Those who are familiar with the Paper Mario series will recognize the flat graphic style.  While there is 3D support which adds depth to the scenery, I turned it off on my 3DS while playing this title.  Perhaps it’s just me but I found that it got in the way.  Another reason is that my kids were often behind me and watching me play.  The bright colors and epic battles are entertaining to say the least.

    The battle system is unique in Sticker Star.  As the title implies, you use stickers to do various battle moves.  If you run out of stickers, you’ll have to run from battle.  While you can buy stickers in stores, I was a cheapskate and collected most of my stickers in town and throughout the levels.  You’ll find various hammers, boots, pow blocks, fire and ice flowers, poisonous and healing mushrooms, and more.  Some enemies drop stickers that they use if you defeat them in battle.  Generally speaking, stickers are pretty easy to come by.  The tough part is using them effectively and storing them in your limited inventory.  Fortunately, for each royal sticker you reclaim, you’ll get a new page added to your sticker album, which give you room for more stickers.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A fun and unique twist on the Paper Mario franchise by requiring stickers to do battle.
    Weak Points: Not the same formula as the previous Paper Mario games, but it’s still fun and fits in with the rest.
    Moral Warnings: Typical Mario style cartoon violence.  Haunted house level.

    Besides battle stickers, there are thing stickers.  Thing stickers include various objects that you will find in levels and are required for particular bosses or puzzles.  For example, in one level you’ll find a light bulb which you will need to replace the broken light in a dark room to reveal the contents inside.  Using stickers in the world introduces a new mode called “Paperizing”.  When you press the Y button on the 3DS, the world will totally flatten, and interactive areas will appear if there are places where you can pull or place stickers.  There are many occasions where you will have to paperize and flip ramps, windows, or doors in your favor.

    The last sticker worth mentioning is the secret door.  Each level has a door outline somewhere in it.  If you paperize and place a secret door sticker over it, you can go inside and collect treasure within.  Most of the time it will be a thing sticker, but you may discover rare stickers or an HP +5 boost.  Since this is an RPG game, Mario and his foes have health bars and when they deplete, it’s game over.  Fortunately, the game auto saves when you enter a level, and most have heart blocks to replenish your health, and save blocks to save your progress mid-level.    

    There are six worlds and they all have a boss at the end.  Thing stickers can do a boat load of damage if you use them effectively.  Most foes have weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  For example, if an enemy is floating, ground attacks won’t work.  Also, if they have spikes, don’t jump on them unless you’re wearing iron boots.  Kersti gives you an ability to do a slot machine battle spinner, and if you match up two or three icons, you’ll get multiple moves in one turn.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Sticker Star does not stray from the Mario series formula of catering to obsessive-compulsive gamers.  There are flags in Decalburg that will unfold and praise you for achieving various goals like getting fifty perfect battle spins, spending 10,000 gold at the sticker store, collecting every HP boost, every sticker, and so on.  I spent a little over twenty nine hours playing this game, and it could have gone into the thirties if I was serious about collecting everything.  You can go back and collect the missing items after you beat the game, so that’s nice. 

    Overall I enjoyed Paper Mario: Sticker Star.  While it does stray from the original Paper Mario series, I like the uniqueness that it adds.  The graphics and sound are similar enough in style where it fits into the franchise nicely.  The characters and dialogue are entertaining as well.  While many RPG’s out there are not family friendly, this is one that the whole family can enjoy.    

  • Paper Mario: The Origami King (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Paper Mario: The Origami King
    Developed By: Nintendo
    Published By: Nintendo
    Released: July 17, 2020
    Available On: Switch
    Genre: RPG
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    The Paper Mario series has gone through a lot of different changes since its N64 roots. While it was a traditional RPG for the first two entries of the series, the “sort of 2D but not really” franchise has seen games with wildly polarizing gameplay mechanics beginning with Super Paper Mario. The sixth game in the franchise, Paper Mario: The Origami King, might not be a gameplay return to form fans were expecting, but its amazing story and presentation more than makes up for that.

    Paper Mario: The Origami King tasks Mario on a quest to save the world from being folded up by antagonist Olly, an origami figure who wants to rule for eternity. After barely escaping from the clutches of the prospective king, Mario runs into Olivia, Olly’s sister who wants to stop her brother from exacting his plans. Armed with his boots and hammer, the duo will have to destroy the streamers covering the land as well as thwart the Legion of Stationery, sentient real-life office supplies terrorizing Toads.

    The main game revolves (quite literally) around a ring-based combat system. During each battle, enemies are scattered across a board, and Mario needs to rotate or switch the ring’s panels in order to line up enemies, which can then be defeated using attacks or items. Like Sticker Star and Color Splash, attacks are limited-use, but only break if you use them too many times. Attacks are frequently obtained through exploring the overworld or buying them. If you get stuck on a certain layout, you can use coins to either buy more time, or bribe your audience of Toads to help. More coins for either method means more assistance. While the addition of rings is a new concept, the execution can be simple for the first few hours.

    The main lineup style consists of most of the combat, though boss fights instead revolve around a path system. The board is still ring-shaped, but in these battles, panels are scattered around the board, which Mario must hit in order to activate. From ON switches that can activate other special panels to health pickups, all of these are necessary to counter the boss attacks, which will hit hard and frequently. These battles are the highlights of combat, as the bosses here are fleshed out, even if they only appear for one battle each. My personal favorite is a tape dispenser that acts like a typical Mafia gangster, and who tapes the ring layouts so you can’t move them. Each boss character has their own personality and attack behavior, which is innovative.

    Paper Mario: The Origami King
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Thoughtful and endearing story; wonderfully stylistic presentation and soundtrack; uses the Switch’s features exceptionally well; memorable and innovative boss fights 
    Weak Points: Puzzle/turn-based combat gets repetitive and limited
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence that can be a bit extreme and scary; use of in-game magic; idol worship mentioned; main antagonist has a prejudice for a certain species of character

    While I do love the boss battles, I understand that Paper Mario 64 or The Thousand Year Door purists might not like this somewhat simplified battle system. There are only a handful of unique boot and hammer attacks to obtain, and once you master the lineup battles, they tend to get repetitive and easy to manage until the endgame. If you were to consider this a real-time puzzle game with RPG elements rather than a full RPG, then this style is more justifiable. The first chapter which consists of destroying the red streamer is easily the slowest, as dialogue and expository details are handed out at a slow pace. Luckily, once you reach this point, the rest of the game moves by quickly.

    You’re also tasked with rescuing Toads from being crumpled, and will find them all over the place. By rescuing Toads, you’ll add them to your battle audience and will increase the effectiveness of their assistance, which gives you an incentive to find them all. While there is no explicit level progression here, by collecting MAX Heart powerups, you’ll be able to get a little stronger, add health, and instantly defeat weak enemies by hammering or jumping on them. Coins and confetti are the main currencies here, with the former being offered in huge quantities; however, there’s enough stuff to purchase which means battling does serve a purpose (since you can’t buy expensive upgrades with just the coins in the overworld). Confetti acts as glue to repair self-proclaimed not-bottomless pits, which will repair the world as well as grant coin bonuses and unlock sound tests should you completely repair an area.

    The strongest part of Paper Mario: The Origami King is its story. It’s one of the most mature and thoughtful narratives in the franchise, filled to the brim with tongue-in-cheek writing and pop culture references. While there aren’t permanent partner characters, there are a few allies that will assist you for one chapter; think of a fourth party member in a Kingdom Hearts world. They’re also every bit as memorable and unique as any party member in the first two games. The Origami King also tackles some serious issues, such as handling grief and even some frightening implications for the game’s world. It’s a great story that was the reason I stuck with the 25-30 hour campaign.

    While the main battle system feels limited and repetitive at times, the overworld exploration is top-notch. Paper Mario: The Origami King uses the Switch’s gyro and HD rumble features perfectly here, and they’re present enough that it complements the experience rather than feeling like it’s tacked on with uninspired controls. Throughout the game, you’ll use the 1000-Fold Arms with Olivia to grab things in the background or attack enemies. You aim these arms with the gyro controls on the Joy-Con, and even in handheld mode, this works great. If you want a more traditional input here, the gyro controls can be turned off in favor of button controls. In addition to the exploration, the game looks fantastic even in handheld mode; the paper is crisp and effects are wacky and colorful. The soundtrack is a blast to listen to as well, and is varied throughout the game. From a operatic introduction of diva rubber bands to metal stylings during a boss battle with Thunder Bros., there’s a ton of musical tastes and genres represented here.

    Paper Mario: The Origami King
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay – 15/20
    Graphics – 9/10
    Sound – 10/10
    Stability – 4/5
    Controls – 5/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence – 5/10
    Language – 10/10
    Sexual Content – 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural – 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 8.5/10

    While the Super Mario series is known for being family-friendly fun for all, don’t be deceived by Paper Mario: The Origami King’s E rating; this is perhaps one of the darkest Nintendo games to date. The game feels like Five Nights at Freddy’s in that gore and other extreme elements are toned down for children, but there are creative equivalents for this. Confetti appears after you defeat an enemy, and the way some baddies are disposed feels a lot like their guts are exploding. Some bosses leave their victims in a disturbing state, from a hole punch machine that rips out Toads’ faces as well as a pair of scissors that cut up characters and create a creature from the Paper Mache remains.

    You can also use your 1000-Fold Arms techniques to deliver some nasty finisher attacks to bosses, though these are only reserved for the sentient streamer office supplies rather than the beastly Velumentals. In addition, there are multiple sections that rely on scary imagery, such as Chain Chomps jumping out at you during a short segment near the end of the game, or a section taking place on an abandoned cruise liner with a Gooper Blooper threatening the player. It’s all done in a cartoony light with no blood present, but I’d recommend parents playing along if they plan on getting this for very young children.

    In regard to other content warnings, one of the early scenarios involve NPCs using the earth Velumental as an idol that is worshipped, with a tourist site being constructed near the lair of the Velumental. It’s used as a parody of false religion and no real-world equivalent is referenced. You’ll also use in-game origami magic with Olivia; again, there are no real-life equivalents mentioned. The main antagonist, King Olly, has a vehement hatred for Toads in the game, subjecting them to the most danger throughout the game. While this prejudice is present, the main protagonists and game establishes that this is an evil act that must be stopped. Other than these issues, the game remains clean in terms of language, with no ill sexual or ethical content present.

    All in all, Paper Mario: The Origami King is a uniquely fun experience with a great story that older fans of the series should check out. Much like origami, there's a lot that will unfold in this story.

  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GC)

     

    Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Developed by: Intelligent Systems Published by: Nintendo ESRB Rating: E For: Nintendo GameCube

    One of the best-kept secrets in the gaming world is Nintendo's contribution to the role-playing genre. Beginning with the Square-Enix-produced Super Mario RPG: The Secret of the Seven Stars on the SNES, and continuing with Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64 and Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga on the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo and its second parties have developed solid RPG's with great gameplay mechanics and clever plots. Now, Intelligent Systems ? the minds behind such great GBA RPG's as Fire Emblem and Advance Wars has continued that great tradition with the first Nintendo-produced RPG for the GameCube. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door certainly doesn't look the part of the epic RPG. But beneath that simple surface is a witty, lengthy, classic tale that makes this game one of the best of 2004.

    Gameplay:

    Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door takes a familiar road, at least at first. Princess Peach is kidnapped, and it is once again Mario's job to rescue her. Your journey begins in a city called Rogueport, which becomes the hub for your various adventures. The game is divided up into eight chapters, but also features a myriad of sidequests and other possibilities beyond the main mission that can significantly add to the playtime. Many of the sidequests have some connection to previously-completed chapters, and feel like reunions rather than just busywork. Paper Mario is a reasonably lengthy game, and I completed it all, including most of the sidequests, in around 40 hours. And Paper Mario's cutscenes are relatively short, so this game's play time isn't inflated by long interludes as many other games in the genre are. The game is divided into two main views, the field screen and the battle screen. The field screen looks much like a three-dimensional platformer with a fixed camera. In this screen, you can run around, talk to people, sleep at inns, buy equipment, and do all of the other things you can do in an RPG.

    Like a Mario game, though, you can also break blocks, jump onto platforms, hit switches, and enter warp pipes. Enemies are visible on-screen and combat begins when you touch them. You can gain a first strike by jumping those enemies, or they can gain a first strike by hitting you. Combat, once initiated, takes place on a separate screen, like most turn-based RPG's. The battle screen is essentially a stage, with an audience watching you. This audience is actually quite important, as they can both help you (by replenishing your star power) or hurt you (by throwing foreign objects at your characters). Actions are selected in a turn-based fashion from a ring menu. Most actions require you to input some sort of special button command, whether it be pressing a button at a specific time, lining up crosshairs, or pulling back on the control stick for a moment. In that sense, the game is turn-based but it is never static. Likewise, the game encourages you never to sit still, even when you are on the defense. Careful execution of specific buttons can allow you to defend or even counterattack against enemy assault, provided your timing is right.

    The game uses two special meters for special attacks: flower points (FP) and the star meter. Flower points allow you to use your weapons in special ways, such as Mario using his hammer to create an earthquake. The star meter used for unique abilities that are learned as you collect ?star crystals? through the game, and range from healing and defensive actions to powerful offensive attacks. Between these different meters, the game offers rather deep strategic combat. Adding even more depth is the leveling-up that takes place in the game. Mario earns experience points (called star points, not to be confused with the aforementioned star meter) that allow him to gain levels. Each level-up allows you to increase Mario?s HP, FP, or his badge points (BP). Badges are items with special effects, ranging from passive (increased defense) to active (new special attacks). There are dozens of different badges to choose from, and each badge uses a different number of BP, so a large part of the strategy is customizing your badges to fit your gameplay style. Your partners are also a key component of the game. You will accrue several partners during the game, though you can only have one of them active at a time. (You can also swap partners on the field or in combat if needed.) Each partner has his or her own unique repertoire of abilities and attacks that fit their character, and they are well-balanced; I found most of them to be about equally-useful in combat. Your partners also have specific abilities on the field screen that are needed to solve specific puzzles. Each partner also has distinctive dialogue for different situations, so part of the fun is swapping characters to see their different reactions to unfolding situations. The script writing in Paper Mario is some of the best I've seen in a long time, something one would not expect from a game like this. 

    The plot twists are very well-executed and the dialogue can be absolutely hilarious. I rarely laugh during a game, but during this one I laughed out loud on several occasions, much to the surprise of my neighbors, I'm sure. The game embraces cliche's  Peach, for example, wonders why she keeps getting kidnapped all the time and runs with them in a Galaxy Quest-type fashion that is so odd that it is believable. The localization is very good and the dialogue makes frequent allusion to ideas familiar to Americans. Expect to see clever references ranging from Vince McMahon to '2001: A Space Odyssey.' What astonished me the most about this game, from start to finish, was how wonderfully diverse it was.

    Each chapter's adventure is very different from the others, both in terms of plot and in terms of actual gameplay. Without spoiling too much, expect a little detective work, and a little arena action, and good old classic dungeon-crawling, among other things. The game really mixes it up, so much so that each chapter almost feels like a new game. The overarching plot is never too far from your mind, though, and Paper Mario does a superb job of connecting Mario's smaller adventures into the overall story. Throughout the game, too, expect a familiar cast of characters to grace the screen; Paper Mario is a virtual cavalcade of stars from the original Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario Sunshine, and every NES, SNES, N64, and Game Boy game in between. This game is crammed with characters and references to all manner of previous Mario games, but it is done in such a way that fans who aren't obsessed with Mario lore can still pick up and play this game with enjoyment.

    Graphics:

    Most everything in Paper Mario is done in a two-dimensional style, emulating a sort of cross between a cartoon and a pop-up book. Buildings ?fold open? like a book when you enter them, and some obstacles can be ?blown away? as if they were a piece of paper covering an illustration. These moments are a big part of the game and add to the atmosphere of being inside of a two-dimensional book. While this game doesn?t exactly push the hardware of the GameCube, it is still really pretty and features some colorful character models that faithfully take their cue from previous Mario incarnations. None of the combat effects are exactly eye-popping, but there is still the satisfaction of watching your enemies go belly-up at the hands of a POW block. Some may argue that the game doesn't take Mario forward enough technically, while others may call it a 'classic' look. Either way, the graphics are still acceptably good for a GameCube game and run smoothly and steadily.

    Sound:

    In terms of music and sound effects, the game does pretty well and is about what you would expect from a Mario title. The music borrows heavily from the tradition of Mario game tracks, with a few musical nods to previous games at different points. In my opinion, it is not the best score ever composed for a Mario-based game, but it is still pretty good and the combat themes have good staying power. The sound effects will be quite familiar to fans of the Mario games, with power-ups, warp pipes, and Mario?s own attacks sounding exactly like they should. That familiarity helps make this game feel at home in the Mario world. There is no voicework in Paper Mario. The game does feature extensive, and often hilarious dialogue that is enhanced by special effects (such as shaking letters or large fonts) but none of it is actually spoken. Intelligent Systems' decisions in regard to the game's voicework will probably inspire some controversy among hardcore Nintendo fans. Purists will laud the decision to keep the games as they have been in the past, untainted by potentially damaging voicework. Progressives will criticize Nintendo for remaining in the voicework stone age by keeping voices out of the Mario and Zelda series. For what it is worth, the absence of dialogue did not take away from my overall enjoyment of the game, and I suspect my mind's own rendition of the dialogue might actually be funnier than voiceovers anyway.

    Control:

    The controls are awfully good, adding real depth to the gameplay. On the field map, the game handles like a platformer and is every bit as fluid and responsive as previous Mario games. Jumping (A), swinging the hammer (B), using allied abilities (X) and other abilities are all very easy to perform. Inside of battle, the menu commands are easily accessed. Most of the game?s special attacks use some sort of special controls which are clearly explained on-screen. The game also lets you defend during combat by pressing A just before an enemy hits. Or, if you are ambitious, you can attempt a more difficult counterattack with the B button. But the controls always keep you closely connected to the combat.

    Appropriateness:

    This game is rated E, and it's overall content is clearly designed toward a broad, family-friendly audience. Just as Bugs Bunny cartoons once did so well, Paper Mario will wow the kids with its colorful visuals while the adults will laugh at the jokes that go right over the kids? heads. Most of those jokes are pretty clean, and unless calling a girl a 'hottie' offends you, you probably won?t find much to dislike about them. This game gets all of its laughs the old-fashioned way, and it works beautifully. Paper Mario follows in the footsteps of many previous Mario games by including ghosts, curses, spellcasting, and a few other paranormal references. Some of these instances, particularly in the latter half of the game, can be pretty dark and include references to spirit possession. It's unfortunate, too, because Paper Mario is otherwise a pretty clean game.

    Closing Comments:

    On paper (no pun intended), this game shouldn't work. It should be too cute to be epic, too clean to be intelligent, and too quirky to be engaging. And it isn't exactly the most technically robust game ever produced, either. But Paper Mario still manages to deliver an unexpectedly sharp plot and an outstanding action-packed gaming experience. I had absolutely no intention of ever touching this game until I played a demo one afternoon at Best Buy, but from that point on I was sold. And my experience with the full version of the game makes the demo seem like a cheap sideshow. In a year when RPG's like Tales of Symphonia, Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, and Baten Kaitos are plunging into the Cube library, Paper Mario stands tall right with them. But this game isn't a hardcore stat-fest, so many non-RPG fans will find its mix of adventure, humor, and action to be great fun. Plain and simple, Paper Mario is one of the best games of 2004. It is highly recommended for any Cube library or at the very least as a rental and is much fun for adults as it is for kids.

    Final Ratings:

    Gameplay: A Graphics: B+ Sound: B Control: A+ Appropriateness: B

    Overall Score: 91%

  • Persona 5 (PS4)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Persona 5
    Developed By: Atlus
    Published By: Atlus
    Release Date: April 4, 2017
    Available On: PS4, PS3
    ESRB Rating: M for Blood, Drug Reference, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence
    Genre: Role Playing Game
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

    The Persona series is over twenty years old now, and is part of the larger Megami Tensei series that dates even farther back, to the Famicom in Japan. These games, by both design and setting, are incredibly Japanese. Fans of deeply Japanese games have long loved this series, having really taken off in the West in the Playstation/PS2 era. Persona 5, like many of the games that came before it, takes place in modern day Japan. In this case, it's Tokyo. Much has been said about how accurate its portrayal of Japan really is; much of Shibuya and Shinjuku is said to be so accurate, that natives do not even need a map to know where to go.

    In Persona 5 (I have not played previous entries), the Metaverse is a cognitive world that exists because of the existence of various desires of the many inhabitants of Tokyo. Each of these desires or cognitions takes on the form of a shadow. These shadows can have a human form, or some kind of monster/Persona, or a further distortion, depending on the strength of the unnatural desire behind them.

    Personas are aspects of a personality taken form. Some Personas are a part of the character they represent; for example, your teammates each have one Persona they use basically the whole game, and it grows as they do. The protagonist, our unnamed and nearly silent hero, has the special ability where he can equip one of many Personas. (You get to name him, and he does gain the nickname 'Joker'.) There are over two hundred different kinds of Personas available to be discovered, most of which have to be earned through convincing them to join you during battle. Others must be unlocked or discovered through Persona fusion, which is a somewhat gruesome process where Personas are executed in order to have them fuse to make a new, hopefully more powerful one.

    Some distortions are so severe, that they create what is called a Palace inside of the Metaverse. Much of the game revolves around these Palaces. By entering them, you and your team of Phantom Thieves, which is what your gang calls themselves, can determine what aspect of the person behind the Palace is distorted, and you can even work to heal them of it. Major crimes and long held conspiracies are exposed, and sick and twisted desires are shown for what they truly are. The many forms of depravity explored by Persona 5 include sexual objectification, excessive greed, devaluing human life, and the unending pursuit of power. They each also take place in unique fantastical locales, with an environment that reflects how the Palace owner views each distortion.

    Persona 5
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Incredible art direction; great music and sound; fantastic voice acting; very engaging storyline; very lovable characters; deep and enjoyable game play mechanics; incredibly long adventure that never gets boring
    Weak Points: Might be too long for some
    Moral Warnings: Every common curse word, including God's name in vain, 'sh*t', 'd*mn', '*ss', 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd', 'd*ck', and 'f*ck'; some blood and violence; lots of sexual content, as both serious and light-hearted subject matter, including talk about rape or other forced sexual encounters; optional pre-marital sex, including with adults in authority over you, despite your character being 16 years old; some homosexual characters and jokes; women sometimes wear very form fitting clothes, including bathing suits; some monsters/Personas wear practically nothing, with fully exposed breasts (with no nipples); some other monsters/Personas are clearly shaped like male genitalia; game world areas are sometimes extremely dark, with twisted and distorted desires on display; all Personas and enemies (which can also be Personas) are aspects of personality, and run the gamut from angelic to demonic, and everything in between, including names like Gabriel, Michael, Satan, Lucifer, and a false god; Persona types based on tarot cards, and a fortune teller uses them

    This process is called 'stealing hearts', because the Palace owner has a change of heart once the process is complete. That is why the group's full name is 'Phantom Thieves of Hearts'. Once the Treasure inside a Palace is found and identified, this Treasure is stolen, which then triggers the change.

    What makes the Phantom Thieves unique, other than access to the Metaverse, which is pretty unique in itself, is that the characters exhibit a powerful will of rebellion against the status quo. By manifesting that rebellion in the Metaverse, they release their shadows and instead gain a Persona, which is a manifestation of that will, and some aspect of their personality takes over. For each, it's some exaggerated form of a dominant aspect of their rebellion. For example, for Ann, a very attractive model, it's a dominatrix Persona; for Ryuji, a rowdy former track team member, it's a pirate.

    For our unnamed silent protagonist, he has a unique power. He can manifest, erase, and replace aspects of his personality at will. Therefore, as mentioned before, he can gain more Personas, most of which are unlocked or discovered through battles. Since Personas are aspects of personality, they each has a human will to survive. As such, you can sometimes, when you are able to 'Hold up' (or threaten) the enemy you are fighting, negotiate with them, and they can join your cause. While being held up, you can also extort money or items from them as well. The easiest way to do this is to hit their elemental weak points, so it's good to have as many skills available as possible.

    Like many other games where magic is a major attack method, there are elemental strengths and weaknesses for each Persona. Some really powerful ones have no weaknesses; in order to trigger a 'Hold up', you will need to hit them with a critical hit, which can be a real challenge sometimes. The types of attacks are many; these include physical, gun, fire, ice, electric, wind, psy, nuclear, bless, and curse. Each Persona can be weak to, strong against, or repel attacks of that element. Of course, this also means that you can equip Personas like this, making you nigh invulnerable if you do it correctly.

    Battles are turn based, with most enemies visible in the game world around you. You can try to avoid them, and sometimes it works, but they are aware of their surroundings, so it's usually best to just sneak up on them and try to get the upper hand that way. Ambushes give you the first turn unopposed, which can really help. Of course try to avoid being ambushed yourself... that can hurt. With physical and gun attacks, various Personas with a limited number of skill slots each, and tactical commands like switching out party members, battles remain varied and interesting throughout the game.

    Outside of the palaces, there is a lot to do in this game. Tokyo is a huge place, and you have the opportunity to go to school, meet lots of people, get part time jobs, and deepen your relationships. You will spend at least half of the game deciding what to do each day. As you meet key people who help you on your quest, you then gain Confidants that not only have interesting character arcs, but also can help you indirectly in battle. For example, one Confidant gives you the ability to negotiate better during 'Hold up' situations. Another grants you the power to switch out to any other character with any character – very powerful, indeed.

    And each Confidant grants additional experience when fusing Personas of their arcana, which makes a huge difference, especially late in the game. There are over twenty arcana, and a Confidant for each. Each is based on a tarot card. A significant amount of time will be likely spent in the Velvet room fusing Personas, and trying to unlock new ones.

    Spending time with your Confidants isn't just for battle uses, but also there is a romantic subplot with each of the female characters. You can choose to date any woman who is above a certain rank. You can also choose to be faithful to one girlfriend, or be a jerk and date several (or all) at once. This can't possibly end well... There is premarital sex with your girlfriend(s), though it is not always explicitly obvious. Some of the women you can date are much older than you, and at least one indulges in a common male high school fantasy, with someone who is in authority over you. I don't know about Japan, but things like this often result in jail time here in the U.S.A.

    And that brings us to perhaps the most difficult part of Persona 5 – the many, many, moral issues to be aware of. It must be said up front that this game is for adults only. The M rating is there for a reason – despite the fantastic anime art style, this game deals with many mature themes and is not for children of any age.

    Persona 5
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 98%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 31%
    Violence - 3/10
    Language - 2/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    The reasons for this are many. The spiritual aspects are legion (not to be confused with the Legion Persona). People's shadows take many forms, and the Personas even more. These include angelic ones like Michael and Gabriel, and demonic ones like Satan, Lucifer, and 'Satanael', which is supposed to be Satan before the fall (and God's second son) and is the game's highest level Persona. The symbolism is obvious, as he kills a false god with the seven deadly sins. There are others based on pagan gods, like Anubis, Thor, Baal, and many more that I have likely forgotten. One of a character's skills resembles a pentagram. Persona types are based on tarot cards, and there is a fortune teller that uses them.

    When the main character receives his Persona at the beginning of the game, it is said that you make a pact with a dark power that is chained to Hell. These Personas are the rebel's soul that resides in each person. It is unleashed by detesting the enemies, and using that animosity to unleash the power within you. Rebellion against society and wrongdoing is a common theme. Like many other games of this kind, it uses the 'use darkness to defeat greater darkness' concept.

    Of course moral issues surrounding Personas extend beyond just their spiritual implications. There are many males and females wearing practically nothing (though all private parts and breasts are Barbie smooth or covered). Several are sexually themed, like a dominatrix Persona, and some are clearly phallic, with one that is clearly a male body part with little left to the imagination. Some descriptions of Personas are also sexual or otherwise mature in their details.

    The circumstances our human friends find themselves in are rather shocking and mature. There are threats of violence, sexual and otherwise. Prostitution as a societal sin is discussed and dealt with. A teacher is abusing students, both physically and sexually. These topics are all addressed in a mature manner, and mostly appropriately, but still not for children. Murder, suicide, the mafia, blackmail, animal abuse, and other difficult and mature topics are also addressed. There are also many examples of abuse of power and using relationships for personal gain, with often disastrous results to those being abused.

    Human girls wear very revealing bikinis, and some jokes are made about the male gaze, including a desire of one to paint a nude model 'for art'. An attractive girl is noted to hold down her skirt or point out guys trying to look down her shirt. One girl is seen wearing a tight leather outfit and carries a whip. As mentioned before, the main character can have one or many girlfriends (with consequences if he takes more than one), and has sex with them, including with grown women. A maid service exists in the game, and sexual services being available is implied, though you are too young for those services.

    Language is also fully in the adult camp, with every common curse word uttered, including God's name in vain, 'sh*t', 'd*mn', '*ss', 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd', 'd*ck', and 'f*ck'. At least one character uses foul language fairly regularly, with 'd*mn' and 'sh*t' heard in battle. There are times when you need to lie to proceed.

    There is some violence, including mostly RPG violence, but there are bloody scenes, mostly in the prerendered anime cutscenes. There is a scene where a bullet kills another and blood splats, and whenever a Persona is unlocked, they pull a mask off of their face, and blood sprays when this happens. Also, when Personas are combined, the process is called Execution and you see the gruesome task performed as a bag is put over their heads and a guillotine is used to execute them. Thankfully, the guillotine execution can be skipped, as you have to perform it often whenever fusing Personas.

    Despite all of this, there are some positive references to Christianity, as well as references to Shintoism. There is a Shinto temple and a church, and at the church you even learn about Jesus' Passion and it describes the Crucifixion. A priest explains the anguish, forgiveness, and resurrection of Jesus, and how he bore the sins of mankind. There are other references to the Bible, like the Parable of the Talents. Phrases like 'thank God' and 'oh my God' are also used.

    Despite all of this, Persona 5 in an incredibly memorable game. It took me over one hundred and fifty hours to complete, and there is still a new game plus available if one is so inclined. The voice acting and music is phenomenal. The art style is so incredible that hundreds (thousands?) of memes have sprung up all over the internet celebrating it. The characters are wonderful, and you come to love each and every one of them. As a game, it is a solid game of the year contender for sure. Like the very best games, you feel sad when it's finally over, despite it sucking up months of your life. The many and numerous appropriateness issues must be considered carefully before any purchasing decisions are made. This game is for adults only, and I can understand why many may decide to avoid it altogether. But if you do decide to play it, it is an experience you won't soon forget.

  • Persona 5 Royal (PS4)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Persona 5 Royal
    Developed By: Atlus
    Published By: SEGA/Atlus
    Release Date: March 31, 2020
    Available On: PS4
    ESRB Rating: M for Blood, Drug Reference, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence
    Genre: Role Playing Game
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

    Persona 5 is one of those games that almost set the standard for RPGs in 2017 when it was released - it gained a huge fan base, and even spawned dozens (hundreds?) of internet memes. It's hard to overstate the impact it had - and it was pretty well deserved. After all, it managed to not only make a game overflowing with style that people enjoyed, but it kept their interest for 150 hours without ever being boring. However, the folks over at Atlus never seem to be happy creating a Persona game to just leave it alone; ever since Persona 3 FES (and later with Persona 4 Golden), each time they have released an updated version with significantly expanded content a few years later. Persona 5 Royal is that new release for Persona 5.

    For this review, I am going to focus mostly on the differences, and maybe some of the more philosophical changes with this new game. I would highly recommend that you read my original Persona 5 review, as everything I explain in there applies here perfectly well. While there are some subtle gameplay differences, everything in that review pretty much applies as-is.

    It had been a while since I last played Persona 5 when I started up Royal, and the flashy art style and excellent music certainly don't disappoint this time around either. I also appreciate the greatly improved resolution on PS4 Pro - it seems to render at, or very close to, 4K. I will say though that when you unlock your Persona, or the manifestation of your spirit of rebellion that gives you power, I was once again struck by how occult and dark that process is. You make what is basically a pact with a creature that looks like a demon, and they say this power chains you to hell. I was a bit shaken by this hearing it all again. With that said, the darkest parts of the story are front loaded - which is to say the first parts of the game are the darkest, with the stories getting more and more interesting, and sometimes light-hearted, as the story goes on. There are exceptions to this of course; things take a sharp turn for the worse as you might expect pretty far into the story.

    On the whole, the gameplay is pretty similar to how it was in the base Persona 5. The protagonist, whom you name but is nicknamed Joker, still meets Ryuji, Ann, and Morgana early in the story, and you quickly gain your Persona powers. You gather additional party members throughout the story, and if you make it past all of the original Persona 5 content, you can gain a final one as well, if you increase your confidant links appropriately. (Hint: The two new characters, plus Akechi - max them out ASAP.) In combat, Joker is special, in that he can switch Personas at will, as he can gain more by convincing them to join him, or by fusing them together in the Velvet Room. (This is a special place where Persona maintenance occurs.) All other characters have a single fixed Persona, but they are appropriately powerful and grow along with each character. Nevertheless, the Personas Joker can fuse by the end of the game massively outclass anything else.

    Persona 5 Royal
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: New characters are great new additions to the cast; new semester and palace is incredibly interesting; great quality-of-life improvements over the original Persona 5; graphical enhancements on PS4 Pro include 4K resolution and look great; incredible art direction; great music and sound; fantastic voice acting; very engaging storyline; very lovable characters; deep and enjoyable game play mechanics; incredibly long adventure that never gets boring
    Weak Points: Might be too long for some; debatable if players who already played Persona 5 should double-dip; the huge difficulty spike for the reworked Okumura Palace boss was very much unwelcome
    Moral Warnings: Every common curse word, including God's name in vain, 'sh*t', 'd*mn', '*ss', 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd', 'd*ck', and 'f*ck'; some blood and violence; lots of sexual content, as both serious and light-hearted subject matter, including talk about rape or other forced sexual encounters; optional pre-marital sex, including with adults in authority over you, despite your character being 16 years old; some homosexual characters and jokes; women sometimes wear very form-fitting clothes, including bathing suits; some monsters/Personas wear practically nothing, with fully exposed breasts (with no nipples), while others wear form-fitting clothes that show nipple bumps; some other monsters/Personas are clearly shaped like male genitalia; game world areas are sometimes extremely dark, with twisted and distorted desires on display; all Personas and enemies (which can also be Personas) are aspects of personality, and run the gamut from angelic to demonic, and everything in between, including names like Gabriel, Michael, Satan, Lucifer, and a false god; Persona types based on tarot cards, and a fortune teller uses them

    Each dungeon or however you refer to them is called a Palace in this game. Each Palace has a ruler, whose distorted desire created their Palace. The contents of the Palace mirrors the view of the owner/creator, so you can get a good idea of what they really think by going in there. If you steal their Treasure, they can then have a change of heart. This is what the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, the name of your group, is there to do. There is also the Palace of the shared unconscious, called Mementos. Inside either a Palace or Mementos is where all combat takes place.

    All battles are turn-based, and outside of standard physical or gun attacks, all require either HP (hit points) or SP (skill points) to be used. Skills range from healing, support, status, or attack skills. Attacks can be one of eight magical or two physical types, for a total of ten strengths or weaknesses to consider for yourselves or enemies. Hitting a weak point can grant the attacker a significant advantage and turn the tide of battle, so it’s important to note them. It’s also much easier to acquire new Personas if you hit their weak points.

    Your primary enemies are called Shadows, which is the term used to refer to the game’s enemies, and they typically transform into some form of Persona in battle. Since Joker can collect Personas, convincing them to join you is a major mechanic required in order to gain power. I can’t even imagine how you’d do well in this game if you didn’t properly exploit Persona acquisition and fusion. Just thinking about that idea scares me.

    One major area of improvement is something rather simple: they changed how guns are managed. In Persona 5, you had a certain number of gunshots per day – once your clip was empty, they were gone for good. This made gun shots an afterthought and I almost never used them. Now, the ammo is per battle. This is a massive quality-of-life improvement I can’t overstate; now, you can use them whenever it makes sense, and there are legitimate gun-related builds and strategies you can use to get the most out of them.

    Some of the other changes are more subtle, but mostly welcome balance changes. Skills were rebalanced, bosses modified, that kind of thing. One boss modification is almost universally determined to be negative, however. The Okumura Palace boss was reworked (fine) but made so that if you don’t kill off the entire wave in 3 turns they will run away and respawn. This is not cool, and caused me several wasted hours and lots of game overs. I ended up having to create/modify a special Persona just for this boss fight; once I was able to hit that wave with a heavy curse attack, I did enough damage to take them all out quickly enough. But overall, I am not alone in hating that boss fight; it’s a huge difficulty spike that was not welcome.

    Outside of that, they made mostly positive changes. For example, they added a grappling hook as another way to make Joker look even cooler. Each dungeon has three added Will Seeds, which can be collected in each Palace and when all are gathered, grant you a powerful accessory, and a small SP restoration. One of the new confidants, Dr. Maruki, has skills that can help you recover SP when it's low, which is one of the most important things you need in a long Palace run. Ranking up his confidant also grants you more maximum SP, where every little bit helps. Having your SP run out before you are ready to call it quits is one of the worst parts of Persona 5, but through these new tweaks along with careful use of SP restoration items, I was able to beat the game and never leaving a Palace uncompleted once - though I was pretty close a few times, which shows the difficulty is quite well balanced this time around. There is little worse than wasting those precious days that could otherwise be used to pad that incredibly busy social life you wield.

    When not inside of a Palace or Mementos, most of the rest of the game is spent sleeping in your loft in the Leblanc coffee shop, going to school, or spending your time (hopefully) wisely during the afternoon and evenings. There are many, many ways to spend that time, but using it somewhat wisely is pretty important. You can spend it with friends or other confidants, you can spend it focusing on increasing a primary social attribute (knowledge, guts, proficiency, kindness, or charm), or various other available activities. Almost all of them make time pass, and they are definitely not all created equal. For example, reading books takes two reads to gain attribute points until the game allows you to read the speed reading book; watching a movie/DVD or playing a game gives you attribute boosts each time. You can study to gain two knowledge points, but if it's raining, you'll gain three instead. Paying attention to little things like this is necessary to make the most of your time.

    Also, certain activities are gated based on attributes. For example, one confidant requires you to have guts at three to be able to begin talking with her, while another requires a knowledge of four to be able to progress your relationship. These little 'gates' all around the game make it so that you are required to work on everything in order to get the best perks and skills. There are also small things like answering questions correctly in class, doing well on tests, and things like that which all contribute to your personality stat points and make an impact on time well spent. While the game has built-in social networking features which you can use to answer some questions, it's almost certainly worth checking out a guide to make sure you always answer correctly. Missing social points you could have otherwise gotten without wasting them on an activity is a huge blow to optimally spending each and every day.

    Persona 5 Royal
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 100%
    Gameplay - 20/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 31%
    Violence - 3/10
    Language - 2/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Persona 5 Royal has all of the activities and confidants from the first game, along with two new confidants and several new activities, some of which are nearly required if you want to do well. The new Kichijoji hangout spot has several really useful locations, including the Jazz club (great for later in the game when you want to increase the power of your team members) and the dart & billiards club where you can improve how well your team works together. Playing both is absolutely necessary if you want to do as much damage as possible; raising the darts rank to level 2 increases damage and restores since HP on a Baton Pass; reaching level 3 increases damage even more and restores some SP. (A Baton Pass happens when you hit an enemy using their weakness in battle; you can tag in another party member for a powered-up attack.) If you increase your billiards level, your technical attacks, basically an attack that takes advantage of an in-battle status ailment, deals tons more damage. Thankfully, in order to make up for all of these new things to do, the game has granted you more evenings that were previously unavailable in order to be able to spend that time studying or going out on the town (in some cases) where previously you were unable to in Persona 5.

    Just as in Persona 5, there are a ton of appropriateness issues; so many that I would rather just refer you to my Persona 5 review once again. I'll summarize some of it here, but suffice it to say, if you think you'll find violence, sexual content, strong language, or occult content, it's all here and then some. Sex between characters is strongly implied, and that includes between your player character and adult women if you choose to romance them. There is also a 'harem' ending if you choose to be a jerk and romance all of the women at once. I am a nice guy, so I romanced only the new girl. (My RPG characters are one-women men also). She's pretty great, but she's not the only great choice if you enjoy romance in your games. As mentioned before, skimpy outfits or outright nudity (without details) are shown on enemies, while some humans have significant cleavage. Males are not left without depictions as well, as at least one Persona shows a phallus that is well known in Persona circles to be a bit too close to looking like a uniquely male body part to be a coincidence.

    Personas include ones called 'Michael', 'Messiah', 'Lucifer', 'Satan', 'Satanael', and several new ones, including 'Maria', which might just be the closest to a reverent referral of a Christian character in this game series. She has the special skill 'Ave Maria'. A bullet named after the seven deadly sins is still used to defeat a false god, just like in Persona 5. The game makes it extremely clear that this 'god' is no 'god' at all, but false, though the imagery of Satan using sin to defeat 'god' is unmistakable imagery. Like before, there are Personas that represent all kinds of mythical creatures, from animist and Norse mythology through Egyptian through of course Judeo-Christian tradition. Tarot cards are present, and magical symbolism of various forms is present.

    A notable change between Persona 5 and Royal is how they handle the Akechi confidant. Before, his confidant would automatically gain levels as the story progressed. Now, not only do you have bonding events with him, if you complete (or don't) his bonding arc, it will significantly affect the new semester/ending. You also get to see more aspects of his personality. It's part of the Persona 5 storyline for him to reveal himself as a murderer. In the extra semester, he joins your team and gets massive satisfaction over killing shadows. You can hear him cackle with glee over every kill.

    There is violence, including a rather bloody scene with a person being shot up close, and plenty of language to go around. All common curse words up until and including the f-word are included, and God's name is used a few times.

    Thematically, rebellion from rules and social order is a major part of the story. The Phantom Thieves are there primarily to stop evil, corrupt adults from carrying out their will on the unprotected. It spans multiple locales and scenarios, but it's a major theme. In the new content, it deals with the power of the cognitive world in new and interesting ways. What if it was used for therapeutic reasons? It takes that idea to its logical conclusion - and it's incredibly satisfying.

    Persona 5 Royal is the sequel many thought was coming, but I wonder how many asked for. It took an already excessively long game - approximately 150 hours - and added even more to it, making it about 175 hours for me. Thankfully, that extra 25 hours doesn't tell the whole story - it takes a deep and engaging game and tweaks it in mostly positive ways and then adds interesting depth to the story in the form of the new confidants and the extra semester. I have to say, I didn't expect it to be this good. With that said, is it worth playing the game again from scratch if you already enjoyed Persona 5? That's mostly a personal decision - it's a massive time sink, with much of the game largely the same. If you have not experienced Persona 5 yet, then if you do decide to go ahead with it, get this version. But I don't blame you if you decide against it, as this game series has incredibly dark thematic tones, and mature themes of pretty much every kind. Again, please look over my Persona 5 review as I go into more detail in that review about appropriateness issues than I did in this one. Please use discernment when considering any gaming media, especially ones this full of mature and occult content.

  • Pit People (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pit People
    Developer:The Behemoth
    Published by: The Behemoth
    Release Date: Jan 13, 2017
    Available on: Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Action, Strategy RPG
    Players: 1-2
    ESRB Rating: T for violence, blood and crude humor.
    Price: $14.99

    Every gamer out in the world has that one genre they are very peculiar on. Some people look for the best platformers. Other people are very picky when it comes to rhythm games. For me I am specific with strategy games. I have seen games that claim they have deep strategic layers only to disappoint me.  So I was pleasantly surprised with Pit People. The style, charm, and quality are here and the game is one of the best strategy games I have played in a while. Let’s lead our group of princesses, berry farmers, and cupcakes with Pit People.

    Pit People starts with a gigantic bear crashing into earth, terraforming the land into a chaotic mess. Horatio the berry farmer fights to protect his son from cannibals. A voice from the sky commands Horatio to die; when he refuses the voice crashes the hand of the bear into his home to take his son away into space. As he fights for survival he is joined by the princess Pipistrella and the cyclops Yosef in an effort to fight against all odds. Gather in the city, build up your forces and lead the charge against the apocalypse. 

    People describe this game as a mix between Fire Emblem and Pokemon and it shows. Once you organize your party and equipment you pick the next quest you want to work on whether it be a main story quest or a side quest and you enter the world. Side quests can also be found exploring the world map. In battle you move your team along a hex grid, positioning your team where they can best attack foes. After they move they attack automatically. You do not get to choose who they attack so your positioning matters much more compared to other strategy games. When you are down to the last enemy in any mission you can use the cage item and a unit with a capture weapon to take the unit for your own use. Units can range from humans, giants, robots, living cupcakes, fairies and more. Your hub city allows you to compete in tournaments to win equipment against the AI or human players. You can change your difficulty, customize your party, and start online or local co-op games as well. 

    Pit People
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A challenging strategy game with fun humor and an interesting story.
    Weak Points: As always be wary of early access games. Depending on how the finished product comes out, the game may lack replay value.
    Moral Warnings: Crass humor is in this game. Some of the jokes will be inappropriate to certain age groups. This includes drug references, poop jokes and self mutilating cupcakes.

    The depth of the strategy in this game took me by surprise. The story was engaging and fun. I was strangely moved by Horatio  and his war against the vile narrator. The soundtrack makes you feel like you're in an excellent action movie. The character customization is one of the best I have seen in a strategy game. You can equip your team with anything from swords to lollipops to used matchsticks. The equipment does not change stats much. Most of the weapons will have little to no stat changes; only some have different elemental effects or damage increases. The changes you make to your characters are mostly going to be for visual fun. Unit types will matter much more then the level of your units. Be aware that as of now you don't have to worry about your units dying. Once you get back to the city, knocked out units will be revived at no cost.

    I don't have many negative thoughts about this game. While Pit People seems easy since it takes away the ability to choose your targets, simply charging into battle will get you nowhere. You have to use your weapons, abilities and positioning to your advantage to attack who you want, and have your enemies move the way you want them to. The game is balanced well, nothing feels broken and the power you gain, however small, always feels worth it. Note that the story mode is not complete and the title is in early access yet the game has plenty of content to cut your teeth on. A glaring negative that may or may not come from this game will be a repetitive nature depending on how the pacing of the main story comes out. As it is right now, I would want to have more reason to come back to the game after beating story mode. The balance of the game is sort of a double edged sword. Sure, everything's usable and strategies are varied, but visual loot will only drive so many people to keep grinding once the main story is complete. I respect the artstyle and graphics, yet funnily enough, it's nothing that surprises me or keeps me interested in the game. With all the customization you won't keep the main story characters looking the same for long. The Behemoth's wacky nature almost leaves me inoculated to beating enemy soldiers with a potato. 

    Pit People
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Multiplayer is a bit of a different story and adds to the fear of the repetitive nature of the game. The good news is that the gameplay is very balanced as of now. This allows you to make various team compositions to face opponents with or beat the unfair AI challenges in arena. Yet the game lacks that motivational push to play past single player missions. I didn't even know that prizes were awarded the more you build up your victory score. If they were to advertise the special prizes you could get each week in game this would push more competitive gamers to play past single player content.

    The Behemoth’s crass humor is here as usual. This can range from poop jokes, self mutilating cupcakes or references to drug hallucinations. (At least, that's what I think the thing between Horatio and Yosef was.) The violence is cartoony and exaggerated, most foes explode into blood and bone upon defeat. I recommend this game to anyone over the age of 13 due to complexity and mildly suggestive humor. 

    The Behemoth fans and newcomers will enjoy this latest adventure. Prepare your band of misfits to save the world from its end. 

     

  • Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic (Xbox One)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic
    Developed by: The Bitfather
    Published by: Headup Games
    Release date: February 3, 2017
    Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, PS4, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: RPG, Rogue-Like
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for blood, alcohol, tobacco, violence, and mild language
    Price: $9.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Headup Games for sending us a review code!

    Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic was launched on PC and mobile platforms in 2015 and came out to the Xbox and PS4 in 2017. For some reason, I’m not sure why, the PlayStation 4 version is $5 more than the Xbox one. Both the Xbox and PC versions retail for $9.99. The cheapest way to play this title in on mobile devices for $6.99. No matter what version you play, they all have pixel-styled visuals and chiptune background music. Though the presentation isn’t remarkable, the humor within is quite entertaining.

    There are three campaigns and you can’t unlock the latter two until the previous one is completed. The first campaign was plenty challenging and surviving a dungeon and returning back to town was enough of an accomplishment for me. There are fifty-five achievements available and many of them are unlocked for defeating particular bosses. There are thirteen dungeons to explore and each campaign has a unique final dungeon and boss.

    The story in the first campaign is about a strange cult called The Sons of Dawn and the townsfolk want you to put an end to them once and for all.  Your first task is to assemble your party of three adventurers at the tavern.  There are plenty of heroes in the bar to have a peek at their stats and hire them if you like what you see.  A nice mix of melee, ranged, and healer works pretty well.   You won’t start off with much gold so I recommend picking up healing potions at the temple instead of equipment at the blacksmith. 

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny humor; good pick-up-and-play game
    Weak Points: It’s easy to fill up the game’s cemetery with fallen heroes; hard and often unbalanced battles; clunky interface
    Moral Warnings: It’s easy to fill up the game’s cemetery with fallen heroes; hard and often unbalanced battles; clunky interface

    You won’t be able to leave town until you accept a quest from a townsperson. In case you’re wondering who to talk to, look for a person with a yellow exclamation point above their head. If you’re wondering how the exclamation point got there, there’s a vendor in town that sells them to villagers in need of assistance. I recommend talking to all of the NPCs as their dialogue is pretty funny.

    Once you accept a quest and stock up on potions, it’s time to head to a dungeon. Along the way you’ll meet some silly characters and will have a choice on how to interact with them. The options are typically to ignore, attack, or join them in their activity. If you bump into a cult member you can safely attack them as they’ll do so anyway after you hear them out.

    When you enter a dungeon, you won’t be able to leave unless it’s to the cemetery or back to town after defeating the boss. If you run out of potions halfway through the dungeon, your party is pretty much done for and you’ll get to see their stats immortalized in the cemetery menu option. This game takes pride in its permadeath feature and has achievements for losing lots of party members. If a surviving party member makes it back to town, the deceased members can be resurrected at the temple for a hefty price.

    The dungeons consist of several rooms, which must be cleared before confronting its boss. Sometimes a room will have a test of skill that can reap rewards if a party member can bypass it. Other options including smashing your way through or ignoring it completely. Most of the time, there will be a group of enemies itching for a battle.

    Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 62%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    Unfortunately, the battle system is where this game falls flat. It’s tough as nails and frequently cheap with how often the status ailments are inflicted and stacked on top of each other. While you can be immune to a couple of ailments, there are several you won’t be safe from. In battle you can use skills and weapons, but not items. Between battles you can drink potions, change equipment, and assign skills points if your party members leveled up.

    While it’s not a pentacle or a pentagram, the character skill points are in a five-pointed star diagram. You can assign points to life, strength, dexterity, faith, and intellect. Some of the items you equip can add or subtract from these stats so be sure to pay attention to what you’re wearing. The number of items you can carry is limited so be prepared to discard many of them. The interface is a bit confusing at times and the simple task of throwing items away is harder than it needs to be.

    Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic has an old-school feel to it with the pixel visuals and chiptunes music. The aesthetics are a bit underwhelming, but the silly dialogue makes up for that. Unfortunately, the dialogue is the source of some moral concerns. There is some language ('h*ll', 'd*mn', '*ss') and sexual references like “nut shot!” when fighting foes. Magic and necromancy are commonplace. When talking to the temple priest, you’ll learn that the townspeople have discarded their elder gods in favor of worshiping love and understanding instead. Last but not least, the town has drinking and gambling establishments.

    In short spurts, Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic can be fun. I just don’t recommend getting too attached to your heroes. It’s way too easy to lose them. If you see this game on sale it’s worth checking out if you enjoy games with permadeath.

  • Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition (Mac)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition
    Developed by: Beamdog
    Published by: Beamdog
    Released: April 11, 2017
    Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Role-playing game
    ESRB rating: T for Teen: blood, suggestive themes and violence
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $19.99 (Linux, macOS, Windows); $9.99 (Android, iOS)

    Over the years, many game review sites have compiled lists of the best computer role-playing games ever created. Although these lists vary widely, the original Planescape: Torment consistently made it into the top ten, often as the number one spot. When Beamdog started converting the Black Isle games to modern systems, many people eagerly awaited the time when Planescape would also receive the “Enhanced Edition” treatment. Now, the wait is over.

    Planescape: Torment is based on the 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons rules, and indeed came about towards the end of that edition's run. That is about all Planescape has in common with those rules, though – from the start, players face a lot of differences from the tabletop system they may be familiar with. At character creation, the player can allocate points to the familiar attributes of strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma. But that is all they are permitted to do – they can't choose their character portrait, they can't pick an alignment, gender or class. They can't even give this character a name! Their only choice is to play a hulking, ugly brute with scarred, grey skin. In terms of character creation, this D&D game is the worst.

    That sense of disappointment may be short-lived. Your character wakes up in a morgue with no memory of his past, including his name. His only companion is a sarcastic floating skull named Morte. Right away, the storyline grabs you and doesn't let up. You'll be drawn into this bizarre universe of steampunk and clockwork, explore the massive City of Doors, meet new and unusual beings from multiple universes, and try to solve the many mysteries in your character's life. Who are you? Where did you come from? And most importantly, why can't you die?

    This game was groundbreaking in 1999 because of the way character development was handled. The people and environment changed as the player made decisions. If you acted in an evil fashion, the Nameless One's alignment would shift accordingly, along with the attitudes of those around him. Likewise with good actions, which led to a good alignment and different companionships. A central morality system had only previously been handled by another RPG classic, Ultima IV, but has been duplicated and improved on many times because of the influence of these games. Although combat is a factor of the game, it takes a backseat to the conversation and role-playing portions. Your interaction with the NPCs is what drives the gameplay, and most of the experience points you gain will be through dialogue and retrieving the lost memories of the Nameless One.

    Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Long gameplay; powerful storyline; game environment strongly affected by player's choices; excellent voice acting and music
    Weak Points: Cumbersome combat system; dated graphics
    Moral Warnings: Blood and gore; language; demons and hellish landscapes; innuendo and revealing outfits; strong undead presence; players can choose evil routes to complete the game

    One of the other deviations that Planescape: Torment took from the tabletop roots – and even the prior computerized D&D games – is an abandonment from the turn-based system. Instead, it's a real-time combat style that can be a muddled, confusing mess. While it is possible to pause the game in order to issue orders to your characters, it can be a bit of a crap shoot to see if they stick with your orders, or resume doing their own thing. Fortunately, as I mentioned before, combat is a secondary aspect to the game. In fact, it's possible to attempt a “pacifist run” with the game – with the right stats and choices, you can finish the game and only experience a handful of combat encounters. Most fights can quickly be resolved without too much trouble – and if you do find your characters outgunned, it can be simple to reload from a previous save point and find a different approach to take. In any case, if the Nameless One falls in battle, he will merely wake up after a time, ready to continue his forays. In fact, there are a few instances where the Nameless One actually needs to die in order to advance the plot.

    The game is displayed from an isometric, top-down perspective, with an intriguing user interface that has a distinct clockwork feel. Harsh, rusty metal comprises a good portion of the decorations, giving an alien atmosphere; not quite something you may expect from the high fantasy approach of most D&D adventures. Planescape: Torment is strange in its feel and look, but attractive at the same time. The music also reflects the game, with haunting melodies and an occasional, industrial-rock feel to it. Combine that with skilled voice acting – including famous voice actors like Dan Castellanetta, Rob Paulsen and Michael T. Weiss - and it's easy to see how this Black Isle title is considered a masterpiece. One playthrough is estimated to take around 50 hours, and even then it can be replayed, with different answers to conversation trees, to unlock different portions of the game and different characters. 

    The Enhanced Edition provides some updates and bug fixes, but does nothing to the cutscenes. They may have been impressive in 1999, but nowadays the figures appear plastic and the graphics crude. The game portion features enhancements to make the sprites stand out (which can be turned off), and you can zoom in or out of the scene. However, zooming in doesn't adjust the resolution accordingly, so the scene will show pixillated graphics. Steam achievements and trading cards are available for the Steam version, as well as the ability to save your games to Steam's cloud. So the Enhanced Edition does offer some additional functionality not found in the original version... but if you own the original discs or the version that used to be available on GoG.com, it may not be as much of an incentive to shell out the money for these minor tweaks.

    Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    On the moral scene, there are many aspects that parents and Christians should consider. First of all, since the start of the game is set in a morgue, there is quite a bit of blood and gore to be found. At one point, you can even use your own petrified arm as a club (obviously, it grew back). Undead feature prominently, as zombies are used as servants by one of the factions of the city. In fact, there is a portion of the city where the undead are attempting to forge their own nation, to throw off the shackles of their living masters in order to be free. 

    It's possible to solicit the services of prostitutes – nothing is shown, though. Many of the journal entries do indicate that most of the female residents of Sigil are quite voluptuous, and members of both genders wear rather revealing clothing. (Oddly enough, one of the characters with the most clothing on is a succubus – a type of demon known for seducing mortals – but this one has taken a vow of chastity, and can join your party.) In one location there is a massive statue of a nude female, but it has “Barbie doll anatomy” and no actual “naughty bits” are shown. One of your companions, Morte, peppers his conversation with innuendoes and lascivious comments. However, he also is a floating skull, so the biological questions that arise serve as more humor than anything.

    Your character can become a mage and cast spells, or become a thief. You also can choose to become evil and act like a terrible person. There are some language issues, and d**n is often spoken in the game (including as an exclamation whenever the Nameless One fails to hit his opponent in combat). The Planescape setting was created to give the players the option to visit the outer planes, and this is present in this computer game as well. The Nameless One and his companions can travel to hellish planes, confront demons and devils – or even ally with them – in their attempts to solve the mysteries they face. However, even in the face of such adversity, the player can maintain a strong moral standard, and this is reflected in the game as well. The Nameless One's life is however the player plays him, and it's brilliant in how the game responds accordingly. There is a theme of forgiveness, redemption and eternal punishment at play, but getting into too much detail about these elements would veer sharply into spoiling the plot, so I will leave it at that.

    Despite the moral troubles in the game and the flaws in the combat system, Planescape: Torment is a true masterpiece, and a must-have for fans of the role-playing game genre. It is easy to see why the game is so highly regarded, and the “Enhanced Edition” helps to clean up the earlier flaws and bugs. The Steam edition includes trading cards and achievements. For those who loved the original and still own it, the new features may not be enough to merit purchasing it again. For those new to the game, there's adventures to be found among the planes, and perhaps you can answer the timeless question, “what can change the nature of a man?”

     

  • Pokémon Sun (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pokémon Sun
    Developed By: Game Freak
    Published By: The Pokémon Company
    Released: November 18, 2016
    Available On: 3DS
    Genre: RPG
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and older: Mild Cartoon Violence
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $39.98 new, $25.69 used
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    For the purposes of this review I only played Pokémon Sun and did not play Pokémon Moon but they are practically the same game.

    Have you wanted to play Pokémon again but you just don’t think they’ve done enough to the formula to justify buying the latest version? Do you want to try making the perfect team but you know that some party members will get bogged down having to learn the dreaded Hidden Machines (HMs)? Do you want something else from the story besides doing all eight gyms and stopping <insert fairly cool bad guy team name here> from getting a mythical Pokémon so they can destroy and rebuild the world yet again? Then this is the Pokémon game for you. This is the Pokémon game that truly changed the formula without changing what is true to the Pokémon franchise’s core. 

    That may sound like big praise for this game and it is, but I feel like this game deserves it. Pokémon Sun and Moon did a lot to make this game more streamlined than its predecessors while at the same time adding a whole slew of new features into the game. One of the changes is there are no longer HMs. HMs were special moves that you had to teach your Pokémon if you wanted to progress in the game. These moves would do things such as cut down trees or move boulders. This time around all HM related activities are handled by ride-Pokémon which can be summoned wherever you would need to use them. For instance, if there are rocks in your path you can summon a Taurus which is able to run into the rocks and destroy them. 

    Gyms have been replaced with the island trials. The trials consist of doing different things such as take pictures of certain Pokémon or collecting ingredients for a meal and then fighting a powerful totem Pokémon in a sort of boss fight. Wild Pokémon can now call for assistance when fighting them which can make it easy to find certain kinds of Pokémon. The game has now added super powerful moves called Z-Moves which do massive amounts of damage and is a great way to end a fight right when it starts. Finally, they added a new type of battle called the Battle Royale. In a Battle Royale four trainers with three Pokémon each fight in a free-for-all battle to see who can defeat the most Pokémon without losing all of their own Pokémon. That’s also just a small list of some of the more interesting things added this time around.

    This latest iteration really added a lot of things that feel very different from other Pokémon games and they do a good job of introducing them to the player as they progress throughout the story. It makes the beginning a tad bit less boring / repetitive for somebody who has played Pokémon for a long time since there are actually new things to learn in the beginning of the game. The game is also pretty good at the pacing of the story. There was rarely a point in the game that I didn’t have a new trial to attempt. In most cases there was not a very long route you had to transverse in order to reach the next trial site or other important encounter. It helped make it feel like I was always making some kind of progress which was nice. The game also had a very nice mixture of new Pokémon and returning Pokémon. I was rather impressed how the various Pokémon felt like they would actually live in a place like Hawaii.

    Pokémon Sun
    Highlights:

    Strong Points:  Unique setting; new forms of battling; lots of quality-of-life improvements; more of the same but different enough to really feel like a new game; interesting story.
    Weak Points: Can lag in some of the new battles; a Pokémon calling for assistance can make battles drag on; the story can sometimes get in the way of gameplay; game teases things that never go anywhere.
    Moral Warnings: This is a game where you make animals fight each other; game talks a fair bit about local beliefs; some characters wear more revealing clothes.

    There are two negatives that I do have to mention that I didn’t find to be that bad but might annoy others. One problem is that the game has a lot of story. Almost every route you go through ends with about 10 minutes of dialogue. Now, as somebody who liked the story this was not bad but I have heard others complaining about that so that might affect you if you want to speed through the game while ignoring all of the story. The second complaint I have seen lodged against this game was the new system that allowed for wild Pokémon to call for assistance during battle. This could really draw out battles and make it impossible to catch a Pokémon until you defeat the ally summoned. I rarely had a problem with this new feature but it did get frustrating a couple of times when trying to catch some Pokémon.

    The setting is the Alolan region which is based off of Hawaii. This choice is really reflected in the game with its mixture of the different cultures found in Hawaii as well as some of the local plants and animals. Everywhere you go gives you a distinct tropical island vibe which you haven’t really had before with a Pokémon game. The story starts off with an interesting cutscene of a girl running from some people at some kind of lab with a Pokémon. It then cuts to the player arriving in the Alolan region. You then get introduced to the system of trials they have in this region in place of gyms. Soon afterwards you are introduced to the bad guys of this game. The bad guys go by the name of Team Skull and are all hooligans that are mad that they weren’t strong enough to pass the island trials. Team Skull is one of my highlights of the game. Team Skull has no world-ending goal that they want to accomplish. They are literally just punks. On your first encounter with them you can simply ignore them. Nobody really takes them as a big threat and it can make interacting with them a fun experience. I ended up liking Team Skull more than all of the other recent bad guys we have seen.

    You also then start to find out about some kind of “ultra wormhole” that rests above the island. In the past the island has been attacked by creatures from that wormhole only for them to be fought off by the island guardians. You then get involved in an interesting story I did not see coming. I’m not going to talk anymore about it in order to not spoil anything but it had a lot of things happen that I did not see coming and it had an overall good message about family. In addition, the different characters you meet along the way are fairly memorable and I appreciated how the different trial captains and island kahunas actually did more in the story besides just exist to give you a badge.

    Something that did surprise me with this game was all the connections it had to the previous games. I was expecting some more connections to the Johto region because of the inclusion of the regional variants of some of the Johto Pokémon but there were others that were a big shock. I also found some of these inclusions lackluster since they just show up, say something, and then leave. I was hoping that some of the people would do a little more than just be a cameo. I was surprised by the large amount of postgame content this game had. Not only did this game have the now standard Battle <insert word here> place with the Battle Tree it also had another little mini story that finished wrapping up some of the loose ends. The game also let you go back and do things with the different trial captains as well as let you challenge opponents seeking to dethrone you as the champion of the region.

    I really enjoyed the new Battle Royale that was added this generation. The Battle Royale is a fun and chaotic 4 person free-for-all battle. In this mode, the battle is over when a player has had all of their Pokémon defeated. At that time, the person who defeated the most Pokémon wins. I find this mode really fun since everybody is trying to win. An opponent will stop attacking you if by attacking you they will end the battle and cause somebody else to win. It gives you a fun moment to strategize to try and defeat enough people to make it so that you will win once the battle is over. It’s really satisfying to execute a plan to defeat the opponent in second place at the same time as the person in first is defeated in order to make yourself, who is in third, win when the battle is over. Finally, I am surprised at how difficult this game could feel. It wasn’t that hard but, as a player that was pretty overleveled for most of the game, I was surprised by how challenging the fights could still be even to me. This probably is not a problem for many players but it is one I could see some facing if they want to speed through the story.

    Pokémon Sun
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    The graphics in this game are pretty good. It was definitely an improvement over the previous Pokémon games. The game has been moved fully to 3D with the models and it now allows you to move freely. This is very nice but I did occasionally run into instances where I got stuck because what I had to traverse would not have been possible in previous games. In addition, while it was appreciated that the different trainers you fought had models that were 3D it did look weird sometimes after battle how the camera circled around them though it was also very welcomed how there were different models for the different type of trainers. It was nice to have different looking hikers and swimmers to battle. Another thing the game did rather well was the audio. The different sounds of the Pokémon were clear and distinct as well as the music being nice and catchy. I also have to commend them for making the music sound like something you would hear on an island.

    The controls in this game are pretty standard as far as the Pokémon series is concerned. The battle menu went through another overhaul and changed its layout in order to better present the player with the different effects in battle such as weather and stat changes. It was really nice to be able to see this especially with the totem Pokémon battles so you can see what buff they got to their stats. It was also easy to still navigate the world with the free movement. The game also ran okay. I had no crashes but I did suffer lag in some of the battles with multiple Pokémon or different graphic effects such as the aura of the totem Pokémon. I should note that I did play this game on the original 3DS that was released back in the day so that could be the cause of the lag but it is something that might affect other people out there that get it.

    On the moral content of the game Pokémon Sun and Moon do pretty well. You do have your standard thing about having animals fight each other but that has been present since the first Pokémon game. Also, this game highly emphasizes having players take care of their Pokémon. The language in the game was fairly clean although there were a couple of jokes that are childish or seemed to be a little bit dirty in nature. There are some really underdressed female characters in the game. Most were your standard swimmers in bikinis but there were a couple of characters in really short shorts and some low-cut tops. You also had a bunch of shirtless men. I’m pretty sure besides that labcoat the professor doesn’t own any other tops. The game also has a fair bit of discussion about local beliefs and customs. Some of the dialogue makes it seem like some of the people worship the island guardians with them throwing parties for them and hosting all sorts of contests for them. There is also the existence of the various ghost Pokémon and some of the different, more magical based powers of some of the different Pokémon. Also, another weird thing the game does is allow you to get into other people’s beds. Now, that might not be that weird but it then goes through an explanation of what the bed smells like. That did, to me, feel a little bit weird. 

    I will give the game credit for its message. I won’t go into much detail in order to not spoil any of the plot but it has to do with the value of family and talks a little about messing with things you should not mess with which is nice. One more thing that should be mentioned with any Pokémon game is that while the game does feature stuff about evolution it does not deal with any sort of scientific evolution. Everything that evolves in this game just changes forms as they grow like each stage is a stage in the life of a frog. 

    Overall I really enjoyed this game. I have been a fan of the Pokémon series for most of its lifespan but this game was a nice treat. If anybody out there is even remotely interested in Pokémon but got bored because you felt like it was the same thing again and again I’d say they made this just for you. This game is enough of a change to make it feel like something truly different without having to change everything up. It has really made me look forward to the next installment since I now do not know what to expect from the next game after all the changes made in this one. This game was a real nice change of pace. It was also a pretty solid game that is pretty decent morally speaking. I feel like it is an easy game to recommend to anybody with an interest in the series.

    - Paul Barnard (Betuor)

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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