enfrdeitptrues

RPG

  • Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon
    Developed By: Game Freak
    Published By: Nintendo/The Pokemon Company
    Released: November 17, 2017
    Available On: 3DS
    Genre: RPG
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone: Mild Cartoon Violence
    Number of Players: 1-4 players
    Price: $39.99

    Another year, another mainline Pokemon release. Going over 20 years and still strong, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are the latest entries to the multi-billion dollar franchise coming out just one day shy of a year after Pokemon Sun and Moon. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon (abbreviated USUM) are the last entries to the 3DS line and possibly the last handheld entries as well (though the latter statement can only be assumed). USUM are enhancements to Sun and Moon, the Generation 7 games that came out last year. USUM, like previous enhancement games such as Crystal, Emerald, and Platinum, add new game modes, tweak existing features, expand on the movepool of existing Pokemon and other various fixes to the games. As these are enhancement games, I will mostly talk about a few new features they added into the game.

    The main plot of USUM revolves around Necrozma, a Pokemon related to Solgaleo and Lunala who has lost its light and seeks to find it, even if it means stealing the light from another world. Because of this, a group from the same world as Necrozma known as the Ultra Recon Squad travel to Alola to find a means of stopping Necrozma. Some of the things they do with Necrozma are pretty neat and interesting, though about 90% of the plot is the same as SM, with minor differences here and there and the URS meeting you at certain intervals. Without going into too many spoilers, at the climatic battle between you and Necrozma, Necrozma reveals a hidden surprise which for many players may culminate into one of the hardest battles the mainline series has ever seen. For casual players, this could be seen as a detriment to the enjoyment they might get from the game. Other players may welcome the extra challenge.

    The first notable new feature of USUM is the Alola Photo Club. People who previously played SM noticed these empty lots all across the city of Alola. In USUM, most of these empty lots have now been replaced by the Alola Photo Club. These new buildings let you take pictures with your party Pokemon, allowing you to bond with the creatures that accompany you. At first, I dismissed this feature since I didn’t particularly care for taking photos, but when going into the mode and messing around with the various features, I found out the photo mode has a lot more depth than it shows on the surface. There are various backgrounds in which one can use as a backdrop, with more being unlocked as you progress through the story and some even being unlocked when you transfer Pokemon from the Pokebank that originated from previous generations. These pictures are saved to your SD card and can be shared online via the Festival Plaza. There are also special effects and angles you can use, which can lead to pretty humorous situations. It’s a nice feature that surprised me quite a bit for how much they put into it.

    Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adds new Pokemon both in the way of the regional dex and completely new Pokemon in general. Additional sidequests are added to expand on the lore of the Alola region.
    Weak Points: The overall story is mostly the same. Didn’t do much to optimize the engine to stop moments of frame drops.
    Moral Warnings: Some of the Pokedex entries tend to depict more “violent” aspects of the obtainable creatures. Same questionable aspects of fighting animals, evolution, and occult imagery.

    One complaint that I’ve heard of was that in SM, people criticized the Rotom Dex for just being a glorified map. Now in USUM your Rotom companion does more things such as ask you questions. If you answer these questions, you’ll gain affinity, and if your affinity is high enough, Rotom will also give you special items called Roto-Powers. People familiar with generations 5 and 6 will know these items as Pass or O-Powers, as they work very similarly to them but have their share of differences too. The main differences between Roto-Powers and Pass/O-Powers is the fact that Roto-Powers are consumable items given to you randomly instead of menu items that you need to level up to get increasing features. The Roto-Powers give you temporary enhancements such as allowing you to receive more prize money, letting you encounter Pokemon at a higher rate, or decreasing the amount of steps needed to hatch eggs. You’ll know when you’re ready to obtain a Roto-Power when the Rotom on the bottom screen has a “bored” expression. Usually if you touch its eyes or his sides it’ll react and its eyes will glow. When you touch the glowing eyes, Rotom will then give you a random power, in increments of two. On average, once your affinity is high enough, this feature is triggered every 10 or so minutes. I do like the fact that the Rotom is more expressive and it gives off more of the feeling that you’re traveling with a sidekick but the bottom screen is still largely passive and that you do not have control over which Roto-Power you receive (without save scumming) can be pretty annoying at times.

    The next big feature is the Battle Agency, which is unlocked about halfway through the story. It's accessible through the Festival Plaza. People familiar with either the Pokemon Stadium series or the Battle Factory from Emerald and Platinum versions will remember this feature. You have a selection of three Pokemon, and you have to choose one. As for the other two, you have to recruit two other trainers who have to battle with you. You can obtain two trainers from the usage of connecting online or streetpass. If you don’t have online access or are unable to streetpass, the game will give you two trainers, but you have no choice of the trainers and what Pokemon they use. After the selection, you do a state of three battles and if you complete and win those battles, you earn Festival Coins and rank up, which raises the Pokemon that you personally chose up by one level, up to a maximum of level 100 (or so I heard). After every 10 ranks, in the third battle, you face against a boss. After rank 10, the battlefield will start to have various effects such as weather or terrain effects so at times you’ll have to adjust your strategy accordingly. I always adored the aspect of rental Pokemon so I do enjoy the feature, but it's also heavily reliant on the people around you. As you go up the ranks, your opponents' Pokemon levels also get higher so if the people around you are still at rank 0, you’ll have to make due with level 50 Pokemon while your opponents' levels keep getting higher and higher.

    As like with other enhancements there are various new forms for existing Pokemon, but for a first in the mainline games' history, USUM introduces completely new Pokemon that aren’t tied to a future game. USUM adds five new Pokemon never seen before, four of them being part of the Ultra Beasts, and one of them being a Mythical, which hasn’t officially been revealed yet. Usually, when a Pokemon game introduces a new Pokemon, it's typically an advertisement for the next generation of Pokemon games but these five new creatures are completely tied to the generation 7 games and have their own Pokedex entries. New Pokemon are always welcomed and in some instances, I hope that this becomes a trend for future Pokemon games. I am sad that these games did not feature new Alolan variants. I personally liked the alternate takes to older Pokemon and was expecting more variants such as an Alolan Ponyta/Rapidash or even an Alolan Vileplume or Bellossom.

    Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    In terms of moral warnings, USUM would probably get a slightly higher scale on the morality chart than SM as it removed some suggestive scenes that were present in the previous games such as the Grass Island Trial cutscene. Said scene which could have some pretty inappropriate implications was exchanged for a radically different scene. Going into the Pokedex entries, Generation 7's Pokedex entries tend to be on the more violent side, as instead of talking about certain aspects of a Pokemon such as their body features, it talks more about the predator-prey aspects and states that a lot of Pokemon get eaten or even outright states the concept of death in some of its entries. Since these are enhancement games, it's still gonna share most of the warnings Sun and Moon (and Pokemon games in general) did such as the concept of animals/creatures fighting for sport, the concept of evolution, occult imagery, questionable dialogue from some NPCs and so on. Pokemon in general is a very kid friendly series as evident of the millions of children that play these games, and most of its questionable content only really get noticedby older players as they are old enough to understand certain aspects as these things will fly over most kids heads. For a more in depth detail into these warnings, one can see the morality section in our Pokemon Sun and Moon review.

    Overall, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon is more of the same that you’d expect from Pokemon at this point. You grab your bags and go on an adventure with a customizable team of misfits to become champion. I’ve been saying a lot of positive aspects of the game, but I’m also a Pokemon enthusiast. I’ve been playing the games since the beginning, owning every mainline game in the series, as well as most of the series' spinoff games but when looking from it at a reviewer's point of view, it's hard to recommend these games to people who have previously played Sun and Moon. The new music and remixes of older pieces are solid and sound well. It shares many of the same issues that SM had such as the high amount of interrupting cutscenes that can break the flow of the game, the poor optimization due to the extremely high polygon count of the character models, the unbalanced encounter rates, and has its own set of issues such as features being brought back just to be worse than the predecessor, or being a full price enhancement for just some changes here and there.

    For casual players, there isn’t a whole lot of features added for them to warrant taking another trip to Alola but for the more enthusiastic players or people who missed out on SM, I think there are enough additions to the battle system and additions to Pokemon to stay updated with online and local battling and put down money for these entries. In the case of the enthusiasts, if you really like the PvP aspect, you’re kinda more or less forced to “update” as SM misses out on a lot of compatibility with USUM. I believe USUM are solid sendoffs to the 3DS line and I await to see what they have in store when Pokemon comes to the Switch.
    -Cinque Pierre

  • Prevent the Fall (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Prevent the Fall
    Developed By: D.W.S.
    Published By: D.W.S.
    Released: Jul 31, 2017
    Available On: Windows (supports VR headsets)
    Genre: Action, RPG
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Single-player, multiplayer through online or LAN
    Price: $9.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you D.W.S. for sending us this game to review.

    Note: This review of Prevent the Fall is the non-VR version.

    The urge for adventure; the dangers of the unknown can get anyone’s heart beating. The chance of finding fame and riches is enough for most people, while others are tempted by knowledge or power. Whatever it might be, there is one thing that’s for certain — not everyone comes out alive.

    Prevent the Fall is a dungeon crawler RPG that is reminiscent of hack-and-slash games (the Diablo kind), but with an over-the-shoulder view as opposed to the top-down view. Prevent the Fall starts off with a simple tutorial explaining the controls and the mechanics. On the keyboard is the standard WASD movement, LMB to attack with your right hand, RMB to attack with your left hand. The Q and E keys are to swap your left-handed and right-handed weapons, while the number keys 1-6 are to use the specific weapon’s abilities. The controls can feel a bit clunky as there is a buffer between actions that occurs when performing an attack. If you strike, and then press another attack before the previous animation is over, your character will do the next action. Because of this, it’s not a good idea to spam actions in case trouble comes your way as you will be stuck doing the next action or two before you can move. The game supports controller options, but the controller feels weird due to special attacks being used by a combination of the trigger buttons and one of the three face buttons. I personally prefer the keyboard and mouse.

    After the tutorial is complete, you are sent to a small tavern where you have the following options: talk to the owner to spend talent points, accept missions, change settings such as resolution and brightness, or talk to Johnny the Merchant to buy and sell goods. Before a mission is selected, there is the option to re-roll the mission (as missions are actually chosen at random), decrease the mission’s level by three from your current level, or increase the mission's level by five from your current level. Higher leveled missions yield better rewards, but also stronger enemies. The increased levels are also fairly imbalanced as there are certain enemy types that will heal faster that your damage output, even when you reach max level.

    Prevent the Fall
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Captures the dungeon-crawling setting well; simple and to the point in its execution; you can re-buy any items you’ve previously sold to the merchant at any point
    Weak Points: Can get repetitive due to enemy types feeling samey and lack of missions; magic is blatantly overpowered compared to melee; no “end-game”
    Moral Warnings: Lots of magic usage by both the player and the enemies; dark magic specifically is implied to be powered by Satan through flavor text; undead enemies such as zombies and skeleton warriors; some instances of blood

    You can buy or sell items from Johnny the Merchant with the gold obtained through doing the missions. He’ll sell you weapons such as swords, axes, maces, war hammers, daggers and elemental staves. He also sells armor pieces such as helmets, armor plates, and rings. Most of the items he sells can be obtained through drops in the dungeons. What I really like about Johnny is that when you sell him a weapon or armor piece, he will hold on to it forever. That is a really nice concept as I’ve re-bought certain items that I have previously sold to him.

    The rather simplistic talent tree option is where you get to allocate your talent points. You gain talent points every time you level up, but also from certain drops such as tomes. The max level is level twenty and from levels one through twenty are around 300 talent points. As this is not enough points to level up all of the paths, it is in your best interest to focus on one or two trees. It is theoretically possible to max out your character through the use of tomes, but tomes are random drops from enemies. As your abilities are assigned to the various weapons, the talent tree acts more like stat buffs. The three talent trees are defensive, melee and magic and each tree contains things such as increased health, stamina, or mana regeneration, or chances of special effects such as bleed, stun or critical chance.

    In combat, your character can wield weapons in his left or right hand. Some weapons can only be used in the left hand, such as shields and healing staves, and some weapons can only be used in the right hand, such as war hammers. There is some strategic placement in attacking (even more so in the VR function as you can purposely aim for headshots), and some enemies may block melee attacks from the front, but once you get good enough weapons, armors, and stats, you can brute force your way through most situations. Unfortunately, a lot of weapons are really only different from the skills that they give you. All melee weapons swing the same with their basic attacks, and most of the melee based abilities don’t seem to have (notable) additional effects. Even though you can equip one of each melee weapon, it comes down to what melee weapon deals the most damage.

    Staves thankfully have a bit more variety and effects than the melee weapons. Some of the staves’ basic attacks are projectile-based, while others are hitscan. Most have an area of effect (AoE) attack and some have special moves like the wind staff, which can use fog to disorient enemies. Magic is also hilariously overpowered as many magic skills have AoE effects, auto aim, and low cooldowns so particularly tough enemies can simply be kited endlessly as your character is faster than the slow-moving mobs. Enemies are also unable to block magic of any sort and also have special effects such as roots and damage over time.

    Prevent the Fall
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 58%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    With the large variety of weapons, I would have thought that enemies would have strengths and weaknesses, but the only enemy I noticed this for was for the phoenix-type enemies as they are immune to fire attacks. Prevent the Fall features a lot of enemies, and enemies get replaced the higher leveled you are, but most of them feel very samey. 90% of the enemies in the game simply rush at you and attack with claws, weapons or teeth with no additional effect. There are a few enemies that use damage over time (DoT) effects at their disposal, some that use magic, and certain enemies that root you in place, but that’s pretty much it. Even the bosses simply feel like bigger standard enemies with bloated stats.

    Missions are displayed in various objectives such as “defeat this creature,” “retrieve item,” or “scout the area” in randomly generated areas. The "scout the area" mission in some layouts seems bugged as I’ve had the quest complete even when I didn’t explore the entire area. This is basically the entire game, doing these missions through areas such as castles, sewers, caves, and towns. There seems to be no end game either as I thought there would be. I assumed that once your character reaches level 20, there would be some kind of climatic final boss to await you, but that is not the case. The only thing changed is that the end game enemies will show up such as bloodskins, dragons, and draks, and it just cycles through the same eight or so areas, indefinitely. Once you get all the achievements, there really isn’t much more of an incentive to play.

    The graphics at first seem pretty good, but that was when the brightness (gamma) settings were at default. When I turned up the brightness so that I could see certain items, it occurred to me that the graphics aren’t good, but they do their job. There is one very annoying visual glitch when a chimera is attacked with fire magic. Prevent the Fall honestly looks like something that could have come out in 2005, and even so, if too many effects happen on screen (like when using magic), slowdown can occur. The music is nothing to write home about; it fits the setting, something you would expect to hear from a fantasy-type game. There are only a few tracks in the game so it can get quite repetitive. The music for the tavern is rather nice as I am a sucker for the piano.

    In terms of morality, Prevent the Fall has lots of magic usage, used by both the player and the enemies. Some staves use the power of necromancy to summon zombies. In flavor text for one of the necromancer staves it is heavily implied that the staff "is powered by Satan… maybe.” There is also more flavor text that states that one of the weapons “uses the power of Hell itself.” As it is a fantasy game, skeletons, mummies and zombies are common enemy types. Blood is also shown in the game through attacking and being attacked. The blood is not all that noticeable, at least to me.

    Prevent the Fall manages to be an okay game, in fact one of the most okay games that I’ve played all this year. Even with its repetitiveness, simplicity and jank in some areas, I had some mindless fun with it. I haven’t played a game in quite some time where I could just turn off my brain and go through the motions of mowing down enemies while listening to a podcast or video. Prevent the Fall is rather cheap, and seems to go on sale quite often. If you’re looking for an in-depth experience, go look elsewhere as Prevent the Fall is not that type of game. If you want some cheap simple entertainment with friends for a few hours at a time and don’t mind the usage of magic and supernatural enemies, you may want to slide this into your wish list so you’d get notified when it does go on sale. It might be worth a shot if you have a VR headset on hand, but from what I've seen in videos, most of the issues present in the game will still be present in the VR mode.

  • Pyre (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pyre
    Developed By: Supergiant Games
    Published By: Supergiant Games
    Released: July 25, 2017
    Available On: PS4, Linux, macOS and Windows
    Genre: RPG
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and older, for Fantasy Violence, Tobacco Reference, Mild Language, and Use of Alcohol
    Number of Players: 1-2 offline
    Price: $19.99

    Supergiant Games, the famous indie developers behind cult hits Bastion and Transistor, hardly require introduction. Their knack for creating new, artful, wonky aesthetics in settings a player could hardly dream up continues with their third stand-alone title: Pyre.

    Pyre starts off by dropping you, quite literally, face-down in the sand. A roving band stops to examine your body, decides to pick you up, and introduces you to their squad. You are the Reader, a being with the rare gift to translate written text. Your ability to read proves very useful, as it allows you to guide your squad in 3v3 psychic basketball called the Rites.

    At select times throughout your journey, you will compete with other teams in the Rites. As it turns out, everyone in your group – including yourself – has been banished to this very colorful, aesthetically-pleasing purgatory. Emerging victorious from the Rites will let you earn a character’s freedom back to the world that banished them.

    Now that I think about it, Pyre’s premise sounds uncannily similar to a unique, much friendlier version of the Hunger Games. Many of the compatriots you recruit are good individuals who’ve either netted a little too much bad and got caught, or disobeyed bad laws because they felt compelled to do the right thing. While most of your opponents hold clearly unsavory intentions, some express good or neutral qualities about them, and one team is always honorable to you: I felt bad winning against them, and good for having competed against respectable enemies.

    Pyre
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique art and setting, beautiful music, original style of gameplay.
    Weak Points: Hit-or-miss aesthetic, inconsistent difficulty.
    Moral Warnings: Strong occult and magical themes, swearing (da**, sh**).

    Pyre’s gameplay splits twofold. Most of the game, you will scroll through dialogue, select responses (fewer than three vastly different replies is rare for this game), scroll through more dialogue, click on oddities, and scroll through yet more dialogue. Right when you get tired of said dialogue, it’s time to face a team in a Rite. As mentioned before, this style of gameplay is best described as a magical 3-vs.-3 with a special, psionic basketball. Players rotate between three different characters, each with pros and cons: high speed, low presence; very high presence, low stamina; low presence, very wide attack. Presence refers to the area around a character when performing in a Rite; if an enemy comes into contact within the range of this presence, they are momentarily banished and out of play for a few seconds. In that regard, the Rite resembles a hockey game, with more frequent power plays (one team being down in manpower).

    Grabbing the mystical orb in the center at the start of a round, the player must coordinate all performing team members, passing it, moving forward, keeping it away from the enemy, and either dashing into the opposition’s flame, or tossing it from afar. Diving into the flame guarantees a lot of “dousing” to the enemy’s flame, their “Pyre,” but prevents that character from participating in the next round. Throwing the orb, on the other hand, doesn’t penalize like that, but leaves the player open to enemy attacks, and the orb can be intercepted mid-trajectory.

    Characters gain experience after Rites and, upon leveling up, unlock powerful abilities to aid them in future Rites. I found Normal difficulty just fine and dandy till about my fifth Rite, where the difficulty suddenly spiked. The final Rites will require your accumulated knowledge and skills if you want to succeed.

    A couple things Supergiant Games has always done well are its visuals and music. All three of their titles define the indie genre for their artistic originality and genuine uniqueness. Darren Korb’s soundtracks are always must-buys, period. For Pyre, he composed an eclectic mix of medieval instruments and low-fi hip hop. I honestly can’t put my finger on it, but it’s different, and it’s good! Pyre’s visuals, likewise, evoke a combination of styles you wouldn’t expect. Personally, Pyre’s visual aesthetic was more miss than hit, though I do not hold that against the art directors. That’s my preferential bias at play; I don’t question their ability, nor do I discourage players from trying Pyre on that point. Pyre looks fantastic, in all senses of the word.

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

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 66%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Spiritually, Pyre has some obvious problems. While I couldn’t find any sexual references, the occult nature of Pyre’s world presents itself everywhere. Magic powers the Rites. Ancient gods, tied to the stars, silently interact from time to time with the mortals in their purgatory. Fantastical beasts, partially based on our myths, roam both sides of Pyre’s world. You can purchase potions, elixirs, and “star power” at the traveling shop. Goodness, even the kindly, mother-like Jodariel is called a “demon!”

    Language is more read than heard. The characters speak enthusiastic gibberish that sounds like a convincing combination of Portuguese and Italian. I remember reading the occasional curse word - "da** for sure, and possibly "sh**."

    To call Pyre “violent” is a bit of a stretch. As noted in the occult portion, nearly all of the obviously questionable material is magical in nature. Rarely do characters die; banishment during Rites is temporary, more like a body check will knock you off your feet, not like a fatal shotgun blast to the face.

    Overall, Pyre represents Supergiant Games’ successful attempt at a long, player-choice game. I clocked in six hours for Bastion and Transistor, yet sixteen hours for Pyre. Bastion offered a very compact story with two game-altering decisions at its conclusion; Transistor supplied the player with more choice, though still contained in the size of Bastion. Pyre, rather, plays akin to classic Chrono Trigger, where right from the get-go, you alter the course of the rest of the game through your decisions. Your choices to fulfill certain story elements will in turn increase the game's difficulty in a way you don't expect. Some of your friends may not make it out of banishment. Some of your enemies might earn their freedom instead! Before the end credits, every character you encountered receives a summary of their life after the climax, including yourself (you are the Reader, after all); how great or how lamentable they end up, is up to you.

    - Anax

  • Queen's Wish: The Conqueror (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Queen's Wish: The Conqueror
    Developed by: Spiderweb Software
    Published by: Spiderweb Software
    Released: September 11, 2019
    Available on: macOS, Windows
    Genre: Role-playing game
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Spiderweb Software has been making turn-based role-playing games for more than 25 years. At this point, most fans are well aware of what Spiderweb produces and what to expect. Their latest game, Queen's Wish: The Conqueror, is still a turn-based role-playing game, but introduces a few new elements to shake up the old formula.

    As with other Spiderweb games, it's an isometric approach, with minimal sound effects, lackluster graphics and a fantastic storyline. In Queen's Wish, your character is a prince or princess of the nation of Haven, and has lived a life of luxury within the palace walls. That changes one day when your mother, Queen Sharyn, calls you to the throne room. It has come time to prove your worth, and you are tossed through a portal to a distant continent called Sacramentum. Haven once had a colony here, wedged between three different nations, and it is your job to re-establish it. You have to find the leaders of the three nations surrounding your outpost and persuade them to once again become Haven's vassals. While working on that, you are supposed to learn why Haven had to leave Sacramentum in the first place, and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. Oh, and if you can avoid dying in the process, that would be great.

    Those familiar with the company's style will already know how the games play out. When combat ensues, each of the characters in the party will be able to move across a game grid and take actions. The enemies do likewise. The turn order depends on the speed statistic, and those with a high-enough speed (usually as the result of a spell) may actually get to act multiple times before others. As the characters gain experience, they gain levels and skill points. These points can be added to various abilities and spells, giving those characters more options when in combat. There's certainly nothing new here.

    Queen's Wish: The Conqueror
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great story; different twists to traditional RPGs
    Weak Points: Weak graphics; nearly nonexistent sounds
    Moral Warnings: RPG violence; some undead; some blood

    But there are a few changes that add a twist to the traditional formula. For starters, for the most part, you don't get any experience from defeating monsters. Instead, you only get experience points by clearing certain “dungeons” or completing quests. In fact, if you go into a region and find that you have to retreat back to one of your forts, you may find that all those monsters you had defeated earlier are back when you return. You are required to clear it all in one go in order to succeed. Another twist is that many of the best items in the game don't come from looting the lairs of dragons or other beasts, but those you build yourself. Last – but certainly not least – you have to rebuild Haven's forts on the continent of Sacramentum. As you rebuild the forts, you will gain access to each of the different nation's “races,” and can add them – and their unique culture's abilities – to your party. You also can build shops and fortifications in each fort. The more shops you have constructed, the better gear you can create. By improving the walls and building guard towers and barracks in each fort, you also lower the chance of theft in each region and enhance your to-hit and defensive bonus in the process. Each of these improvements requires additional resources from the surrounding area, though – which means clearing the dungeons so your workers can access them. So in addition to the role-playing mechanics, there's a resource-management sim built into Queen's Wish as well.

    Despite its strengths, there are a few weaknesses as well. Sound effects are minimal but functional, and aside from the introduction to new areas and the opening scenes, music is nonexistent. The graphics are good, but certainly not amazing. In fact, some of the graphics have been recycled from prior Spiderweb games. This is the first Spiderweb game to include a feature allowing you to design your character – given that many RPGs include this as a standard feature, it's a bit surprising that it took this long to include it. Even with its problems, though, this is still the closest that you can find to a tabletop gaming experience without having to connect online.

    Queen's Wish: The Conqueror
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As far as the moral front, there are a few instances where pentagrams appear as areas where monsters can be summoned. There are some undead monsters that can appear, including the ability for the player to summon and control skeletons. When enemies are killed, they go flying off the screen and leave small splotches of blood. There are some subtle political messages in the game as well. For example, one of the regions – the Ahriel – is governed by wealthy elites who live in a hard-to-reach city, who enact rules with little concern for the citizens who live in the rest of their region. This seems to echo the exact problems that Washington State is going through, and I am sure that other states in the United States can also relate. Given that Spiderweb Software is based out of Seattle, this is likely not a coincidence.

    All in all, Queen's Wish: The Conqueror is a very good game with a fun story line and challenging gameplay. While it may not look like much when compared to other AAA titles, it shouldn't be overlooked in terms of quality of writing. This is the first game of a trilogy that is bound to be a classic, much like the Avernum games that came before it.

  • Quest of Dungeons (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Quest of Dungeons
    Published By: Upfall Studios
    Developed By: Upfall Studios
    Released: September 29, 2016 (3DS, Wii U)
    Available On: Android, 3DS, iOS, Linux, Mac, Wii U, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Dungeon Crawler, RPG
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen (Blood and Violence)
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $8.99

    Thank you Upfall Studios for sending us a copy of the game to review!

    Quest of Dungeons first hit smartphones back in 2014 and was promptly ported to many other platforms over the next year. Now it's finally time for Nintendo owners to get in on the action. The rogue-like genre is one not often seen on the 3DS and with only a handful of other titles to complete with, it is a highly needed dungeon crawler on the eShop.

    Quest of Dungeons starts off with a fairly simple story. An evil Dark Lord has stolen all the light from the world and our mission is to enter his lair, slay him, and stave off the darkness. The dungeons within are procedurally generated, meaning the items and enemies will never be in the same spot. You also only have one life, and when you run out of health, it's game over man! 

    There are four playable characters: a swordsman, a wizard, an assassin, and a shaman. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses which makes it fun to experiment with each one. The swordsman is strong and can deal more physical damage than the others. He is also able to equip maces and axes when the right spellbook is found. The wizard attacks from a distance with magic, but has a much lower damage threshold. The assassin focuses on ranged combat  with his bow. The shaman can cast magic and wield weapons combining the best aspects of the other classes, though his health doesn't compare to the swordsman.

    Combat takes place in a turn-based manner. If you're playing as the swordsman you have to come into contact with an enemy to initiate an attack. This plays out with an exchange of blows until you or the enemy dies. The other characters have access to range strikes, meaning they can initiate combat the moment an enemy becomes visible on the map. I personally found that ranged combat was the better option over hand-to-hand encounters.

    Quest of Dungeons
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Randomly generated dungeons provide endless replayablity; Great soundtrack; Charming art style; Multiple difficulty settings; Cross-buy supported.
    Weak Points: The permanent death may turn some off; No real indication of how strong an enemy is; No 3D and a high price tag.
    Moral Warnings: Good amount of violence with blood left behind from kills; Magic usage.

     

    You'll quickly discover that there are a ton of rooms to explore on each of the seven floors of a dungeon. At first this can be very intimidating as you might unknowingly open a door that leads to a boss fight. As you can't simply close the door, the boss will chase you down and most likely kill you. Scattered throughout the rooms you may find objects like boxes, bookshelves, and urns. Hidden inside them are things like gold, new equipment, or spellbooks. When you find equipment it must be equipped manually or else it just sits in your inventory. Spellbooks hold the key to learning new abilities, but just like everything else these are random. It's not enough to just find the books as they must be read first to unlock its ability. 

    Searching out descending staircases will lead to deeper floors in the dungeon. Enemies will get stronger and more interesting mechanics will be introduced. Warp portals will take the player to rooms they haven't been to yet on the current floor. These become more useful once you've cleared out all the enemies on a floor as they can become shortcuts around the map. With the constant fear of death around every corner it's imperative to keep an eye on your health. The dungeon holds within it many types of edible fare. Foods and liquids will replenish your HP, but there are things that may cause negative side effects. Be smart and stock up on health potions. You don't want to be caught with your guard down with only moldy cheese to heal you.

    There's a shopkeeper on each floor and you can sell any excess stock as well as the different colored rocks you find to him. His stock is random so he may be selling great armor and weapons, or a bunch of keys. He'll always have health potions so it's worthwhile to seek out where he's hidden on the map. Also hidden around each floor are stone structures that give little sidequests. These can be simply finding an item somewhere on the map, to killing a powerful enemy. If it requires killing an enemy things can get dangerous. The enemy is spawned to a specific area on the map,and if you aren't prepared, you may open the door to the room it's in. This can get you mercilessly slaughtered, leading to a game over. This happened to me after a particularly long playthrough, and though I was mad, I immediately jumped back in more ready than ever. 

    Quest of Dungeons
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    Visually, the game looks great for a 16-bit indie title. The heroes themselves each look different and bosses have wonderful spritework. The dungeon floors themselves have their own themes. These seem to stay constant. Floor 1 is filled with gray walls whereas floor 2 has green vegetation growing on its walls. It doesn't exactly make a huge difference, but it's nice to continually see change. Now unfortunately David Amador, the creator of the game, was unable to implement 3D which was a shame. 

    Quest of Dungeons has a charming soundtrack, and there's no way to dispute that. As you walk around the music helps to instill a sense of mystery and adventure. One thing I really enjoyed was that the music will fade in and out when you enter an area with a new track. This makes exploring the entirety of a floor that much more enjoyable when the music changes to match it's placement in the dungeon. Sound effects can be creepy as you'll hear growling and other noises coming from the darkness.

    Now morally, there's a constant amount of violence to be found inside the dungeons. Defeating an enemy will leave behind blood on the ground. It stays around for a little while, but will eventually disappear. There's also a fair bit of magic usage and the overall presence of otherworldly powers. 

    Now if you don't mind your rogue-like with some blood and violence, there's a ton of things to like here. Since no dungeon will ever be the same, each playthrough feels like a new experience. With multiple difficulty levels, Hell being nearly impossible for me, and the different characters to experiment with there is always something new to see. Some may see the price as too high since it's available for $2 on smartphones, but with the cross-buy option you'll receive the Wii U version for free and vice versa. With the lack of quality dungeon crawlers on the 3DS currently, I highly recommend checking out Quest of Dungeons.

    -Kyuremu

     

  • Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology (3DS)

     

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    Game Info:

    Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology
    Developed by: Atlus
    Published by: Atlus
    Release date: February 13, 2018
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol
    Price: $39.98
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

    Radiant Historia was released on the Nintendo DS in 2010 and came to the west in 2011. It was well received and my husband and I picked it up in hopes of playing it someday. Not long after having it in our possession, the enhanced version was announced and we’re happy to finally get around to playing this classic 2D RPG.

    The remake features a new anime style intro movie as well as redrawn character portraits. The majority of the game looks decent but dated and is comparable to many DS era games visually. A new fighting mechanic, support attacks, has been implemented as well. Non-active party members may randomly attack your foes if you have a nice combo chain building up. A new dungeon called the Vault of Time has been added and you can battle and earn currency that allows you to purchase weapons and armor that are not available anywhere else. Last but not least is a fresh timeline to explore while riding on the mystical Dunamis ship.

    With all of the new content added, this remake is worth considering. The majority of the story is the same with the world on the brink of extinction since it is eroding away and turning into a desert. Instead of working together to solve this crisis, the most powerful cities are at war with each other.

    Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronolog
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good story and combat system; likable characters; great voice acting; enhanced visuals from the DS version
    Weak Points: While the graphics are better, they’re still not utilizing the 3DS’ capabilities
    Moral Warnings: Language (b*stard, d*mn/d*mnit, *ss, sh*t); fantasy violence; magic use; revealing outfits and some fan service; ritualistic sacrifices; references to Buddhism/chi; drinking and drunkenness; racism

    You’ll be playing the role of Stocke, who is a special intelligence agent for Alistel, which is a formidable town lead by the wisdom of their prophet Noah. Stocke’s boss, Heiss, assigns a dangerous mission to him and puts two subordinates under his command. Marco is a sword wielding healer and Raynie is a well endowed spear user. Later in the game there’s a very revealing image of her showing most of her cleavage.
    Before departing on their mission, Heiss hands Stocke a seemingly blank book called the White Chronicle. It doesn’t take long for Stocke to discover that this book gives him the power to alter history and save the world from the pending desertification. The book is the gateway to a place called Historia and there are two guides there named Teo and Lippti. While they have many answers for Stocke, they are also bound to neutrality and cannot share all of their knowledge. It is in Historia where the new dungeon, the Vault of Time, exists.

    The Vault of Time focuses on battles and currency called Momentos is earned for each battle. Momentos have to be spent or left behind before leaving the Vault of Time. Battles in this game are in a grid format with your party of three on the far right hand side of the screen. The enemies can be in nine different spaces on the left hand side. As they approach toward the right they’ll do more damage to your party. There are attacks designed to push them back and to the left and the right. Sometimes the enemies will make a space heal or buff them and it’s in your best interest to relocate and conquer them more easily.

    If you play on the easiest difficulty, most of the battles can be avoided and settled by attacking the roaming monsters in one or two strikes. Boss battles are still mandatory though their damage dealt is reduced significantly. Many, but not all of the attacks will only do one point of damage. A couple of one-hit kills still happen so having a healer in your active party is highly recommended.

    Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronolog
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 61%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Though the battles are fun, the story in this game is much better. The idea of going back and trying different ways of handling situations for the better is pretty interesting. There are times when I have acted rashly and killed my party and ended the world as a result. Thankfully, with the White Chronicle I’m able to go back and try again. Besides the main storyline and the added one, there are a bunch of side quests available.

    You’ll have to bounce around between the historical timelines to gather and hand out quest related items. There are many walkthroughs available online to point you in the right direction of which time node to hop back into instead of wandering around aimlessly. I like how the ending shows the resolution of many of the side quests I completed. There are some quests available that lead to marriage and life forms that would not exist otherwise.

    Besides humans, there are beastlike creatures that are wary of mankind and vice versa. Not surprisingly, the different cultures have various religious beliefs and the Gutrals have chi powers that borrow from Buddhist teachings. Language is used throughout the game and is unavoidable. Other than the cussing, the voice acting is well done in this game.

    Other than Raynie’s revealing image, this game is pretty tame when it comes to sexual content. Her portrait when speaking makes it clear that she’s well endowed. Many of the characters drink and some of them do get drunk throughout the game’s story. There’s a mission where you have to disguise your party in the enemy’s armor and the suits you “borrowed” smell of liquor.

    In the end, I enjoyed my time traveling adventures in Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology and recommend it to 3DS owners. I’m happy to have played this classic RPG but I am hesitant on letting my younger children play it due to the content. It definitely earns its Teen rating from the ESRB.

  • Ragnarok Odyssey ACE (Vita)

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    Game Info:

    Ragnarok  Odyssey ACE
    Developed by: Game Arts|
    Published by: XSEED Games
    Release Date: April 1, 2014
    Available on: PS3, Vita (reviewed)
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Up to four players online
    ESRB Rating: Teen for fantasy violence, language, alcohol use
    Price: $39.99

    Thank you XSEED for sending us this game to review!

    Ragnarok Odyssey came out for the Vita in 2012.  While not perfect, it sure had a lot of eye candy and is one of the better looking Vita games.  Ragnarok Odyssey ACE adds many new features to Ragnarok Odyssey and is now playable on the PlayStation 3.  The save files between the PS3 and Vita versions are transferrable.  Owners of the previous game can import their save (minus the weapon) to ACE.   

    Because much of the content from Ragnarok Odyssey is re-used, I do not recommend people to buy this game a second time.  For those who have not purchased Ragnarok Odyssey, the ACE version is hands down better in many ways.  The ability to hire mercenaries to aid you in the single player campaign tops my list of improvements.  While the AI is helpful, they are not as good as human allies when it comes to attacking a boss’s weak spots.  

    Like many online games, lag can be quite a problem, especially in boss battles!  You can see connection bars of the rooms and players in it, but those gauges tend to fluctuate.  All it takes is one party member to lag and ruin the fun for everyone.  Sometimes the slow player is dropped and the problem is resolved, but other times the game errors out, and drops you back into single-player mode.

    Ragnarok  Odyssey ACE
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Many improvements over Ragnarok Odyssey including ACE abilities, mercenaries for hire in single-player
    Weak Points: Not worth buying again if you already own Ragnarok Odyssey since it has the same repetitive quests
    Moral Warnings: Violence, language, revealing outfits, and drinking

    The story is identical to Ragnarok Odyssey with the addition of a new area after you complete the single-player campaign.  You’re still a new mercenary recruit and have to prove your worth to your peers by completing quests.  The quests are mostly monster or item related: kill X number of monsters or bring back X number of items.   The ACE quests have a little more variety and gives you challenges to knock back or kill a certain number of monster within a limited amount of time.  Halomonas weapons for each character class are another new addition to ACE.  These weapons are customizable and can be upgraded by completing fetch and kill quests.

    Just like the original game, you do not gain experience or levels by killing enemies.  You rank up after completing a chapter in the game.  There are ten chapters total and nine of them are story related.  The last chapter has optional quests that you can unlock though the main story line.  There are roughly ten quests in a chapter and they typically end with a boss battle.  Some chapters have multiple boss battles woven into them.  

    After completing the main story line, ACE's Yggdrasil Tower and trading features become available.  Yggdrasil Tower offers random monster and quests for a better gaming experience.  I just wish this was available without having to beat the story all over again after importing my previous save file.  While the quests and story line are dull, the fighting is still fun.

    The boss battles and fighting in general is epic.  The bosses are tough and pack quite a punch.  Even with their strength and might, they typically have a weak spot or two.  I found it funny that one ape like boss’ weakness was attacking him in the “rear.”  The battles with standard fare such as giants, orcs, wolves and bears are entertaining to watch with the dramatic Matrix-style attack moves.

    Ragnarok  Odyssey ACE
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    The new ACE abilities help out greatly in taking down a boss quickly.  Speed is important since the quests are all timed.  Each class has unique weapons, clothing, and ACE abilities assigned to them. Unfortunately, the camera angling annoyances carry over from Ragnarok Odyssey.  Since this is a third person game you would assume that the camera would be on your back the whole time.  Not so.  You have to use the right nub on the Vita to control the camera and it can get rather annoying constantly changing your view in the boss battles. 

    Audio wise, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is pretty much the same.  New dungeons like Yggdrasil Tower feature a song composed by Nobuo Uematsu.  (The man behind many great Final Fantasy songs!)  While the new dungeon music was great, the new shop music he composed has a completely different style to it.  I don't think it fits very well with the original theme.  The game's twenty-five track soundtrack comes with the  physical Vita version of the game.

    From an appropriateness standpoint, Ragnarok Odyssey Ace hasn't changed at all.  The cussing filter is over sensitive in the online mode, but the single player campaign has the s word in it. Go figure.  Some of the available outfits for female characters are a bit revealing.  Violence is a given and there is some alcohol.

    While Ragnarok Odyssey ACE offers many improvements, I don’t believe it’s worth buying again for existing Ragnarok Odyssey owners.  The added features are great, but the game is still flawed by repetitive quests.  The online gameplay is still fun for those who like to take on giant bosses with friends.  It’s great that PS3 owners get to join in on the action now too.  

  • Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny
    Developed by: Crafty Studios
    Published by: UIG Entertainment GmbH
    Released: October 16, 2017 (PS4 and Xbox One), October 30, 2013 (Steam)
    Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, MacOs, Linux
    Genre: Classic Role-Playing Game
    ESRB: T for Teen, Alcohol Reference, Blood, Fantasy Violence, Language, and Suggestive Themes
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $24.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you UIG Entertainment GmbH for sending us a review copy of the game.

    Note: This review is based on the PS4 Pro version and might not look, sound, and perform the same on other consoles and PC.

    In today's gaming environment it's hard to find a classic style RPG game that brings back memories of Baldur's Gate as well as Icewind Dale and other numerous classic PC RPGs that are long forgotten. I have seen that in the last few years smaller developers are bringing back the turn based and older action based RPGs that myself and others have been wanting to play again. Realms of Arkania: Blades of Destiny was a very successful old RPG (1990s) in Europe and saw a smaller, but dedicated fan base in North America during the game's original release. I never heard of it but if I did I would have loved to play it back in the early 1990s. The game has been remade from the original 1992 version and looks much better. Since the remake launched on Steam in 2013 it has seen numerous patches that have improved the game.

    Realms of Arkania: Blades of Destiny has you start out in a city named Thorwal with you and your party tasked by a man named Hetman Tronde Torbensson to try to find several pieces of a map that will lead the party to a special sword named Grimring that will help defeat a coming orc invasion to the lands of Arkania. The sword Grimring is called the Blade of Destiny and is the one sword powerful enough to stop Arkania from being destroyed by the orcs.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Enjoyable story, excellent voiced narrator, player friendly menus, Beautiful world map, and 3D battle maps.
    Weak Points: Repetitive NPC character models and clothing, game freezing from time to time, overall graphics very outdated.
    Moral Warnings: Blood splashes during battles, inappropriate sexual phrases, occasional suggestive themes, magic, and some language.

    At the beginning of the game you start out with 6 random party members by default (you have the option to pick party members if you so desire) and then you begin your quest in the city of Thorwal. Along the way to your destination you and party members will need to rest at makeshift camp sites. Occasionally during your travels you could be ambushed by orcs, wolves, dwarves, bandits, etc. and that is where the real fun begins.

    The game has enjoyable elements; like the writing and choices you have to make as you talk to NPCs is pretty hilarious. You can tell the developers have a pretty good sense of humor and wanted to bring that to the game. I always enjoyed listening to the narrator (yes there is a narrator, very uncommon in today's RPGs) and how it made me feel a greater part of the world and my party members. The game has you explore towns and dungeons in a 3D first person mode or a top down map mode. I would frequently switch between the two as I deemed it easier to navigate. Since I'm talking about map mode, I want to say that the world map and how you travel between towns and cities is just old school and I loved it. The world map would rotate down slightly and show where you're at and then you would click on a city or town you wanted to travel to and a red line (representing your party) would begin going from where you are to where you are going.

    Battles in the game take place on a turn based 3D map. You and your party members each have a 3D version of themselves on the battlefield and your enemy is represented in 3D as well. Each map will have trees, buildings, and other items to effect line of sight and movement. It was nice that the developers worked hard to add this type of variety to the battles.

    Graphically the game cannot compare to today's modern RPGs, which can turn off many gamers. I knew this was an old school remake and I understood that the graphics wouldn't be on par with The Witcher 3 or Horizon Zero Dawn, and I was perfectly fine with that. I was looking for a good story and old school PC RPG fun. The character models are not very good and there is repetitive use of clothing NPCs wear and also many identical NPC character models. I did enjoy the world map, town building, and the battle areas.

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

    Game Score - 71%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3.5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 71%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    The sound quality is pretty good. I love the narrator and the music in the game. The battle sounds are good but not great. The sound in the different areas (towns, dungeons, taverns, and inns) is decent, I just wished the developers added more variety.

    There are a few bugs in the game which would cause my game to freeze a few times. I learned to save very often, especially before I entered an inn room (It seemed to freeze very often when your party was in a room). Hopefully, the game will see another patch by the developers that will fix this issue.

    The controls and how you navigate the menus work just fine and I appreciate the developers for getting this to work properly on a console. I have played numerous PC ports of games and the controls are not mapped correctly and it causes frustration by the player. Going through the menus of each party member was a breeze and also utilizing the beautiful world map was very user friendly.

    This game is more geared toward adults or older teens. There are blood splashes during battles, magic, violence, and occasional suggestive themes. The words wh*re and sh*t or used in the game. There is a brothel and female characters the player will talk to inside.

    Even though the game isn't on par in many ways with today's RPG's I did enjoy it. Besides an occasional bug and the overuse of identical NPC models and clothing I would recommend giving it a chance; you just might find that you like the fun story. This game has a special charm that many modern games are lacking and I hope that the developer will bring more games of its type in the future.

  • Realms of Arkania: Star Trail (PS4)

     

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    Game Info:

    Realms of Arkania: Star Trail
    Developed by: Crafty Studios
    Published by: UIG Entertainment GmbH
    Released: June 26, 2018 (PS4), August 10, 2017 (Steam)
    Available on: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Classic Role-Playing Game
    ESRB: T for Teen, Use of Alcohol, Blood, Violence, Language, Partial Nudity and Sexual Themes
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $39.99

    Thank you UIG Entertainment GmbH for sending us a review copy of the game.

    Note: This review is based on the PS4 Pro version and might not look, sound, and perform the same on other consoles and PC.

    Realms of Arkania: Star Trail is the sequel to Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny. The developers put out a follow-up to the successful first game to give gamers a chance to further experience the rich lore and engaging world that they enjoyed in Blade of Destiny. A gamer is not required to play the first game to understand the basic world concept, but it does help because you have a better understanding of the history of the world since you were part of it.

    I was very happy to hear that the developers were remaking and upgrading the sequel and bringing it to PC and PS4. Of course gamers on Steam were able to enjoy it first and then it came to the PS4 roughly 10 months later. I enjoyed Blade of Destiny even with some of its flaws and quirks (see my review) so when I received a review code for Star Trail, I was eager to see how it would improve over the first game in the series.

    Star Trail has made many improvements over the first game and that I appreciate. The first thing I noticed was the character creator. It is very in-depth and allows you to really create the character you want (I just wish they offered more character portraits to choose from). I even hired a female mercenary to join our band of heroes. Once I had my party the way I wanted, I left the starting temple (that is where you create your character and hire mercenaries if you want, or you can keep the default adventurers) and went out to a tavern in the first town to talk to a few quest givers (no spoilers, sorry) and then began my great adventure.

    Realms of Arkania: Star Trail
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Very engaging story, excellent menu layout, ever changing world map, character creator, narrator and NPCs voice work improved, ability to add notes from NPC conversation to help quest and world lore, and 3D battle map has seen upgrades visually.
    Weak Points: Character models are not as diverse as RPGs of today. Menus freeze occasionally then unstick, experienced one game freeze and had to restart game. Some will be put off by the graphics. Need more character portraits in character creation.
    Moral Warnings: Blood splashes during battles, inappropriate sexual phrases, occasional suggestive themes, magic, some language, partial nudity, scantily dressed characters and NPCs.

    Several of the improvements I noticed (besides the character creator) was the menu system seemed to be more cleaned up and easy to understand. I could easily change to each party member then change to their inventory page (default), status, skills, quests, notes, recipes, and help pages. Each of the pages are well laid out, and easy to understand. For example the inventory page allows you to highlight and read important information on an item or a weapon (this is far more in-depth than I expected from an old school RPG). In the "note page" I always noted new information NPCs offered on the Salamander Stone (the main quest), and then sometimes on towns or areas of interest. This feature gives the player the ability to go back and read key information on a quest or whatever they are trying to figure out as they continue their adventure. It truly reminds me of those old school "pen and paper" adventures I had with my friends; think Dungeons & Dragons. Many RPGs expect you to memorize every detail as you play and don't offer the ability to take notes within the game from what you learn from NPCs or as you explore the world. How it works is that during a conversation with a NPC you have the option to hit a button on your controller (PS4) or keyboard (PC) and the game will make a scribble on paper sound letting you know that you just saved a note of the NPC answer to one of your questions; you can do this with all NPC conversations. Then you go to the "note page" in your menu system and read that note and any others of interest to you.

    The overview world map is also a huge improvement over the first. There seems to be areas and towns/villages that would populate the map as you travel from one area to the next. I love that feeling that you never know what will appear on your map if you and your party travel down a certain road. I remember going down a road on the map and it informed me of some not so nice elves that were shooting some arrows at my party (letting us know to turn around or be killed). Fortunately, I had just saved my game at the last rest area (which was just down the road from these elves), which made me a little bolder in seeing what would happen if I didn't turn around and confront the very rude elves; boy oh boy what a mistake that was on my part. The elves battle map opened up and there were a dozen or more grumpy elves waiting to show me that I made a huge mistake. The battle didn't last long and I decided I would take the cowards way out and reload my game from the last save point. I did however travel down the road where the elves were and this time I chose to leave and go back. You might ask why would you do that and the reason why is you don't know if you will travel there again later in the game and you want all road and areas on your map. I sometimes would come across a fork in the road and I would just go for it (saving at each rest stop and town/village as I went). As Bilbo Baggins would say "once you're on the road you never know where your feet might take you!"

    As I briefly mentioned above, the 3D battle map is a graphical upgrade over the first game, but not a completely brand new battle map. You can tell the developers worked hard to add some graphical touches and general improvements to a decent combat mechanic. It's still turn based and that is how I like it. Sound effects, like ambient character spell casting and weapon attacks, seem to have a better quality to them. I appreciate the developers are doing something different than other turn based RPGs.

    Blade of Destiny is known for its very good music and narrator commentary, and this continues with Star Trail. Once again everything is upgraded and this is what you want in a sequel. Even the NPCs have better voice over and sound quality. I do wish they had more voice actors though, but this isn't a big budget game like Skyrim or The Witcher 3, so for its low development cost and a smaller development team I will give them a "A+" for effort.

    Realms of Arkania: Star Trail
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 77%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 3.5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 69%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 4/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    I did encounter a few freezing bugs accessing the menus (from time to time) and also the game did lock up on me and I had to restart (that happened once) from my last save. Other than that it ran fine. I hope the developer will fix these issues and any others that players are finding.

    This seemed to have the same quality controls as the first, which is well done. It seems to surpass other PC ports to console over the last few years. I was able to get around menus, map functions, and battle commands with no problems. Oh, I love that the touchpad on the PS4 controller is used pull up my party menus so I can easily navigate them. I hope the developer will take advantage in the future of the speaker on the controller for NPC or narrator commentary that would be great (Realms of Arkania: Shadows over Riva 3rd game in the trilogy).

    I would only recommend this for adults and older teens. Your characters will drink alcohol in taverns. There is blood splashes in combat but nowhere else. Certain party members and NPCs use magic in combat. Attack sounds in combat can sound very violent. There is language in the game like sh*t but I haven't come across any other words. There is a brothel the party interacts with. Also some characters can be scantily dressed which would make them partly nude (the lady on the cover photo is pretty revealing).

    This game is a definite upgrade over the first game in the series. I would recommend it to "old school RPG gamers" who are looking for a taste of that classic feel. The character models, battle map, overview map, town/villages, and menus are far superior to the first game and that gives me hope for the final game in the series, Shadows over Riva.

  • Redemption Eternal Quest (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Redemption Eternal Quest
    Developed by: SimProse Studios|
    Published by: SimProse Studios
    Release date: August 28, 2015
    Version reviewed: .99
    Available on: PC
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $2.99

    Thank you SimProse for sending us this game to review!

    There’s not much of a story in Redemption Eternal Quest, but it’s your goal to gather a party, keep them happy, and make as much gold as possible in the time you have with them.  Redemption Eternal Quest is a simple yet fun game that has a card game feel to it with random events thrown at your party in every turn.  Sometimes they add positive side effects, but they’re more likely to hinder your party instead.

    When you start a new campaign you get to choose how many years you want it to be: 25, 50, 100, or unlimited.  The next limiter is the number of quests you would like to take on: 30, 60, 100, or 200.  Your game will end when either of those two values is met.  Once completed, your leader’s name and the amount of gold in their pouch will be recorded in the Hall of Champions (score board).

    Redemption Eternal Quest
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Inexpensive and fun simulation/RPG
    Weak Points: Not much variety in graphics; minimal sound; no voice acting; no tutorial
    Moral Warnings: Magic use; references to other gods and sacrificing to them; drinking references

    Once you have your game length set, it’s time to build your party with the selection of party members displayed.  They will have different hiring prices and pact lengths.  They also have various attributes to consider including age, life, combat, toughness, loyalty, potential, dexterity, character, luck and treasure find.  

    Building the party is easy, but keeping them happy takes more effort, especially when their pacts are up for renewal.  If they are happy with you they will happily renew at the current rate.  However, they often will want to increase in their recruiting fee and treasure percentage.  Negotiating is usually possible and you can ask them to consider lowering their rates or demand that they give you a real offer.  Either response can upset them (especially the second one) and cause them to take a break from adventuring with you, but you may save some money by trying regardless.

    At the tavern you can administer your adventurers (look over pacts, heal, revive, or train them for a price), choose your next adventure, or examine your minion cards.  You can hold up to eight minion cards and they are used to battle various creatures encountered along your adventures.

     

    Redemption Eternal Quest
    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 - 88%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Each quest is given a danger and a treasure rating, the higher the number the more you'll find!  Some quests are completed as fast as they are started. Others have multiple paths, dungeons, and battles.  The battle system is just a matter of laying cards down to hopefully reveal a higher numerical value after it’s revealed in the end.

    At the conclusion of each mission you’ll be informed of the loot and gold collected.  The items are automatically sold and the gold is deposited to your pouch upon arriving back at the tavern.  Some quests will reward you with prestige points which can be used  to add +1 to all stats on an adventurer, or add three years to their pact, draw 2 minion cards, and plenty of other options.

    With the completion of each quest time will pass and a random event will happen to your party.  One time our party was cursed by a drunk and angry mage and on another occasion we were blessed by some random god.  Like many RPGs with taverns you’ll find some alcohol references and magic use.  

    In the end Redemption Eternal Quest is a simple but fun RPG game.  The graphics are simple and are recycled often, but they get the job done.  There is no voice acting, but when there is background music, it’s pleasant to listen to.  The asking price is a reasonable $2.99 and worth checking out if you like card-based RPGs.

  • RPG Maker FES (3DS)

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    Game Info:

    RPG Maker FES
    Developed by: KADOKAWA GAMES
    Published by: NIS America
    Release date: June 27, 2017
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for Alcohol references, Fantasy violence, Mild suggestive themes
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

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

    Years ago, I made a PC game using RPG Maker XP. Though I relied mostly on the stock artwork and sound effects, the option to use original assets truly make a game stand out from the rest. RPG Maker FES has a decent amount of fantasy themed characters, enemies, buildings, and interior assets built into it, but if you want to do anything that goes beyond the scope of the included material, you may want to consider the cheaper PC version instead. For $40 FES is a competent suite that is relatively easy to use and making games on the go is surprisingly fun.

    In total there are sixteen save slots which can be used for various game projects. When creating a new game you’ll be brought to the main screen which has five options: Map Settings, Event Settings, Database, Test Play, and Save. Test Play lets you play your game in its current state and will show you a debug screen and will allow you to pass though obstacles that you normally couldn’t. Save should be self-explanatory if you don’t want to lose your hard work.

    The map settings screen is where you’ll be designing your world map, cities, interiors, and dungeons. There are ninety-nine map slots so take that into consideration if you add a lot of unique houses and dungeons/caves in your game. Whatever map option you choose you’ll have to pick the size (32X32, 64X64, 128X128) and design it. There are pre-made samples of each category and you can use them as-is or tweak them to your liking. Creating maps from scratch is entirely possible too.

    RPG Maker FES
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great way to create and try free RPGs that other users have made
    Weak Points: Without the ability to add your own resources you have to rely on the built-in content and upcoming DLC packs
    Moral Warnings: RPG violence and optional magic use; you can create taverns; some females are shown in skimpy outfits

    When creating your map you can paint different terrains by pressing the X button. From this menu you can select black for a backdrop and various terrains like dirt, grass, gravel, sand, snow, ice, and so forth. My only complaint here is that even the smallest size is way too big for many interior maps and an option to bucket fill the black backdrop would have been helpful.

    A map without stuff to do is pretty boring. You can hard code in enemy encounters in specific places or create character events and let them move in specified patterns or wander around freely until your character touches or talks to them.

    There are many simple pre-built events like a hotel, church, and store interfaces. The menu dialog is all configured; all you need to do is add in the items or set the prices for the inn or the cost of prayer to revive a fallen party member. Adding your own event is necessary for NPC encounters. Events are done through a drag and drop interface and you cannot code or add your own scripts whatsoever.

    RPG Maker FES
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

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

    The main character and party members (up to four at a time) are configured in the database section. Monsters, groups, professions, weapons, and sellable items are also customized here. The database also stores your game’s name and subtitle. Sadly, you have a limited number of characters for the game’s title length. The subtitle gives you a little more to work with though.

    There’s a 27-page manual built into the game and it’s handy in teaching you the basics about RPG Maker FES’ interface. Most of features are best learned through trial and error. It took me a while to master my game’s opening sequence with the story and gender assignments. The hardest part was to have it go away afterward. I solved that problem by having it place the character somewhere on the map after it ran. Before I set up the story sequence, I couldn’t figure out how to change the character’s starting position. Instead of working with the character’s icon on the map, it has to be done through the event manager.

    From a moral perspective, you can make games as magic heavy or absent as you like. Standard RPG violence is expected in the built-in battle system where you issue commands and see them take place. There isn’t any blood shown. Sadly, some of the female character art shows more skin than clothes. Taverns can be present in your towns, but you can alter the menu to only serve root beer if you wish.

    All in all, RPG Maker FES has a lot to offer for aspiring game makers. Anyone can freely download the RPG Maker FES player from the eShop and play games that other users have made. DLC packs offering more content will be released in the future and I look forward to seeing what I and others can do with this software.

  • Rune Factory 4 Special (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    Rune Factory 4 Special
    Developed by: Hakama Inc.
    Published by: Marvelous Inc.
    Available on: Switch (originally on 3DS)
    Release date: February 25, 2020
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for fantasy violence, mild language, mild suggestive themes, use of alcohol
    Price: $39.99

    Thank you Marvelous Inc. for sending us this game to review!

    Rune Factory 4 was originally released in 2012 on the 3DS. The Switch exclusive special edition adds a new opening sequence, animated cutscenes, CGI illustrations, a newlywed mode, and optional DLC (Another Episode). Completing the three main story arcs took me approximately 105 hours. Given that the newlywed mode unlocks for each eligible candidate after marrying them, there is a lot of replay value in this title.

    The newlywed mode takes place in an alternate game world and is not impacted by the game save/state of the main campaign. There are new quests specific to your spouse and gives you a little more insight into their life before you were in it. The Another Episode DLC pack also adds more character development, but the only free fully-voiced and animated story available is about the elder dragon, Ventuswill.

    The main story begins with your character on an airship headed to Selphia to bring an offering to Ventuswill. Depending on your character’s reaction to flying in the air, the game makes an attempt to guess their gender. It guessed wrongly for me and I had to alter my response to play as a female, Frey. Her trip is sabotaged and she is thrown off of the ship and lands on Ventuswill alive, but without her memories.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good story, voice acting, and cast of characters; catchy music; enhanced visuals
    Weak Points: Huge difficulty spike in the 3rd story arc; a couple of glitches; visuals don't look good on a big screen
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence with no blood; mild language (d*mn; dumb*ss, b*stard); demon themed enemies including one named Baal; dragons are given offerings and treated as gods; minor innuendos; some negative remarks are made at characters of different races (dwarf, elf, etc); there's a swimsuit festival

    Everyone in Selphia is unique, but most of them are very kind and welcoming. Frey is mistaken for a princess and is provided lodging in the castle. She is also given a garden to maintain. It’s a lot of work to till, plant, and water the crops. Thankfully creatures can be tamed by throwing stuff at them, and if you get them to like you enough, they’ll help with farming chores. Feeding and brushing your monsters daily will improve your relationship with them. Another method is taking them with you when exploring dungeons. Some monsters will produce helpful items like milk and eggs on a daily basis.

    The villagers are also willing to go on adventures with you if you invite them while conversing with them. You have to press the L or R button to trigger the additional conversation menu. Giving characters gifts daily and especially on holidays or their birthdays will strengthen your relationship with them. Although you can tell villagers of the same sex that you love them, marriage can only happen between opposite genders.

    Eligible partners have backstory quests and dating events that need to be completed before a marriage proposal can take place. Males have to have a double bed and an engagement ring on hand before proposing while females don’t have to worry about those requirements. The randomized town events and festivities keep things interesting. Participating in the town festivals and contests will increase your friendship levels with the townspeople. Be sure to talk to everyone before and after the events. After the festivals, you’ll get some loot and I’ve gotten many powerful weapons this way. I’m not sure why, but one time I won first place in a contest and my loot disappeared seconds after opening the treasure chest.

    If you don’t want to wait for random drops, you’re better off crafting your own weapons, armor, and accessories. Before you can cook, craft, forge, or fly an airship, you’ll need to spend prince/princess points and obtain a license. Princess/Prince points are earned by defeating bosses and completing quests from the townspeople. I strongly recommend increasing your backpack size sooner rather than later so you won’t have to worry about inventory space as much.

    Rune Factory 4 Special
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay: 19/20
    Graphics: 7/10
    Sound: 8/10
    Stability: 4/5
    Controls: 5/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence: 6.5/10
    Language: 6/10
    Sexual Content: 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 7.5/10

    Without giving away too many spoilers, the story mostly revolves around the elder dragon, Ventuswill. You’ll begin by investigating dungeons per her request and fighting various bosses. After their defeat, they return to their human form, but without their memories. Somehow, they’re connected to Ventuswill. The story unfolds through three story arcs. The final arc has a massive difficulty spike that will require you to significantly boost your crafting and forging skills in order to survive the various elemental traps and much stronger enemies. I must confess that after numerous hours of grinding, I found the final ending to be a bit lackluster for all of the effort put into experiencing it. I still had fun, but the ending had me thinking “That’s it?!?”

    Visually, Rune Factory 4 Special looks good on the small screen, but when docked and enlarged, it doesn’t scale well. The animated cutscenes when meeting characters are interesting, but an unnecessary addition. There’s a wide variety in monsters, crops, weapons, and bosses. The visitors in Selphia tend to only wear the same three outfits and hairstyles though.

    On the audio front, the background music is catchy and got stuck in my head on multiple occasions. The dialogue is not fully voice-acted, but each of the characters have several audible greetings and phrases. Some of these greetings get repetitive after a while.

    Morally speaking, Rune Factory 4 Special earns its Teen rating for language (d*mn; dumb*ss, b*stard) and innuendos. The battles are in real time and bloodless. Some of the enemies are demons and sometimes leave behind a bowl of their blood that you can use for crafting. Wine is an ingredient for some food recipes, but I don’t recall any characters drinking it. Selphia has a dwarf and an elf who are a little self-conscious on what others think about them because of their race.

    If you don’t mind those moral issues, Rune Factory 4 Special is bound to entertain for many hours and is worth the price of entry. I’m not sure if the enhancements are worth re-buying the game if you already have it on 3DS. I did enjoy playing it for the first time on the Switch though.

  • Septerra Core (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Septerra Core
    Developed by: Monolith
    Published by: Topware Interactive
    Released: October 31, 1999
    Available on: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: RPG
    ESRB rating: T for Teen (animated blood, animated violence)
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $4.99

    During the 1990s, a slew of role-playing games hit the market. Some went on to become powerful franchises, while others faded into obscurity. Still others turned into “sleeper hits,” receiving little attention when they were first released, but they gained a steadfast fan following. “Septerra Core,” from Topware Interactive, falls into this category. Released in 1999, it has a dedicated following, and many of our readers have wanted us to do a review of this game.

    The world of Septerra consists of several continents arranged as a series of shells, in a sort of clockwork structure. Every 100 years, the continents align in such a fashion that light from the sun can reach the core, and with the proper key, can supposedly unlock the doors to Heaven. Septerra Core focuses on a young woman named Maya. Her hometown and family were destroyed by a group living on the shell above hers, and she burns with a desire for vengeance. Her efforts lead her to become embroiled in a plot to unite the pieces of the key and activate the core, and the fate of the entire world is at stake.

    The plot is adequate to move the story forward, but doesn't deviate too much from an “on the rails” format. While the pacing is somewhat sluggish, it is interesting enough to keep moving forward. It doesn't get much better than “interesting,” though; there really aren't any “wow” moments, or character traits that really hook the player, compelling them to play more in order to see what happens next. The world itself is intriguing, at least; an odd mishmash of cyberpunk and fantasy, with dashes of steampunk mixed in. Maya wields a large-caliber gun called a Vulcan in combat, but also can cast magic spells. One of her companions is a skilled mechanic and even constructs robot dogs, but prefers to wield wooden staves and is one of the best spellcasters in the game. The graphics are quite dated, though. The game looks like it came from the '90s, and many of the characters are simply recolors of each other. The voice acting is well done, and the music fits the tone well.

    Septerra Core
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting storyline; full voice acting
    Weak Points: Clunky, redundant combat system; confusing and unnecessary magic system; long
    Moral Warnings: Language; some blood; magic system involves tarot-like cards

    One of the biggest weaknesses in the game is the combat. Septerra Core attempts to make a mashup of real-time and turn-based combat. Your characters have a charge meter of sorts, and the longer you wait for this meter to fill, the more powerful your attack can be when you press the button to act. While you're waiting, though, your opponents also can attack, based on their own (hidden) charge meter. So it becomes a bit of a balancing act of deciding to wait for a more powerful attack, or trying for several quicker, but less damaging attacks. In many ways, the actions you can take in combat resemble JRPGs. Your character can launch attacks, or cast spells, or use items when you initiate your turn. However, the limitations become obvious – and aggravating – when you first encounter the undead in the game. One of the actions that zombies can take on their turn is to shuffle slowly toward one of the characters in your party. This isn't exactly a problem – they hit like a truck, and it's nice to have time to wear them down before they get close. But it's pathetic that the best way to defeat these creatures – backing away while hitting them with your ranged weapons – is denied to you simply because of the fact that you don't have the choice of moving in combat. Your characters can leap from the middle of the party, smack an opponent with a stick, and then leap back into formation, but can't manage the simple act of walking away? While the combat system is different from many other role-playing games, it's executed in a clumsy, often irritating, fashion.

    Even worse than the combat system, though, is the magic system. You are given one magical, tarot-like card near the beginning of the game, as well as some rudimentary instruction on how to use it. You discover more cards over the course of the game, which unlock more spells. The problem is that there's nothing in the game that explains how these cards are supposed to interact with each other, or how to use them effectively. I actually had to look up a guide on the Internet to make any sense of what you are supposed to do, and even then it seemed to me that it would be more effective to simply use your standard attacks and items – especially given the limits in the collective magic pool where all party members draw magical energy from. The magic system seems superfluous to the game as a whole. While it could potentially flesh out the game world, it also can be completely ignored with no real effect on the gameplay. As a result, combat becomes little more than a grind – wear down your opponents, eat food when your health gets low, repeat. Fighting the bosses isn't any different than fighting the trash mobs. It got to the point where I actively tried to find ways to avoid fighting simply to save time.

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

    Game Score - 54%
    Gameplay - 10/20
    Graphics - 4/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 72%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The game is quite lengthy, and some players report putting 50 or more hours into it. Part of the issue, though, is the lack of a fast travel option. Sometimes to revisit certain key locations, you need to pass through areas several times, often at points where the enemies no longer pose a challenge to you, but you are forced to fight them anyway. A lack of a journal also doesn't help, as it can be easy to lose track of what you're supposed to be doing next. There are guides available on the Internet to help you get back on track, at least. If you're playing the game on Steam, there are no achievements, but you can at least get trading cards. As a final note, those using the Mac and Linux ports should be aware that the developers have used Wine to handle the translation from the original Windows release, so there could be the potential for bugs or slowdowns from having to deal with an emulator. Your mileage may vary in this regard.

    There are a few elements to consider in regards to the moral front. A few naughty words do appear, such as b****rd and a**e, but they tend to be few and far between. The Lord's name also is taken in vain a couple times. There is an occasional spray of blood from attacks, but the blood doesn't remain, and corpses quickly fade away when they fall. Undead appear in a few areas, but given the crude graphics they aren't very detailed. There are references to demons, including the ability to summon and command beings that claim to be demons, but the theological system is one of fantasy. The mythology of the game does borrow heavily from Christian theology (e.g. the “savior” of the world is the only-begotten son of the “Creator”) but this shouldn't be mistaken for a Christian game by any means.

    Septerra Core is well-loved by those who played it in the 1990s. Is it a good game? Sure, it has some good qualities. But is it a great game? A classic? I would argue that this assessment is a stretch. The dated graphics, the sluggish plot, and the poorly implemented combat and magic systems can make this game more of a chore than an escape. Other role-playing games from this era were much more solid. Although it has a few fans, Septerra Core is deservedly forgotten.

  • Shin Megami Tensei (SNES)

     

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    Game Info:

    Shin Megami Tensei
    Developed By: Atlus
    Published By: Atlus
    Released: October 31, 1992
    Available On: iOS, SNES
    Genre: Turn-Based JRPG
    ESRB Rating: Teen (iOS version rated for this, SNES version nominally Mature)
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $27.99 (SNES version) $5.99 (Apple iOS version)

    Note: This mainly concerns the SNES (fan translation patch to English from original Japanese, must own a legitimate copy of the original game to use the patch) and iOS versions (official English translation by Atlus, only playable via certain emulators and older phones currently). Content from other Japan-only ports like the PSX, Sega CD and PC Engine versions (unavailable via any legal means in English at this time) will not be covered.

    When people discuss religion, questions of ethics and philosophy naturally stem from said discussions, as many ethics and philosophical positions have originated from religions. However, that doesn't usually make for an interesting video game experience, but Atlus decided to go against the grain and try with the 1992 release of Shin Megami Tensei.

    Before we continue, some background. Shin (meaning "True" in Japanese) Megami Tensei is a semi-reboot of the Japanese Megami Tensei series for the NES, which themselves were based on a sci-fi novel series called Digital Devil Story by Aya Nishitani. The "Megami Tensei" part of the title refers to the "Resurrection of the Goddess", a reference to Japanese mythology and it's key goddess figure Izanami, which was a plot point of the original novels. The SMT series (also available in Japan for its early games for the most part) tells it's own story, merely reusing some themes (though some elements directly related to the source still make some cameos), so the title is a bit of an artifact not very indicative of its own story and gameplay.

    The story is as follows. In 19XX, while checking your email, some mysterious man named Steven sent you and everyone he could find an email with something called the "Demon Summoning Program", and included a dire warning that someone had broken down the barriers of the natural and supernatural worlds. The first half of the game involves seeing his warnings come true and ends with the world being destroyed in nuclear fire despite your best attempts to stop the forces of Law and Chaos from destroying everyone caught in the middle.

    The second half of the story resumes after the apocalypse, where humanity is split into factions, and you must choose whether you will align with Law, Neutrality, or Chaos, all of which are manipulated and led by demons of various religions and myths, and the dramatic finale takes place at one of the few bastions of civilization left (after what amounts to a replay of the Great Flood of Genesis), where you must decide what ideology you will side with while the forces of Law (led by the highest orders of angels in service to God) and Chaos (led by Lucifer) vie for your allegiance.

    The gameplay is quite similar to first-person computer RPGs like Wizardry, utilizing 3D style dungeons and a top-down overworld map. Combat involves using melee, ranged (guns), and magical attacks, and both humans and demons can be party members.

    Shin Megami Tensei
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting monster summon and control mechanics; interesting story discussing themes of ethics and philosophy
    Weak Points: Some game-breaking bugs; tedious menu-based controls; repetitive music; some game mechanics poorly explained and fleshed out
    Moral Warnings: Occult and demon summoning references as explicit plot points and gameplay mechanics; some RPG based violence and unavoidable scenes of murder; moderately strong language used by all characters throughout; option to directly oppose God and a faction that is Christian-like in many respects; many ethically questionable decisions available to the player; some sexual content depicted in monster designs; frequent usage of religions and mythology in a crossover context that would be considered blasphemous

    Predating Pokemon, the game allows negotiating with demons to get them to join your party as opposed to fighting them, and you can also combine them in summoning chambers to create more powerful demons. Demons are used as a generic term for everything in the game (even humans count and are treated as such if recruited) that can be ally or enemy. Depending on the choices you make through the game, some demons will be more inclined to join or reject you depending on your alignment to Law, Neutrality, or Chaos.

    Eventually, there is a point where your alignment is locked into one of the three ideologies, and this will affect the final bosses you encounter and certain rewards specific to siding with one of three ideologies as well as giving one of three endings, where representatives of each ideology congratulate you on making your choice for good or ill. There are also some more minor gameplay features. Maps and combat feature a "moon phase", which will affect certain treasures and chances to successfully negotiate with certain demons. Another feature, which would get expanded in the sequel, is sword fusion, where one can infuse a sword with a demon and get a more powerful weapon from it, some of which are only usable if you have a certain alignment.

    Graphics are, by 1992 standards, adequate. All demons are well designed, albeit some are palette swaps of each other with minor changes. Dungeons tend towards a monochrome look due to limited palettes, and exploration can be boring and difficult due to little variation in theme aside from wall colors in many of them.

    Controls are a mix of first-person RPG controls in dungeons and combat and top-down controls in the overworld. Both function reasonably well, though there are a lot of menus to wade through. Sound is good if limited, with many iconic if repetitive techno/cyberpunk style themes mixed in with many themes appropriate to the factions (the Law theme has a cathedral music motif, appropriate given its leaders for example), and sound effects are adequate but little more than that.

    Stability is another story. While otherwise completely playable from beginning to end, the alignment system (stored as a variable in the game engine) can get buggy if the player tries to sequence break certain story points, which can break the game, such as leaving the player locked into one alignment ending while their alignment is locked into something different.


    Given this is a game around demon summoning, use of religions for discussing moral and ethical positions, and general occult and magical themes, it has a lot of moral concerns that require discussing in detail.

    Violence in-game is rather sterile and RPG like in combat, but several murders do occur and are described in enough detail there is no mistaking what has happened. Sexual content is somewhat prevalent, and some demon design feature nudity and at least one attempts to seduce you at more than one point in the story. The SNES and iOS releases, however, do censor even more explicit details in this regard to be found in other Japan-only releases like the Sega CD and PC Engine versions, as no explicit nudity is present in these scenes. Language is somewhat crass and some mild sexual innuendo is present, and the religious will certainly be offended by certain characters who blaspheme God. There are references to the occult alongside explicit demon worship, services you can partake in if you are so inclined.

    The ethical and moral need to be elaborated on, as the game takes one of three positions: Law is associated with monotheistic religions like Judaism and Christianity (and their serial numbers filed off adherents called Messians) and concerns a desire for order and a willingness to sacrifice free will. Neutrality concerns a desire for a choice between the extremes of Law and Chaos and is represented by Taoism and other esoteric faiths that fall between the Law and Chaos extremes. Chaos is represented by enemies of Law such as Lucifer, who leads an alliance of polytheistic faiths, fallen angels, and other classic opponents of monotheism (and their human adherents are collectively called Gaians). Chaos is primarily concerned with absolute free will, which leads to a world where no one is master over another and is a world based on personal strength for good or ill.

    None of the three are presented as absolutely good or evil; all sides have arguments they can make for their sides. The player can, until the point of decision, work for or against whatever side they please; whatever questionable ethics they choose to show are their choice. After the alignment lock, they must work for the side they have chosen, and if on the Law or Chaos side, all demons explicitly aligned with the opposing side are barred from recruitment and will not work with you if summoned.

    Further, the story is a crossover cosmology. While Law is primarily associated with Judaism and Christianity, it occasionally strikes alliances with Law inclined beings from other faiths. Chaos does the same thing from the other perspective, and according to the developers, human belief shapes the power and perception of the supernatural, hence the presentation of the supernatural in the story.

    Shin Megami Tensei
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 24%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 4/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

    While the above is certainly bound to offend depending on your religious principles, God is certainly implied (if not shown in this game, his seraphim act as agents of His Will) to be devoid of his more reasonable and compassionate traits, with his side being rather fanatical. Chaos is not much better, with Lucifer making no secret his world design is one of the strong trumping the weak and any semblance of order trampled into nothingness, so while the ethics of the Law and Chaos sides may have their virtues, neither of their leaders come off as overly sympathetic. Neutrality even has issues, as it involves what amounts to genocide of the leaders of Law and Chaos, basically declaring one will side with neither Law or Chaos' extreme views via omnicide. While it's the canon ending used for the next game, it is a morally checkered choice that isn't much better than siding with Lucifer, even if you are a Christian. Even Law may be offensive, as you are imposing God's Will via force instead of choice, which is certain to offend Christians who do not support the forcible imposition of theocracy.

    The creators have again gone on record in interviews that they take no particular sides, religions were used as a backdrop to explore the extremes in the Law/Neutral/Chaos philosophies. The final decision as to what is right is for the player to decide for themselves, though, again, the manner in which they did this will certainly offend anyone of faith in some manner, given how there is precious little ground for a non-extreme view of any of the material they presented in the story.

    Overall, as a game, it has an interesting story with a mix of science fiction meets fantasy that dares to make the player ask themselves questions of ethics in the process. It also has the gameplay that Pokemon would later refine further that requires strategy and foresight for getting the different endings in the long term.

    On the moral side, this game is bound to be controversial to Christians at best, as well as adherents to many other faiths, especially given the fantasy kitchen sink where all religions and myths are presumed true, and the summoning of demons, occult imagery, and the choice to directly oppose God will certainly offend Christians, though working for him is also presented as a somewhat negative choice unless you don't mind imposing His Will via force as opposed to choice.

    It's a timeless classic that set a bar future games in the SMT series would meet, improve on, and excel in terms of gameplay. However, if the presentation of morals is remotely offensive to you, and as a Christian, they nigh likely will be, then steer clear of this title, especially if you're not an adult capable of handling mature themes of this nature.

  • Shin Megami Tensei 2 (SNES)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Shin Megami Tensei 2
    Developed By: Atlus Co., Ltd.
    Published By: Atlus Co., Ltd.
    Released: Apr 18, 1994
    Available On: SNES
    Genre: Turn-based Role Playing Game
    ESRB Rating: None specified (would be rated Mature by contemporary ERSB standards)
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $100.00+ (new) $11.00+ (used)

    Note: Only the SNES version is covered since it can be played legally in English, provided you legitimately own a copy of the original Japanese ROM and patch it manually into English via a fan translation. All other versions and ports like the PSX and GBA ports will not be addressed in this review.


    When Atlus released the first Shin Megami Tensei, they had every intention of following its events up with a sequel. Given the first game had three endings, they had to pick one and build on it. In terms of gameplay, they also had to take what was good about the first and make it even better. Whether they succeeded or not will be the topic of this review.

    The story follows from the Neutral ending of the first SMT, where the hero defeated the faction leaders of both Law (Messian) and Chaos (Gaian). The survivors of both factions, now forced to live in the Great Cathedral, one of the few places that survived the flood that overwhelmed Tokyo towards the close of the first game, initially attempted to make the most of their situation.

    As the water receded, they continued to build upon the foundations of the Great Cathedral, turning it into a massive towering arcology that became known as the Tokyo Millenium. In the process, the Messians seized power, forced the Gaians underground, and established a theocratic regime under the rule of God, controlled by a council of elders at the apex of the Tokyo Millienum called "The Center".

    The Center prophesied a Messiah would come to deliver them all to a better world, one where, despite their efforts, attacks by demons were a constant threat. However, God seemingly proved silent on what to do next, so the Elders decided to take matters into their own hands.

    Not long after, an amnesiac gladiator fighter named Hawk soon discovers he was the result of this plan, a plan to provide the Messiah God had promised. He soon discovers not only his true name and past but also that the Center is riddled with corruption. As he is forced to take a stand against that corruption, he also discovers both Lucifer and God are manipulating events in the background, and soon the man created as the Messiah must choose to either follow the will of God, Lucifer, or neither to save humanity from a fate even worse than the nuclear fires that had ushered about the apocalypse in the previous game.

    The gameplay is essentially identical to the original game, with first-person 3D dungeons and a top-down overworld map. However, it has undergone several improvements, such as simplified menus, a much more accessible minimap feature to avoid getting lost (and that has been improved to show the direction you are facing to make navigation less painful). Demon negotiations and summoning return, as do sword fusions. There is now a new feature called "fusion accidents" where you can get a random demon as opposed to the one you expected to get at random intervals, which is affected by the moon phase mechanic that also returns from the previous game (which again affects certain treasures and demon negotiation success). Demons can now "inherit" skills from prior fusions, which provides more flexibility for retaining effective teams with well-rounded abilities.

    Shin Megami Tensei 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Improved storyline from predecessor; refined gameplay mechanics
    Weak Points: Some game-breaking bugs
    Moral Warnings: RPG level violence; Some adult language and some crude sexual dialogue; some highly sexualized monster designs; blatant occult references and multiple mythological references alongside explicit Christian ones (some presented in a very negative way); negative portrayals of what amounts to Christians and God, with unavoidable opposition to both (including rampant blasphemy depending on player choices); references to gambling and alcohol, with player ability to do both activities if they choose

    Graphics retain many of the samey dungeon designs, but there is now a more colorful and vibrant look to offset the dreary and sterile post-apocalypse/cyberpunk motif. Demons have much more detail in this game and even some decent degree of animation. Monochrome colors are still quite prevalent in 3-D dungeon areas, but at least they have more texturing and details. By 1994 standards, it was a decent improvement on the first game, though it still may seem dated to modern players in terms of area palettes.

    Sound is somewhat improved, with many cyberpunk and techno themes like in the first game alongside many themes appropriate to the factions. Sound effects are slightly more varied than the previous title, not to mention sound more crisp and distinct. Controls are largely the same as in the preceding game save some ergonomic improvements like easier to navigate menus.

    Stability is both better and worse than in SMT I. While it's somewhat harder to trigger game-breaking bugs that can mess up character alignment so you are locked into one alignment on another path, it's still possible to do so via some sequence breaking glitches. Some other bugs are somewhat beneficial, like random drops from certain early game enemies giving you powerful end game level equipment, though purposely trying to trigger them can corrupt save files as well.


    On the moral side of things, while inheriting many of the moral problems that plagued its preceding game it also has it's own specific moral concerns.

    Violence is of the RPG level and language is no worse than a movie fit for nighttime viewing most of the time, and while there is some mild sexual innuendo (you have some female party members who will get sexually proposed in a mild fashion that is played for laughs in some demon negotiations), the game is otherwise no worse than it's predecessor in this regard. There are some references to gambling and getting drunk scattered about, but they are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, but common enough early on to be worth noting as a concern.

    However, in terms of sexual depiction, the game does feature some more sexually detailed demons. One looks like a talking green male private part riding a golden chariot (meant to partially embody the Buddhist take on the sin of lust, and partially based on a Japanese wordplay pun). Some demons have exposed female breasts (mostly those based on mythological beings associated with fertility, though in one bizarre example a male being is depicted with these as part of their incredibly off-putting design which looks freakish in general). This aside, there are no other serious red flags save one demon based on Aleister Crowley who makes references to wanting to perform an orgy (a reference to the real Crowley and his own historically infamous hedonism).

    As for the occult and supernatural, Chaos returns in all its pagan trappings, complete with hexagrams and occult imagery, though Law is not much better. While they aren't prone towards such evil imagery, some of the more depraved representatives of Law are not above using demons to do their dirty work or act not much better or even worse than said demons despite their alleged alignment to the Will of God. There is also the standard demon negotiation and summoning, though given the player is supposed to basically be a serial numbers filed off Jesus clone, the fact you can convince demons to be subject to your orders makes a bizarre sort of biblical sense. Regardless, the circumstances and depiction are still quite morally dark grey at absolute best.

    It's on this note we need to address a major concern, one the developers had to make clear in interviews: While God (aka YHVH) is the final boss (even in the Law ending), he is NOT the actual God. He's more a corrupt parody based on a warped perception of his true nature since human belief influences how the supernatural manifests in the SMT universe. For Christians worried they are committing the ultimate blasphemy, despite all the trappings of the Abrahamic deity YHVH is styled after, he's a twisted (and mortal) avatar borne of human misinterpretation of his true nature. For all in-universe intents and purposes, he's regarded as the real deal by his subordinates and enemies because they too have been altered by human perception to see YHVH as the true face of God, not the demented parody he is.

    Shin Megami Tensei 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 29%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 4/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

    With that in mind, the endings all have some ethical concerns no matter what your morals are:

    The Neutral ending involves striking down both Lucifer and YHVH and amounts to committing deicide as opposed to giving humanity anything to believe in, and while a Christian may not lose sleep over Lucifer's defeat, YHVH does form a huge core of the reason most people in-universe have any sort of hope, taking him out (corrupt and twisted as he may be) in favor of no higher power deciding man's fate will likely be unsettling at best.

    Chaos involves siding with Lucifer, and while Lucifer comes off as much less morally grey in this game than he does in the prequel (though his motives are just as ideologically opposed to Law), a Christian will certainly be repulsed by the idea of teaming up with Lucifer to deliberately rebel against a God-like figure (even if the stand-in is a twisted, demented parody of the real deal).

    Even Law will be disturbing, because while that ending is based on holding YHVH to the same covenant the real God held people to (and you team up with Satan [a distinct being from Lucifer], who fulfills his Jewish role as God's Accuser to call YHVH out on breaking said covenant). While this does follow the basic concepts of Judeo-Christian thought that God's covenant with mankind is bilateral and that neither can cheat on its provisions, you are still judging who amounts to be GOD and trying to strike them down in the process.

    All gameplay paths cover extensively the corruption and hypocrisy those who claim to be following the Law may fall prey to; Christians may find their criticisms of those who do not practice what they preach (a recurrent plot element) to be quite disturbing. The game goes into graphic detail the kinds of depravity (including slavery, mind control, and genocide, among other horrors) those who believe themselves just will commit when they believe none of their actions are hypocritical and even righteous. By the same token, no feelings are spared in showing the dark side of spiritual hypocrisy humanity can fall prey to.

    Another related but different moral and ethical concern is the fact your main character is a Jesus clone. The game is very careful to never outright say this about your character (closest they get is Satan alluding to Jesus' mother at one point in an indirect reference to you), but the implications are very obvious for anyone with a passing knowledge of the New Testament. Further, given your main character may choose in-universe moral choices that are based on the Law/Neutral/Chaos alignments and some of the choices are quite ethically grey regardless, it could definitely unsettle a Christian to play as a Jesus clone who can, if they choose, act in a manner Christ would NOT act like.

    As a game, Shin Megami Tensei 2 is a definite improvement over its predecessor in every regard, and while still plagued with some stability issues, deserves to be considered a classic whose appeal is worthy of any serious role-playing fan. Morally, this game dares to examine Law and all it's dark sides as well as all its virtues, and Christians are going to be made uncomfortable for sure over how it presents this. Even those who simply align with the philosophy of Law, in general, will be wary as this game is themed around Law with no sugarcoating its excesses and flaws. The other content mentioned like the violence, occult themes, sexual depictions, and other material will not make anyone already unnerved by the above any more comfortable, and no matter what you believe; even if you take into account the word of the developers, you still will have to fight a God-like being at some point, there is no avoiding it. Neutrality and Chaos are given somewhat less focus, but one focuses on the reverse of Law, and the other leans in the direction of denying any obeisance to a higher power, and the latter is likely to be disturbing in particular to anyone of any faith, not just Christianity. The former is also somewhat glossed over and it's negatives are not dwelled on. Considering Chaos is advocated by Lucifer, this is not a good thing for Christians in particular especially since it's key pillar is utter defiance of even the good aspects of God's law.

    In essence, it's better than the first game in terms of gameplay but still retains many things that were bad about it, and morally, it asks a lot of uncomfortable moral questions and presents a lot of material certain to make anyone who believes in God cringe at best, but if you are a mature adult who likes good RPGs and is reasonably secure in your faith and/or are not troubled by such questions and ideas being posed to you, then this game is certainly worth playing and beating at least once.

  • Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (PS2)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne in Japan, and Shin Megami Tensei III: Lucifer's Call in Europe
    Developed By: Atlus
    Published By: Atlus
    Released: January 29, 2004 (Japan), October 12, 2004 (North America), July 1, 2005 (Europe)
    Available On: Playstation 2
    Genre: Turn-Based RPG
    ESRB Rating: Mature
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $19.99

    Good versus Evil is so old hat it's beyond worn out, and the Shin Megami Tensei series usually tries to have endings that depend on your perspective of their good and evil. However, what happens when the series decides to mix that formula up, as SMT 3 Nocturne does, is when we have a game that is worth some examination.

    First, some background. Nocturne was one of the first actual games in the mainline SMT franchise that the world outside Japan got, and the version released internationally is an enhanced remake of the original, containing bug fixes and expanded content. The international version also features a mild crossover with Dante from the Devil May Cry series (circa the second game). There was a third version, but it was Japan-only again and had only minor balance tweaks and switched out Dante for Raidou Kunozoha from that SMT subseries. This review will cover the international versions only.

    The story is a bit unique, in that you get thrown into it immediately and only find out how it happened later, but the short version is that a cult plans to goad the world into reverting it to the primordial state it was in before Creation so they can reform it according to their wishes. You get thrown into the middle of it, and Lucifer is working in the background to help you, but his help comes with obvious strings attached. Further, depending on your actions, your decisions regarding the reshaping of the world could lead to consequences that span universes.

    The gameplay is the same tried-and-true formula as the previous games, except with some enhancements. Demons can gain levels, albeit slowly, and there is now "Mitama fusion", where demons called Mitamas can be fused to your demons to increase their stats without changing them into another demon. A modified form of the "moon phase" mechanic exists, with some attacks affected by the current phase as well as random treasures and demon recruitment. Demon fusion is now made far less tedious due to a compendium to keep track of previously recruited/summoned demons.

    Other mechanics revolve around your main character, who is made a Demi-Fiend (Hito-shura in the Japanese version, both titles translate out to "Half-Demon"), meaning they can summon demons without the aid of technology. They can also learn new skills via the aid of equipable accessories called Magatama, and customizing your character is integral to many winning strategies. Otherwise, the usual staples of turn-based combat, negotiating with demons to get them to join you or give you items remain unchanged. One last addition is the "Press Turn" combat system, where hitting weaknesses of enemies can award bonus turns and hitting strengths can remove them, a system that works for both friend and foe and involves careful strategy to use to get its full benefit.

    The graphics utilize the Playstation 2 3D capabilities mixed with a cel-shading effect, which tends to make many areas have a haunting, otherworldly look, which compliments the primordial world setting the game takes place in. Characters and demons alike both benefit and suffer from the same, as the detailing is not as well done as it would be in a more hand-drawn style, but the excellent 3D animation makes up for the lack of graphical complexity, and many demons retain the occasionally quite intricate designs the series is known for, albeit in 3D.

    Sound focuses on a mix of rock and electronic instrumental music mixed with some techno and gothic aural inspiration. The result is a soundtrack that bounces between smooth vocals and techno-rock beats. This somewhat schizophrenic styling works nicely with the graphics to accentuate the chaotic state of the Vortex World that forms the game setting. Sound effects are crisp and fit nicely with the music, and while there are no voiced lines save some brief battle grunts and a word or two at best, it still holds up nearly two decades after the game's release.

    Controls are third-person style in the overworld and combat, with the camera set somewhat behind your character, providing plenty of room to navigate and move around comfortably. There is an alternative first-person style view, meant as a throwback to the classic Shin Megami Tensei games, but it's mostly for aesthetics. Game stability is excellent, with any bugs being very minor at best.

    Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good porting of the classic SMT games to a 3D format; interesting world design; challenging gameplay
    Weak Points: Somewhat tedious dungeons
    Moral Warnings: RPG-like violence; some minor profanity; occasional sexual innuendo from a few characters; flagrant display of occult and supernatural themes (such as demon summoning) as part of the gameplay and plot; frequent blasphemy (to the point of being able to choose to rebel against the real God); options to make many unethical choices; world setting in which all religions and myths are presumed true and exist simultaneously

    One final note about the game is that the difficulty is quite hard. This game has a very steep learning curve and the player will be forced to strategize to defeat certain bosses; mere level grinding is not enough in many cases, mastering the metagame in which you customize your party for optimal efficiency (when it comes to mastering enemy weaknesses while covering your own) WILL be essential. This game is not easy on those who are not patient nor somewhat experienced with role-playing games in general.

    Morally, this game has a considerable amount of issues.

    Violence is of the RPG variety and is rendered in a rather sanitized style due to the cel-shading motif, and is berefit of blood and gore, save for some textual references. Language is generally mild, the occasional use of "damn or "hell" (generally in a religious sense) being the worst of it, though a few characters do make a point of blaspheming God. Given many are demons in stark opposition to God, this is logical but frequent enough to be a concern.

    Sexual content is somewhat lower in tone due to the art style leaving less detailing for many female characters, and while there are some scantily-clad demons and some that resemble certain genitalia, the art style is a lot less graphic than in most SMT games. References to sexual acts are sparse at best, mostly confined to the incubus/succubus-like demons, and then it's still more innuendo than anything else.

    Occult and supernatural influences are profound in this game, being what caused the game to occur (though not depicted positively despite it). Some demons make a point of playing up occult imagery, and YOU are half demonic (albeit not by choice) and can summon demons as a consequence.

    The ethical and moral deserves some detailed explanation because the game has several endings depending on whom you side with; those sides are referred to as "Reasons", implemented mostly by Kagutsuchi, who is a stand-in for YHVH, the twisted parody of God who serves as the usual villain of most SMT games. In this game he hijacked the name of a Japanese deity of creation with some vaguely similar aspects, likely due to the fact the game setting is in a chaotic, primordial version of Tokyo. Kagutsuchi must be reached by the game end at a Babel-like tower to determine the ending.

    Shijima: The "Law" Ending, where the world is reformed into one of order and stillness. It's somewhat hypocritical, founded by someone who broke all the laws of Law itself and consorted with demons in defiance of God to create it. Ironically, the twisted parody of God generally approves of this world reformation choice the most, and since the developers of SMT have gone on record that YHVH/Kagutsuchi is a rogue avatar of God misrepresenting his true will, should be a blatant clue to most Christians especially this is not how the real God would approve of things.

    Musubi: The "Neutral" Ending, a world where everyone is free from the influence of anyone else and cannot interfere with anyone else. This world is also created by a hypocrite who required breaking their own rules to create their ideal world.

    Yosuga: The "Chaos" Ending, a world based on strength. It too is hypocrisy, being founded by angels (many of which are in league with the brutal and explicitly declared evil leader of this ideology) to form a demented form of order despite it being an ideology nominally based on freedom. It's an ending stating "Law and Chaos aren't all that different if you are hypocritical about their foundation and rules". Kagutsuchi will approve of this world reformation choice as well, which is another hint if you are Christian especially that this is a perversion of God's Will.

    Demon: This ending involves rejecting all other Reasons, choosing to leave the world in its primordial and chaotic state. Lucifer will approve of this choice, and Kagutsuchi will not.

    Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 33%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 5.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

    Freedom: The "best" ending, in which you choose to return the world to the way it was before anyone meddled with it. It's implied your character still retains their half-demonic powers, which Lucifer encourages you to keep, but otherwise is the least morally objectionable of the endings.

    True Demon: Christians will be appalled at this ending. In this ending, you deliberately choose to cast your lot with Lucifer and his plans, which not only involve destroying Kagutsuchi but also defeating the being known as the Great Will, who is the ACTUAL God, not just some demented rogue avatar parody version, and the ending has you agree to be Lucifer's leading general in an attempt to defeat the real God (though the game ends before we see the results of this decision)

    However, since all the SMT games are connected, information revealed in SMT IV Apocalypse does have some clarification on this ending that may be of reassurance to Christians.

    The Great Will (called the Axiom in SMT IV Apocalypse's translation) is not tangible or mortal in the same sense as any other human or demon. They are beyond such constraints and are explicitly confirmed as the one who has given humanity any chance to stand against demonic influence by rendering it mortal and defeatable. Further, they oppose the actions of YHVH/Kagatsuchi, who assumes many of the real God's characteristics but perverts the understanding of the true God's intentions. Based on the information in this game, the Great Will is truly good and thus not bound by the very laws that make Lucifer and the demented parodies of the real God mortal. This means any attempt to dethrone him will fail.

    Ergo, the True Demon ending is, with this in mind, a futile and failed attempt to rebel against the REAL God.

    This all in mind, this is not a game any Christian would be comfortable with and likely would be repulsed by if they cannot separate the fictional depictions from reality, especially since like all SMT games, it presumes all religions and myths are true to some extent and has them exist as a crossover cosmology.

    In summation, as a game, it's quite hard but enjoyable if you are a dedicated role-playing gamer, and it still stands as one of the finest entries in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Morally, it's not something anyone who is not a mature adult should play given its themes, Christian or otherwise.

    Regardless, as a form of video gaming media, it remains an excellent title worth playing if you can handle the themes discussed and want a very challenging yet very rewarding roleplaying experience.

  • Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Shin Megami Tensei IV
    Developed by: Atlus
    Published by: Atlus
    Release date: July, 16 2013
    Available on: Nintendo 3DS
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence
    Price: $25.98
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Maccus for sending us this game to review!

    Having played and reviewed a few Shin Megami Tensei games, I’ve come to enjoy and see why these games have such a following. The story changes with each one so you can start with any one of them. In Shin Megami Tensei IV, you play as a young man whose default name is Flynn. To keep consistent with my other playthroughs I renamed him to Ben Dover. Classes play a big role and your character is a casualary, or commoner. The upper class, luxurors, look down upon the casualaries. In your hometown of Eastern Mikado, there is a Gauntlet Rite that all are welcome to participate in and those who are chosen get to be trained as Samurai. As fate would have it, your character is chosen.

    There are quite a few chosen Samurai and some of them will treat you poorly due to your class, but there are a few whom you will bond and become close with. Along with being chosen, your character has visions of waking up in a desolated version of Earth. What has happened? How can it be prevented? Which friend should you become an ally with to save the planet? Each friend has a different alignment/personality type. Walter is a fellow casualary easy to get along with, but can be driven by his emotions and reckless. Jonathan is a luxuror who treats you and everyone with respect and kindness. He is a rule-follower and tries to do the right thing. Isabeau, another luxuror, is pretty easy going and tries to remain neutral and fair. Though I sometimes agreed with some of Walter’s opinions I wound up going the law route and going with Jonathan in the end.

    As a samurai, you’re tasked with exploring ruins and bringing back relics to the monks. At first, the missions seem to be noble but later on an ulterior motive becomes obvious and sheds a negative light on the pious characters in this title. In order to survive in the ruins, and the other civilization beyond them, you’ll need to partner with demons to have them join your party and fight their own kind. Some may ask to join your party in exchange for letting them live, though most of them will want some items or your health/mana to sweeten the deal.

    Shin Megami Tensei IV
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent 3D effects; great voice acting; intriguing story with multiple paths/endings; New game +
    Weak Points: Visuals are a bit bland
    Moral Warnings: You must partner/make contracts with demons if you wish to stand a chance fighting against them; gruesome violence bloodshed; some of the female demons are lacking clothing and show of their feminine features; other demons are shaped like genitalia; language (*sshole; sh*t,b*stard); blaspheming; references to reincarnation

    Demons and bosses usually have elemental affinities and weaknesses that can be exploited to gain an extra turn along with doing more than normal damage. The armor you wear determines your elemental weaknesses so be sure to take note of that before facing a boss and dress appropriately.

    Speaking of dressing appropriately, some of the demons are clearly female and are proud to flaunt their feminine attributes. Breasts are clearly shown despite not being flesh colored. One of the demons in my party was obviously designed after a male body part.

    The voice acting in this title is well done and there is some blaspheming and cursing throughout the game. Magic use is a given and unavoidable if you want to survive to your next battle. There are some gruesome scenes and blood splattered in many areas you’ll be exploring.

    Though the 3D effects look great, many of the areas and maps look a little bland compared to other 3DS titles I have played. The overworld is pretty complex and I highly recommend referring to maps to get to where you’re hoping to go without getting lost. There are plenty of dungeons, towns, and abandoned buildings to explore as well and all of them are swarming with demons looking for a fight. I appreciate the warning that my virtual assistant, Burroughs, gives when there’s a strong demon nearby. Be sure to heed the warning and save often. In the event that your party gets wiped out, you can use 3DS play coins or in-game currency to resurrect your party if it’s been a while since you saved.

    Shin Megami Tensei IV
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 39%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Not only does Burroughs keep track of the main quest progress, but she also records various side quests that are available as well. Throughout your journey you’ll get to activate terminals which let you quickly warp to different parts of Tokyo. It should be noted that most of these terminals are guarded by a boss that has to be defeated beforehand.

    I don’t want to spoil the story, but there are several different routes your character can take including the ability to defy God or partner with Him and give Lucifer a whoopin’. Upon completing the game you can unlock the extreme difficulty mode and carry over your progress and demons if you wish to reincarnate instead of starting over fresh in the New Game + mode. By restarting with all of your stats and acquired demons it shouldn't take long to see other endings like partnering with Lucifer if desired.

    Overall, Shin Megami Tensei IV has a great story and I’m now curious how that is carried over in Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse which someone else has already reviewed for this site. Like other Shin Megami Tensei titles, this game has many moral issues to take into consideration before purchasing. If you have enjoyed the other entries, then you’ll be happy with this one as well.

  • Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse
    Developed By: Atlus
    Published By: Atlus
    Released: September 20, 2016
    Available On: 3DS
    Genre: JRPG
    ESRB Rating: M for Mature (Blood, Language, Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes)
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $49.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us a copy of the game to review!

    Three years ago, Atlus released one of the most prolific RPGs for the 3DS, Shin Megami Tensei IV. In it we played as Flynn, a Samurai from the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado endowed with the task of saving humanity. The results of Shin Megami Tensei IV depended on the choices the player made, which meant there were four possible outcomes for Flynn. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse plays out parallel to the events of the Neutral Path route from the previous game, though you don't need to play SMT4 necessarily to understand the story. Flynn is traveling with Isabeau, another fellow Samurai, as they attempt to deal with Merkabah and Lucifer in Tokyo.

    At the start of the game we're introduced to our new main characters, Nanashi and Asahi. Though not related, Nanashi was raised by Asahi's father. Once the introductions are over with we're given control of Nanashi and things immediately begin to escalate. There's no slogging through Naraku for 10 hours before seeing Tokyo. Here, we're thrust right into the fray with deadly results. After a few small quests Nanashi and company are ambushed in a park, and things come to a gruesome end for Nanashi. Or so it would appear. Though he has in fact been killed, we find ourselves face to face with Lord Dagda. He promises to restore our life, but it will come at a heavy price. 

    Dagda informs us that Nanashi is now his Godslayer, and from here on out we are basically his puppet. With another shot at life and the ability to summon demons, Nanashi must do what he can to help Flynn deal with the forces of heaven and hell. Apocalypse also introduces the Divine Powers, an alliance of powerful deities and gods, led by the divine being Krishna. He seeks to lead mankind to salvation through harvesting their souls with a giant snake named Shesha. His calm ruthlessness is quite a unique trait for an antagonist of a game.

    Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Dozens of hours of gameplay; Deep and engrossing story; Phenomenal soundtrack; Consistent difficulty this time around.
    Weak Points: Feels more like an expansion than a sequel; The overworld map is still easy to get lost in.
    Moral Warnings: This game heavily focuses on the slaying of gods and demons; Blasphemic imagery and tones; Blood and gore depicted frequently; Strong language and sexual themes.

    The Shin Megami Tensei series has often been compared to the Pokémon franchise in terms of gameplay. Recruiting demons is done by talking to one in battle. Each conversation with a demon is played out by choosing what you think it wants to hear. They may want money, items, or even an ally's life. This may sound like a gamble, and it has felt that way in previous titles, but here it feels like demons are more likely to join you more often than not. When the demons you possess are no longer strong enough to deal with your current situation, there is demon fusion. By fusing two or more demons a more powerful demon can be created. Demon fusion in Apocalypse has also been updated. Demons now have permanent increases and decreases to particular skills. Magic users might have a penalty to physical attacks - higher MP cost, lower damage - but they might have a bonus to a certain magic type - lower MP cost and more damage output. This change made combat much more intense as with most SMT games every encounter with demons can be your last. 

    Speaking of combat, things remain fairly the same. This is still a turn-based RPG. The Press Turn system returns in all its glory. Striking with an attack that an enemy is weak to will reward the player with an extra turn, and may bestow the smirking status. Smirking guarantees a critical hit which also rewards an extra turn, but it can also grant secondary effects to attacks. This can be inflicting a status effect or even an instant kill. Smirking is by far the most important factor in combat as enemies can also gain the smirk condition. In situations where they do, it's not uncommon to lose every demon you control as well as your own life. Death no longer requires a trip to see Charon in the underworld. Though I missed being chastised by him for dying, not paying outrageous amounts of money to continue playing the game was greatly appreciated. 

    Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 96%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 29%
    Violence - 1/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5.5/10

    Another welcome change is the partner system. In SMT4, Flynn was normally by himself, occasionally gaining a partner to fight with. In Apocalypse though, Nanashi will have the option to choose between many allies to take into battle. These partners each specialize in a certain type of skill. Most partners are actually characters from SMT4. For instance, Nozomi is proficient in gun skills, Navarre casts buffs and uses attack items, and Isabeau can cast powerful magical attacks. Along with partners in battle, a new action has been added to combat. A bar will fill on the bottom screen as damage is dealt, debuffs are cast on enemies, or you heal yourself. When it's full, and your turn ends, all of your partners will immediately end the opponent's turn and launch an attack of their own. This is immensely helpful against boss demons or just when things aren't looking too good.

    As the story is played out, many familiar locales will be visited. Anyone that played SMT4 will find places like Shinjuku or Shibuya virtually unchanged. There are subtle changes to the environments, but for the most part, things felt the same. This can make exploring much easier for a seasoned veteran of post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Areas are still beautifully detailed with poisonous swamps and collapsed skyscrapers. Landscapes are both haunting and mesmerizing. Even with the constant threat of demons I still found myself looking around in amazement. Demons themselves are intricately designed and a feast for the eyes. The 3D is a bit harsh, but adds an incredible amount of depth when used.

    Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse

    The music in Apocalypse is phenomenal. As was the case with SMT4 before it, every single track is perfect at mixing seamlessly with the area it plays in. Most new areas will have its own unique track playing, making exploration an even bigger joy. Sound effects are just as effective as ever. Demons have such a wide arrange of sounds they can make. From gurgles and squeaks, to horrific screams and roars, each demon is portrayed wonderfully. The voice acting is also amazing. The amount of emotion found in most lines is astounding. Conversations can be cheesy at times, but moments when a death has occurred are genuinely saddening.

    Morally, there's a lot of things to address. For starters this game focuses primarily on deicide, or the act of killing a god. As Shin Megami Tensei games are known to incorporate angels, demons, and gods from all nationalities and cultures, Apocalypse is not the first to have you slay a god. Though, it's much more prevalent than in previous games. Hundreds of religious figures are depicted, Yahweh included, and all can be killed. Gore and blood is not an uncommon sight. Bodies can be seen mangled and torn to shreds. Some male and female demons are overtly sexualized or designed to exemplify certain parts of their anatomy. Some course language is used throughout the game. To stress that this isn't a game for kids should be quite obvious as this is an 'M' rated game. To those with a deep connection to their faith, you may want to skip past this one as the game paints religions in objectionable ways.

    Now provided you don't mind the moral issues, and to be fair there is a lot of morally questionable content here, it is hard not to recommend this one. The amount of content and polish is astounding. It's easy to play for dozens of hours and still not see everything, leading to new discoveries on subsequent playthroughs. Those looking for a deep RPG with a fair amount of difficulty and an absolutely perfect soundtrack will be thoroughly satisfied by what Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse has to offer. 

    -Kyuremu

     

  • Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux
    Developed by: Lancarse
    Published by: Atlus
    Release date: May 15, 2018
    Available on: DS, 3DS
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for violence, blood, language, partial nudity, sexual themes
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

    Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey was originally released in North America for the Nintendo DS in 2010. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux for the 3DS provides better visuals, Japanese voice acting, new endings, demons, characters, and a fresh dungeon to explore. Other than a mysterious new female character named Alex, the main story remains the same.

    In the near future, a strange phenomenon dubbed the Schwarzwelt appears in the South Pole. Populated cities suddenly appear and replace existing structures and establishments. Anything in the way of this growing mass disappears. Several squads are sent in to investigate this matter but only your ship, the Red Sprite, arrives intact. It doesn’t take long to realize that demons are inhabiting these cities and their aim is to reclaim and reboot the Earth. The fate of humanity rests in your hands.

    A handful of humans against cities of demons have the cards stacked against them. Thankfully, they didn’t arrive unprepared. With the help of their Demonica suits, they can survive the strange atmosphere and analyze the demons nearby. The technologically advanced suits allow your squad to speak with, form contracts, and battle alongside demons. In order to survive you will need to befriend demons and have them fight on your behalf.

    Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting story that changes with the choices you make; fun gameplay; good Japanese voice acting
    Weak Points: Difficult boss battles and confusing dungeon designs that practically require using a walkthrough; repetitive battle music
    Moral Warnings: Lots of language with every word used except for the F-bomb; violence and bloodshed; some of the demons are wearing revealing clothing or nothing at all; other demons are modeled after genitalia; forming contracts with demons is required for survival; ethical/lawful behavior is comparable to brain washings; references to many gods of various religions

    Your male character (whom you get to name) has an alignment assigned to him that changes along with his decisions made throughout the game. Demons have alignments too and if the alignments are identical or close, it’s easier to form partnerships with them. Most demons will require some form of bribery to have them join your ranks. Sometimes they will request a certain item, money (macca), life or magic energy from you. Even after handing over said items, some demons will change their mind and run away. Along with the alignment affecting compatibility, there are also phases of the moon that change the mood and sometimes the directions of warps in the game. On a new moon, demons will behave differently in battle.

    The demons you fight alongside and against will have different strengths and weaknesses. Whenever a weakness is exploited, those who share the same alignment as the attacker will get a free co-operative attack. This comes especially in handy during the boss battles. Be warned that your character and demons also have vulnerabilities that can be used against you in battle. Thankfully, your Demonica suit and demons are customizable.

    As you explore and gather items in dungeons, you will unlock the ability to craft new weapons, armor, and apps for your Demonica suit. Most weapons have an elemental affinity or two. The same goes with armor but they usually have a weakness to counter it. Make sure you have the ideal gear before starting a boss battle. At the very least, save before you proceed into the ominous room so you can re-equip as necessary to guard your vulnerabilities and exploit theirs.

    Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 32%
    Violence - 2.5/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    While there are not many dungeons, the handful that are present are pretty complex. Many of them have hidden doorways and passages that will require repeat visits once your suit is upgraded enough to open those passageways. There are several mazes and pitfalls and I was thankful for the online maps and FAQs available to help guide me through the tricky situations.

    Many of the bosses besides the end one are on compilations of most annoying bosses ever. To succeed in this game you will have to grind to power up your character and party of demons. Fusing/customizing demons is critical to make them more powerful and immune to specific attacks from the bosses you will have to face against. It took me about eighty hours to get to the final boss only to realize that my party was underleveled and requires several more hours of grinding and customizing to survive multiple attacks let alone multiple forms.

    There are lots of demons with various powers and abilities. Some of the demons can reflect or even counter physical attacks while others can negate or send back specific elemental spells. The demon designs are pretty similar to other SMT games out there. Not surprisingly, the scantily clad and genitalia themed demons also make an appearance in this title. There are demons based off of gods and fallen angels as well. Violence is a given and some puddles of blood are shown as bodies of crewmen are discovered. Lots of cussing is heard and pretty much every curse word besides the F-bomb is used. Characters in this game who are lawful/good are considered mindless brainwashed beings.

    If you don’t mind the many moral issues, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux can you keep you busy for quite a while. I would just have a couple of bookmarks of helpful maps and FAQs handy before delving too deep into the dungeons. While the maps are not out of date, I did find that many of the demon summoning passwords available online no longer work in the newly released version of this game.

  • Shining Resonance Refrain (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Shining Resonance Refrain
    Developed by: SEGA
    Published by: SEGA
    Release date: July 10, 2018
    Available on: PS3, PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol
    Price: $49.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you SEGA for sending us this game to review!

    Shining Resonance was originally released on the PlayStation 3 in Japan back in 2014. Four years later it was re-released as Shining Resonance Refrain worldwide and also became available on the PS4, Switch, Xbox, and PC. Upon launching the game, players will be given the choice of playing the Original or Refrain mode. Refrain mode adds two new DLC characters (along with their romance options), night-time missions, and new dialogue. As a new player to the series, I opted for the original game mode which was recommended through my internet search. There are two difficulty modes: Casual and Standard. You can change difficulty levels mid-game if desired.

    The game begins with a young man, Yuma Ilvern, who has a unique trait. The spirit of the most powerful (Shining) Dragon resides within him. The Empire seeks to extract it from him forcefully and tortures him in prison while trying to do so. The kingdom of Astoria has been at war with the Empire for quite some time and it’s pretty much in a stalemate. Both sides are siding with dragons to gain an edge over the other and both seek the help of the Shining Dragon to end this war once and for all. The first chapter out of eight in this title focuses on rescuing Yuma from the enemy’s prison.

    At first, Yuma isn’t much of a fighter and fears the power residing within him as he has trouble controlling it once he unleashes the Shining Dragon. With the help of his newfound friends, he can learn how to fight, properly harness the Shining Dragon’s power, and save the world as he knows it.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting characters, good (partial) English voice acting; excellent sound track
    Weak Points: Not fully voice acted; some grinding required
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence and magic use; language (*ss, sh*t, d*mn, p*ss, h*ll); sexual references/dialogue; option to date male or female party members; revealing clothing; alcohol and drunkenness; prejudice 

    Each of the party members has different weapons, fighting styles, and force/magic abilities. Most of their weapons are called Armonics which originate from the Shining Dragon and resonate with other dragoneers in battle. In town, you can pay to tune their weapons to change their elemental affinities and perks.

    You can change the party’s position and Yuma isn’t a required character. In fact, I highly recommend rotating all of the characters to make sure nobody gets left behind level wise. You can only have four active party members at a time. Whoever is in the first position will be the conductor for the B.A.N.D. songs which have great perks that temporarily decrease the enemy’s defenses or increases your party’s attacks. As your party attacks the BPM gauge will increase along with magic points slowly regenerating.

    As you’re exploring there will be campsites where you can save your progress and camp to revive fallen comrades and replenish your health/magic points. If you have the ingredients handy, you can use alchemy to concoct various potions and weapon aspects/power-ups. There’s a wide variety of aspects that can increase character stats such as health, magic, vitality, luck, defense, and agility. Other aspects nullify ailments like confusion and paralysis.

    Like many RPGs you’ll have the option to accept side quests which usually reward you with items needed to synthesize aspects and potions. Be sure to talk to your party member in town and it will increase your bond with them and sometimes they’ll hand you useful items if your affinity with them is really high. You can invite both male or female characters to chat with in the evening while everyone else is sleeping. After a few late night chats you may get invited for a date around town to strengthen the bond even further. After several successful dates a character may give you a heart trait to indicate their affection towards you. There are multiple endings and before the final battle you can pick which character you want to settle down with.

    Shining Resonance Refrain

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 53%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 4/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Though I didn’t fully max out relationships with the male characters, the late night chats and walks around town usually involved talking about females and (lack of) dating them. Some of the female characters wore revealing outfits and one, in particular, had some very suggestive dialogue. As you get to know the characters, story sequences will unlock for them and they are quite entertaining to watch. Sadly, they’re usually not fully voice acted, but the dialogue is still great regardless. Most of the time you’ll get character traits after the story sequences and these can be assigned to the characters to increase or change the bonds between the various party members. If everyone gets along, there will be a better chance of fully supporting each other in battle instead of rivalry.

    Dark elves are perceived as untrustworthy in this game. Though there is prejudice, it gets sorted out and I like how that is handled in this title. There is a form of religion that borrows Catholic verbiage, but it is depicted as power-hungry and evil. Both the good guys and bad guys tend to use a fair amount of foul language. At least one character gets drunk in this game. Lastly, there is violence and magic use.

    Battles are in real time and if Yuma is in his dragon form, you will not be able to access items like health or magic potions. I found it best to have two healers and two tanks in my party for boss battles. The enemies on the map will level up as your party does and they are excellent for powering up your least favorite/useful party members.

    Some of the boss battles are back to back so you may have to conserve your B.A.N.D and dragon transformation until the second or even third battle in some cases. In the seventh chapter, there is a tough multi-battle that has to be completed with only two members. Be sure to fully stock health and ether potions before triggering a boss or story event.

    I can’t compare the other formats, but Shining Resonance Refrain looked and ran great on the Switch. I really enjoyed being able to play this game on the go. The visuals didn’t have any noticeable slowdowns, even during the intensive boss battles. When present, the voice acting is top notch. The background music is exceptional as well. In the end, I really enjoyed my thirty-five hours into this game and recommend it to those who don’t mind the moral issues and enjoy JRPGs that involve a little bit of grinding at times.

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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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