enfrdeitptrues

RPG

  • Skylight Freerange 2: Gachduine (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Skylight Freerange 2: Gachduine
    Developed By: Dragoon Entertainment
    Published By: Dragoon Entertainment
    Released: August 31, 2015
    Available On: Windows PC
    Genre: Open World RPG
    ESRB Rating: Mature 17+, Violence, Blood, Sexual Themes, Nudity, Drug Reference, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
    Number of Players: Single player with multiplayer elements
    MSRP: $15 CAD ($11.52 as of review)

    Thank you Dragoon Entertainment for sending a review copy of this game! 

    Skylight Freerange 2: Gachduine is a massive open world RPG created by independent developer Dragoon Entertainment. The game takes place in Nova Scotia, Canada where The Cult of the Symbiote is trying to gain power and control in the province. The player is part of a small resistance group call the Gachduine, which is trying to subvert the Cult's influence. The combat is a hybrid of action and turn based; each character can freely move around but can only attack after their attack bar fills up. Outside of combat the player is free to explore the world, leaving and rejoining the main story at will. The map is quite big, especially for an indie game, and there is a TON of content, to the point where it's overwhelming at times.

    I have never seen this amount of customization in an indie game before. When starting the game you customize the story by responding to questions about what happened in the previous game. I haven't played the previous game so I just went with the most amusing option for each question. If you have played it, you can even import a save file and forego the questions. After this I was able to create my own character with a shocking amount of options and sliders. I've seen big-budget, AAA RPGs with less than half of the options available in this character creator. The downside is that character models and custom features are all incredibly simplistic, low quality, or both; but more on that later. 

    Once the game opens up the player can not only customize the stats and abilities of their custom character but also every character in the Gachduine as well. There are 20 characters total, although you won't see them all based on choices you make in the game. Drilling down, each individual character has 20 different skill trees, except your custom character, which has an astounding 49 skill trees. Graciously there's a reference section that lays out each character's strengths and weaknesses and explains how some of the play styles work. 

    Skylight Freerange 2: Gachduine
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A large variety of character customization options; big party of characters and  playstyles; tons of content
    Weak Points: The graphics and animation are sub-par at best; the writing is childish and messy
    Moral Warnings: Tons of language; some sexual situations, including nudity; violence and blood shown; drugs and alcohol used

    I enjoyed the character management portion of the game the most. Building out all the different characters and finding synergy within a team was satisfying. There's enough variety in encounters to need a large cast of characters. Sometimes I'd be ambushed by a bunch of enemies and need a couple high-HP tanks. Other times I'd need to stack a certain type of damage. My enjoyment from this in-game management was diminished after I played long enough to discover it's essentially a giant game of rock-paper-scissors. Certain enemies are weak to certain attacks and the encounters are set up in a such a way that you can't just power through if you don't have the right team. I enjoyed that aspect but I can see how it would be frustrating to other players. Not every option for every character is effective and I appreciate the opportunity to fail at upgrading a character.

    To prepare you for all this customization there's a tutorial where you control the entire Gachduine group split up into teams of four. The tutorial is very tedious, each section begins with a massive wall of text about the characters you'll be using and the enemies you'll be fighting. After reading that you fight with your four characters against the enemies described, all in a big square room. Then you move on to the next big square room with new characters, new enemies and more walls of text. There's no voice acting and the same music loops as you read paragraph after paragraph of combat information. The game does teach you it's mechanics, but it feels more like doing homework than playing a video game. 

    After the tutorial the experience doesn't improve a whole lot. The plot is a mess with at least five other factions besides the Cult of the Symbiote and the Gachduine; each faction has leaders, supporting characters and sometimes sub-factions. Each character in the Gachduine can have relationships with each other as well as relationships with outside characters. This all plays out rather clumsily through dreadfully boring cutscenes. The character's mouths move silently up and down as you read line after line of dialogue. I could forgive this if the story had quality writing and the characters were engaging, but neither of those things are true. The whole script reads like a bad highschool fanfiction.  There is a healthy dose of vulgar language and eye-rolling dialogue. The characters range from boring to obnoxious. My favorite characters were the ones with the least amount of screen time.  While I really appreciate the inclusion of meaningful dialogue trees, most of the time I didn't like any of the options; I often caught myself skimming the text and choosing something quickly just to move things along. 

    Skylight Freerange 2: Gachduine
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 36%
    Gameplay - 8/20
    Graphics - 2/10
    Sound - 2/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 35%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 1.5/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    Speaking of things that are a mess, the graphics are range from unpleasant to grotesque. I have no problems with the low-poly 3D art style of this game. However the execution is so poor I see why other people hate it. Everything is so bare-bones and the character models are the ugliest I've ever seen. Why have 20 different options for hair if they all look like a brightly colored gel slapped on the head? All of the clothes are just textures on different body parts. There's a "neckbeard" option that's just a 3D rectangle coming out of the middle of the neck; it looks horrible. The world itself doesn't fare much better. I don't mind the huge cubic buildings that make up most of the cities, but they all have very similar layouts and consist of nothing but walls and doors. The worst graphical faux pas though is the animation quality. All of the animations are incredibly stiff with the walking animation being laughably poor. Compounding this issue is the fact that there is a lot of walking in this game. I also need to point at that there is no "run" option in this game. There is a complex system of weather physics, which I love, but there's no "run" button. Trust me, I looked everywhere for the option, it doesn't exist. This really discouraged me from wanting to explore and if there wasn't a fast-travel system in the game I don't think I could have finished it.    

    One of my biggest gripes with this game is the writing. It's not only poor, it's crude and vulgar for no reason. There are several unmarried sexual relationships with scenes where they are naked in a bed together. Some NPCs discuss the importance of breast size sliders for their own video game and I couldn't tell if it's satire or not. There's a heavy focus on the occult since the main enemy is the Cult of the Symbiote. A literal cult which is bent on control of eastern Canada and I assume, the rest of the world. The cult focuses on technology instead of magic. While the combat is violent in nature, it's not gruesome in practice in any way. Once an enemy is defeated their body vanishes. 

    Overall this isn't the worst game I've ever played (thanks Superman 64) but it's nowhere near good either. I understand that this game is a passion project of a single man, but I can't ignore all the glaring issues, such as the writing, animation quality and formulaic gameplay. It appears to me that the person in charge of Dragoon Entertainment is a talented programmer with a knack for design. I would never want to disparage someone from following their dreams and working hard to achieve them, but dreams, hard work and technical knowledge doesn't automatically mean a quality product. I would only recommend this game to someone who is very familiar with eastern Canadian geography and culture because it's the first time I've played a game that explores that region.

     

  • Solace Crafting (Preview)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Solace Crafting
    Developed By: Big Kitty Games
    Published By: Big Kitty Games
    Released: January 16, 2018 (Early Access)
    Available On: Linux, Windows
    Genre: Role-Playing
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: single-player
    Price: $14.99

    *Advertising disclosure* - Black Shell Media is a former advertising partner.  This review is not influenced by our former relationship.

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us a review code!

    Solace Crafting is a role-playing crafting game that is currently in Early Access. This one aims to be different from the other crafting and survival-based games out there with a few unique concepts. From the looks of it, Solace Crafting is a fairly ambitious project by a one-man developer. At this time, it has been worked on for over a year but receives constant tweaks and small updates almost every day. Early Access games can be fishy at times due to many factors—burnout, being too ambitious, or wanting to make a quick buck and run with whatever you can get. It may still be in Early Access for quite a while, but I can safely say that the game and the developer, Big Kitty Games, are genuine.

    Before being thrown into the world, a character has to be created. The character creator has a good amount of detail and thought put into it. Every aspect is adjusted by a slider and nearly every body part can be altered to your own preference. Being a fantasy world, you can either make your character look like the standard realistic human, take a more fantastic approach and create some sort of fictional creatures like an elf or an orc—or you can humor yourself and create an abomination of nature with truly outlandish proportions. During the creation progress, the option to see your character in specific gear and colors is a nice touch.

    After the character creation is the world generation. The world is assigned its own seed number when created. Like the character creator, the world generation has lots of settings that can be tweaked. You have the option to choose how much of the world is covered by terrain such as desert, forest, ocean, or mountain. You can also choose how plentiful or scarce resources are in the world. Enemy occurrence, as well as how much experience it takes to level up, can be modified too. There are plenty of other options to fine-tune; however, some of them are not accessible in the Early Access state.

    Every newly created character and world starts off at the solace, and to craft buildings, you’ll need access to the solace—hence, Solace Crafting. The tutorial is displayed as text through objectives and quests so that you can quickly gain a feel for everything. It will explain how to craft materials so you can extract them from the materials in the world, how to build stations so materials can be refined or extracted, and how to used those refined or extracted materials to build better structures, tools, weapons, and even town buildings! Almost everything that can be crafted has a level and tier associated with it. For certain tools, weapons, and armor to be used, you must be the appropriate level to be able to use it. For tiered items, you must have the respective tier of the material at hand so a Tier 2, for example, requires Tier 2 metal to craft.

    Solace Crafting
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Relaxing; multiple settings that can be adjusted to your liking
    Weak Points: Terraforming can be confusing; some control and interface issues
    Moral Warnings:Blood is present when enemies are attacked; your character has access to magic; demons can spawn in the world; you can choose to run around in your undergarments, given that you start off with no armor

    Everything acts as a means for crafting, from the harvesting of the materials, to the combat. Both harvesting and combat are basic and primitive features. Harvesting is pretty simple. You look at the tree, rock, or ore and if you have the appropriate item, you’ll extract materials from it. Simply harvesting can level up the respective talent, in which you can allocate points to either harvesting speed or more extraction. Combat is similar to MMOs but stripped down to its very basics. You hit things with your weapons and/or abilities, they hit you back, and one of you comes out alive. It mostly exists just for another way to obtain materials, namely light, which is a very important resource for your solace. As of right now, there are four classes that you can spec into, with each class having at least six subclasses greyed out beneath them. Those classes are not accessible at this moment but will be in future updates.

    Moving further away from your solace, resources gain higher quality, but enemies also become tougher. You’ll notice after a while that you’ll gain very little to no experience. This acts as an incentive to move out and explore the world. This also acts as a way to obtain higher tier materials. You’ll also notice that objects and enemies will give off a “spotted” aura of sorts. This is to signify that the materials that can be harvested are of a specific rarity type. Green auras indicate uncommon rarity, while red auras indicate legendary rarity. The world seems to expand forever as I have not found any indication of an “end.” As long as you have enough light, you can craft as many solaces as you want and teleport freely to them.

    The amount of customization is Solace Crafting’s best aspect. Creating a building that you can call your own is actually pretty simple to do. With the right materials, you can make simple homes to massive castles. Within your solace, you can also create a town, and construct many facilities such as storage areas and blacksmiths to manage your own little town. I really like the aspect that your character has a “wardrobe” slot so armor you find visually appealing but don’t have the best stats can be seen at all times. It’s a very good feature that for some reason very few games have. I can really only think of a handful of games that have this option in the first place.

    Of course with Solace Crafting being in Early Access, it's bound to have its issues. The controls aren’t exactly the best and only supports keyboard and mouse at this moment. Opening some menus gives full control of your character, while other menus restrict it—which is rather strange seeing as all aspects of the menu are operated by mouse. Terraforming is also a very confusing process, and unfortunately, the game does very little to explain it. I still don’t fully understand it even after a few hours of trying to mess with it. There is also the fact that Solace Crafting isn’t very visually appealing outside of the buildings. When it isn’t some kind of structure that can be crafted, it’s pretty ugly, especially the “spotted” auras. The sound design also isn’t the best either with only one piece of music available (which is the menu music that sounds like it was made in something like GarageBand) and the sound effects being very amateurish.

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

    Game Score - 60%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 4/10
    Sound - 4/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 7.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    From my experience, bugs aren’t plentiful, but they do exist such as boats randomly sinking and controls sometimes locking up. Also, there are these floating islands that you can warp to. The game really doesn’t like it if you jump from them back to the mainland as I’ve experienced most of them from doing so, such as spawning underground when warping back to your solace.

    Solace Crafting isn’t the most morally concerning game out there, although there are some aspects to take note of. Pretty much every enemy bleeds when hit, from the wildlife like pigs, snakes, spiders, and rhinos—to the elemental rock and fire creatures. Magic also exists and your character can use them. Demons can attack your town/solace but are depicted as these smokey floating orbs.

    Crafting might be the main reason for Solace Crafting to exist, but I actually ended up enjoying the game on its exploration aspects. I feel that it is a very nice complementary game. I mean that as a type of game you would play while doing something else like listening to a podcast or music and I found it to be very relaxing. It’s pretty easy to lose track of time as I played for six hours my first time around and only noticed because Steam told me so. It's in Early Access so right now if you buy it, you’re buying into an “alpha” instead of a finished or realized product. You’ll get to see and experience firsthand the development of a video game and if you like crafting-based RPGs while seeing an idea come into fruition, I’m sure you’ll get a lot of mileage from this one. It might be ugly both visually and aurally, and some mechanics are extremely basic, but Big Kitty Games is serious about this one—with plans to add multiplayer down the road. The developer grants you a lot of freedom and choice. Reported bugs are fixed in a quick amount of time, updates are constantly rolled out, and the developer is responsive and goes into detail about what he or she fixes. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what Solace Crafting becomes when it releases.

  • Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God
    Developed By: Idea Factory
    Published By: Ghostlight LTD (Aksys Games on Vita)
    Release Date: June 4, 2018
    Available On: Windows, PS Vita
    Genre: Role-Playing Game, Dungeon Crawler
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Drug Reference, Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes
    MSRP:$19.99 (PC) $31.99 (Vita) 
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Ghostlist LTD for sending us this game to review!

    Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God is a really silly title for a really silly title. (See what I did there?) Here, the main character Pupuru is trying to graduate from high school, and she is suddenly chosen to complete an extra challenge, where she has to take on a dungeon by herself and retrieve a magic orb. When she gets to the top, she finds the orb – but a rabbit-like creature she names Kuu eats it right up! Her teacher, the poorly clothed Ms. Saffron (with unrealistically massive cleavage) does not believe her story and kicks her out of school.

    Despondent, she does not know what to do – until she arrives at her favorite curry restaurant. She sees the huge chain store opening up nearby, and her small town favorite Smile Curry has no customers! She promises to find new recipes to attract back his lost customers. She then hears about the Legendary Magic Curry – which she determines to find so she can help out Smile Curry.

    Sorcery Saga is proof that if something is cute enough, it will find an audience. And man is this game cute. The art style, especially the 2D hand drawn art during which conversations happen, is simply incredible. The characters, and their associated voice acting, are superb and adorable. The character dialogue is also hilarious. I also loved that nobody cursed – but they did use phrases like ‘darn it all to heck’ which I found funny.

    Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Absolutely lovely characters, with hilarious dialogue; fantastic 2D art for the dialogue segments; great voice acting; great translation and writing
    Weak Points: Dungeon crawling can be very repetitive; if you die you basically lose everything with no chance of recovery; levels are temporary
    Moral Warnings: Some female characters show a ridiculous amount of cleavage; there is some sexually suggestive dialogue, with things like ‘It’s like he’s eye-humping me!’ and ‘Those with neat, compact boobies can still enjoy life, right?’; other sexually suggestive dialogue includes lots of comic misunderstandings and accusations of perversion; references to drugs like ‘God’s UberDrug’ and ‘Sad Guy Pill’; fantasy violence; magic use by enemies and player; references to deities like the ‘Great Curry God’

    The meat of the game is actually a Mystery Dungeon-style dungeon crawler. For those who have not played that kind of game, it’s a top-down map with a square grid. Each attack or movement action causes everything on the map – both you and your enemies – to also perform one action. Your main goal is to look for each exit, as well as any loot you may find along the way to make you stronger. In this game, each time you die, or even start a new dungeon, your character loses all levels, and you only keep items if you complete or safely escape a dungeon at specified exits. Even if you do safely escape early, you still lose all of your levels and have to start the dungeon over.

    If that wasn’t bad enough, save scumming (the process of reloading saves if you fail) is impossible without taking advantage of Windows – that is, alt+tabbing while playing and copying around save files. I did this because this game can be incredibly tedious otherwise. Every few levels I made a suspend save, which saves during the dungeon. Then, I copied the SorcerySaga00.SAV file out of the Documents/My Games/Ghostlight Ltd/Sorcery Saga directory, and copied it to a temp location (my desktop in this case). By doing this, you won’t lose everything when you die. You can store things in your room, but you typically take your best weapons with you. If you die but your pet Kuu does not, you thankfully keep your equipped weapon and armor. If you are both dead, you lose everything.

    Generally the game is pretty easy, if you are careful, but literally one step in the wrong direction and you can lose everything – or at least it can feel that way as you lose pretty much all permanent progression. For example, one time Kuu, your pet rabbit-like thing who can eat literally anything, had a status of 'So HUNGRY' – which means he will eat anything he walks over on the floor, no exceptions. Well, I was fighting an enemy that knocked my level 19 sword out of my hand. I took one step... and he ate it. Poof. Gone. Now, there literally is no other way to recover such a powerful weapon other than grinding for hours in the normal or grinding dungeons, of which there are a couple, or reloading a save (which is what I did, via the save file method mentioned above). The dungeon crawling is fun, and the bosses are not too difficult, but they are quite long and can be quite tedious.

    The story, on the other hand, is charming and wonderful.  As Pupuru tries to explore dungeons in search of the ultimate ingredients, she meets more and more people who try to help her, or get in her way.  The interactions are cute and sometimes hilarious.  The writing and localization is absolutely top notch, and very well done.  The PC port is also pretty much perfect; I don’t recall any crashes or performance issues, on either my high end PCs or my GPD Win 2, which ran the game just fine.

    Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The music is very good and fitting, and appropriately goofy. The voice acting is great, though all in Japanese. The graphics and art are wonderful where it is hand drawn, though the dungeon part is rendered, and is just serviceable – neither good nor bad. Overall, the mood is very lighthearted and charming.

    Morally, the game is lighthearted and silly, but some of the jokes veer into suggestive territory, including things like ‘It’s like he’s eye-humping me!’ and ‘Those with neat, compact boobies can still enjoy life, right?’ Jokes also talk about others being perverted or a flirt. A few of the women are massively endowed, and some show that off in a way that is completely unrealistic. If someone were to attempt to look like her teacher or another character Cliora, they would probably get slapped with public nudity charges. Puni’s outfit is also ridiculous and manages to not cover anything and not show anything at the same time. It’s really strange.

    Other than outfits, it’s mostly clean. There is animated violence, as you and enemies smack each other with weapons. You can also cast spells, and have magic performed on you. Enemies include various humanoids, fish creatures, and magicians that carry skulls and such. Spells include fire and lightning strikes, and other similar things. Of course there are deities, and the Great Curry God is one such one that you can meet when you beat the game. A character is one of his shrine maidens as well.

    Overall, Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God has a cute and incredibly memorable set of characters built around an average at best dungeon crawler. If you are looking for a dungeon crawler that keeps you wanting to come back for more, this probably isn’t it. (If you do find yourself liking that part, dungeons are randomly generated and can always be revisited, so there is plenty of replay value.) But if you love cute artwork and funny dialogue, this game has charm to spare.

  • South Park: The Fractured But Whole (PC)

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    Game Info:

    South Park: The Fractured But Whole
    Developer: Ubisoft, Ubisoft San Francisco, South Park Digital Studios LLC
    Published by: Ubisoft
    Release Date: October 17, 2017
    Available on: Windows, Playstation 4, Xbox One
    Genre: RPG
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: M for Blood and Gore, Mature Humor, Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Use of Drugs, Violence   
    Price: $60.00
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Ubisoft for sending us a review code.

    Warning: For anyone that purchases this game on PC, know that it will force a Uplay install if you buy it on Steam. Even if you buy it on Uplay, it also comes with Denuvo. Denuvo is a DRM software known to cause bugs and problems for certain PC games. While I was able to complete this game right to the end credits with about 96 percent of the game done, I did have to wrestle with quite a few bugs on my playthrough.

    South Park: The Fractured But Whole takes place after the previous game, The Stick of Truth. Cartman drags “the New Kid” (you), and the rest of the South Park gang into playing superheroes with one goal in mind: they want to make the best superhero franchise possible. When the missing cat Scrambles has a 100 dollar reward for its return, it's up to the would-be heroes to find it before the Freedom Pals. Yet quickly you learn that more is going on; crime is up in South Park and the heroes game becomes more than pretend rather quickly.

    Once you make your character and you pass the tutorial, you can select from one of three hero classes: a brutalist, a blaster, or a speedster. Then you explore the entire town of South Park, completing quests to progress the story or to gain items, crafting materials and other collectibles. You can even take a selfie with the various characters in South Park; collecting these gives you additional rewards in your bedroom toy chest. Combat is grid based; your attacks and movement have certain ranges within the grid. As you progress through the game, the new kid gains the power to steal an enemy's turn, pause time, or summon a past version of themselves with his farts. You can change your team line up in almost every battle before it begins, but some battles force you to use certain characters.

    South Park: The Fractured But Whole
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: This game has great moments, the combat can be fun, and if the jokes work for you, you'll get a good laugh or two.
    Weak Points: This game has no real customization to your character aside from a few costumes. You'll have moments where it feels like it drags on when a joke or story beat should have ended awhile ago. The artifact system is boring, wasted potential. You might have bugs to wrestle with on the PC version.
    Moral Warnings: Everything from sexual innuendos, extreme violence, molestation jokes and more. South Park makes sure to offend everyone no matter what.

    The best way for me to describe my experience with this game is that it was a roller coaster with great climbs and high drops. For everything that made me think, wow this game is really fun and creative, I had something that made me think, ugh is it over yet? For every item I got to strengthen my character, I slowly started to realize how boring the equipment system was. I also had this problem with the story. There were multiple moments where I was excited to see where the main or side quests were going, but eventually I just wanted to move on. Sidebar: despite what you may think of a Christ Centered Gamer review, I personally enjoy raunchy and crude humor. That being said, this game lives and dies on what jokes you find funny. The reason I say that is because the adventure itself is an average experience. I can't say the game was truly bad at any point, I will give it that. However, you can only fight Cartman's other personality aside from his super hero one so many times before the joke overstays its welcome. No matter what kind of taste you have in humor, some jokes will always be hit or miss.

    As you level up your character you unlock artifact slots that give your character boosts to one of five stats. These stats are might, spunk, intelligence, health, and movement. The first three stats will affect different types of attacks while the other two affect your HP and how many squares you can move per turn in combat. The equipment is the first major potential wasted moment. You get six slots in total for minor, major and epic artifacts. All this does is make you and your team stronger; it boosts all stats equally for the most part. Epic artifacts unlock some special abilities yet I never cared about the abilities, just stat boosts. While the artifacts can give separate bonuses such as knockback or critical chance, I never found it mattered how I built my character. I just needed to get the artifacts with the bigger numbers. You'll unlock a superhero “DNA” slot that gives more varied boosts; one might raise a certain stat and lower another, yet at no point did I find it mattered because you get DNA that eventually just boosted everything. As you progress through the story you unlock new classes to combine with your first class. You will eventually unlock every class from the game, which can cause any sense of progression through combat or build variety to feel absent from the game. The only saving grace is some exciting fights. You have an easy, normal and hard difficulty to choose from that you can change at anytime. I might even revisit this game after a few months to play it on hard.

    South Park: The Fractured But Whole
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    Graphics and sound are going to be up to taste. If you like South Park or you like simple graphics you won't have any problems enjoying the artstyle. The same applies with sound and music, if you like the show you'll like the sounds. I'll give the game credit though, the battle music for each type of enemy never overstayed its welcome. Now we need to talk about bugs. At the time of this review being written I have no idea if the bugs were caused by the pre-release build I played or Denuvo. I've had moments where the game froze up during battle or on certain set pieces like ladders. Sometimes I've had to restart the game to stop a bug. Sometimes I could just pause then unpause for the action to start up again. The strangest bug I encountered was a moment where a NPC doubled themselves at the kitchen sink. Two of them were just standing there washing dishes and they both acted like they were the only one washing. I had to double check to make sure I wasn't missing a joke. Even with more than a dozen bugs I had to wrestle with I can at least congratulate South Park for making me interested in playing to the end.

    It's funny, but writing the moral section for this game is the easiest part of this review. It's South Park so expect the most raunchy, over the top and adult humor you can think of. Then you multiply it by ten. You have multiple sexual innuendos including a plot point that it's horrifying that your dad had sex with your mom. One of the collectibles being gay fan art of two characters that are children. You have fat strippers trying to kill you, drug references, extreme gross out humor and more. It's also pretty sad that children have to fix all the problems adults can't in this world. They will offend everyone from every political affiliation, race, religion and whatever else you can think of. You even have cute woodland creatures worshiping Satan. I respect that they keep their legacy of equal opportunity offensiveness intact, yet we here at Christ Centered Gamer judge all moral scores equally too.

    Overall, South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a very mature but ok game. It's not the best game out there though fans of the show will enjoy it. Keep this game out of the hands of anyone under the age of 17. Don't purchase this if you're easily offended no matter what sort of side you claim to represent in your life. Also keep in mind about potential problems with the PC version due to Denuvo.

  • Space Pirates and Zombies 2 (PC) Preview

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Space Pirates and Zombies 2
    Developed By: Min Max Games
    Published By: Min Max Games
    Released: May 17, 2016 (Early Access)
    Available On: Windows (Steam)
    Genre: Action; Adventure; RPG; Simulation; Strategy
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $19.99 new (Steam)

    In the beginning a developer created Space Pirates and Zombies (SPAZ).  A 2D game set in space with pirates and zombies and it was good.  After a time, the developer said "let there be a sequel".  And it was so. It was also set in space, added 3D graphics in a 2D universe but empty.  And the developer said "let there be life". And it was so.  The game universe was populated with captains of space ships, whom could do anything the player could do and would venture around the universe. And the developer saw it was good.  And the developer said "let there be chaos". And it was so.  Captains acted like pirates; while the zombie apocalypse appeared infecting those whom ventured too close to their borders, expanding their territory, consuming the game universe and it was fun!

    There are two game modes; Storyline and Sandbox.  Storyline provides a path for you to follow at your leisure and opens up the story via dialogue, which is currently presented by text-to-speech, which works nice though the full release will have actual voice actors.  Sandbox is the same game, stripping out all the story dialogue and missions that you would otherwise encounter.  In both game modes the zombie menace eventually appears and starts infecting captains and taking over the starmap sector by sector.  Destroy this zombie threat, by taking down its home base, and you win the game.

    You start out in the world map view, broken down into sectors with each sector having its own station and a mix of potential resources that can be scavenged.  From there, you follow a tutorial which introduces you to the game mechanics, learning your surroundings and figuring out how to upgrade your meagre mothership before you become easy prey to more powerful captains.  In the world map view you navigate via the mouse, clicking where you want to go and on whatever you wish to interact with, be that resources, other captains or stations, and so on.

    Working through the tutorial you are introduced to the resources used, how to get more and how to upgrade your mothership.  The resources are: Rez, Goons and Scrap.  Each has their own specific use and needs; i.e. Rez is used as fuel for your mothership, Goons for crew and to make repairs and Scrap used for trading and building stations.

    Space Pirates and Zombies 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Highly engaging, easy to pickup and play, open world gameplay
    Weak Points: Annoying AI behaviour, storyline dialogue interrupts too frequently
    Moral Warnings: Lots of opportunities to steal, intimidate, harass and destroy other captains in the game universe, casual swearing

    Rez and Goons can be harvested from the starmap view, from resources nodes littered across the universe.  There is a limited supply but they slowly build up over time.  Scrap can be salvaged from battles, along with spare parts to equip on your mothership.  As you harvest and salvage you need to be considerate of whom these resources belong to as they will have a negative effect on your standings with other captains and is a sure way to make enemies quickly.

    Fighting another captain will put you in a combat zone.  Here you control your mothership using mouse and keyboard (SPAZ 2 also has gamepad support).  Combat is fairly simple, if you want it to be, using the Battlewagon mode.  Just steer your ship and manage your speed and shields, and the mothership will automatically shoot at any hostile targets.  You can override this and take manual control of the aiming and shooting if you want, but given it’s all about DPS, it’s generally better to keep Battlewagon mode active as it is more efficient at how it deals damage.

    How is it more efficient at dealing damage? Well, your weapons can cause damage to shields, armour and hull.  Each weapon can have varying degrees of damage.  There is no point in firing a weapon which only does hull and armour damage when the target has its shields up.  Battlewagon mode will choose the most effective weapons to cause the most damage.

    Combat is extremely satisfying, when you are not outgunned.  You can destroy ship parts, which will fall off the ship, with satisfying explosion sounds and weapon effects.  Drop the enemy’s shields and you can ram them to cause significant damage.  The combat zone is littered with debris and hazards that you can use to your advantage.  You also have a tractor beam which you can use to hurl debris at the enemy to cause additional damage.

    Space Pirates and Zombies 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 3.5/10

    At the end of battle, assuming you were victorious, you can salvage your ill gotten gains left behind by your victim.  Your rewards range from resources to ship parts which you can swap or add to your mothership.  You can also use your scrap to purchase new ship parts to upgrade your mothership with different and more powerful types of weapons.

    As fun as it is, the early game can be frustratingly slow and boring as you slowly upgrade your ship by scavenging what little resources you can find.  You are also an easy target to some captains who will happily attack you with vastly superior firepower.  Bribing your way out and retreating is an option but a costly setback.  The AI in combat is challenging, yet does have its flaws.  The main annoyances of the AI are: hugging a space station that is about to explode and flying straight into hazards from area of effect weapons, causing major damage.  Some of the original fan base has also been disappointed in how different the core mechanics are to the original game.

    Given the open nature of the universe you can act in a good or evil manner towards its inhabitants, with the developers stating the game is meant to be played towards the latter.  Funnily enough, the developers also commented that most players played more of the former.  Swearing and blasphemy is present in the game (i.e. “fuck”, “hell”, “Bastard”, “Jesus Christ”, etc.) and occurs regularly.  While captains automatically eject on death, Goons are lost and are also killed when making repairs to your ship and are effectively treated as the lowest form of society.

    After spending about a dozen hours with SPAZ 2, I was surprised it was released as an Early Access title.  Even though it may not have everything the developers want in the game it’s an extremely polished and fun experience.  Since release, the developers have been listening to user feedback and have been consistently improving the core experience and adding new gameplay elements.  If you enjoy your sci-fi and/or space games I’d say it’s an essential purchase, even while it’s still in Early Access.  For everyone else, I’d recommend it if you are not overly concerned by the violent language and nature of the game.

    Daniel Woods (@themudpig)

     

  • Stella Glow (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Stella Glow
    Developed by: Image Epoch
    Published by: Atlus
    Release Date: November 17, 2015
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Tactical RPG
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for language, blood, fantasy violence, drug reference, partial nudity, suggestive themes, use of alcohol
    Price: $49.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

    Long ago the moon god was upset with humanity for their arrogance and decided to punish the faithless.  An army of angels was dispatched and things looked bleak until a hero named Elcrest went to the moon and laid down his life to save humanity.  While the people were spared, their ability to sing was taken away.  The only beings capable of singing are witches and only a handful exist. Things were peaceful in the kingdom of Regnant for a thousand years until Hilda, the witch of destruction, starting crystalizing villages and all of the townspeople within.  As pretty as her song is, the aftermath is devastating.

    Alto and Lisette are the only survivors from a recent crystallization of the small village, Mithra. A few years prior Lisette and her mother took in Alto and named him since all of his memories were erased.  The only possession Alto had was a pendant.  During the attack on Mithra he gave the pendant to Lisette and the qualia stone from it merged with her body and she became the water witch.  After witnessing that transformation and seeing the approaching royal army, Hilda and her Harbingers fled the scene.

    The royal army was interested in the new water witch and escorted her and Alto to the royal capital.  To reverse the crystallization, the four witches (water, fire, earth, wind) need to unite and sing the anthem song.  Lisette agrees to participate in the anthem program to save her mother and Alto joins up with the royal knights to locate and bring back the other three witches peacefully.

    Hilda becomes aware of the Queen’s plans and tries to get to and kill the witches before the royal army can get to them.  Many battles will ensue and this 3D tactical RPG game handles them well for the most part.  My only complaint about that battle system is that there is no ability to speed up the battle process.  Many strategy games have a 2X or a 4X option, but not this game.  

    Stella Glow
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay; excellent voice acting and character development; nice musical score
    Weak Points: While the battle animations can be skipped, there’s no way to speed up the battles in general
    Moral Warnings: Lots of language; some females wear very revealing clothing/silk night gowns; blood and violence; womanizing; alcohol use and drunkenness; drug references

    Like your typical tactical RPGs, the units take turns and can move and perform an action on their turn.  The number of squares they can move is determined by their movement attribute and the area of effect of their attack depends on their weapon or spell.  For example, swords can only hit an adjacent enemy while spears can reach an enemy two spaces away.  

    Weapons can be fitted with orbs that can be refined or purchased in town.  Some of my favorite orbs were ones that reclaimed health or spell points with each hit.  Elemental affinities can be applied to weapons, which works well when a unit is weak to that element, but will heal them if they’re attuned to it.

    Each character has one accessory slot and only two inventory slots.  The accessory slot is for rings that can negate status effects or boost attributes.  The inventory slots are ideal for healing elixirs and cure potions for removing ailments.  Be sure to check your inventory before battle since you cannot replenish it once battle starts.

    In the beginning you're limited to the first five starting characters, but throughout the story more allies will become available.  Each unit has their own unique battle abilities and funny personality and backstory that you can learn about during free time.    

    There are ten chapters in Stella Glow and each chapter is broken up into mission and free time segments.  The mission segments are battles required for progressing the story line while the free time moments provide opportunities to take on side work for cash, build relationships with teammates, or fight some battles for loot or experience.  The battles focused around loot will consume time while the normal battles do not.  Some battles with better loot can be unlocked by spending your 3DS game coins.  

    As your bonds strengthen with teammates, they will unlock new abilities, songs, and attacks.  As Alto gets to know the witches he’ll discover their insecurities and in order to help them, he must tune them to cleanse their heart.  Tuning the witches requires going to the tuning hall where all the witches wait for him in a relaxing room wearing silk nightwear.  

     

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

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 42%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    While nothing sexual happens in the tuning chamber, there are a lot of sexual innuendos made throughout the game.  Some of the witches and other female characters wear very revealing clothing.  The female doctor’s enormous breasts are just a sneeze away from coming out of her outfit.  Rusty, one of the knights is quite a womanizer and tries to teach Alto the art of picking up women.

    The tavern is the place to go for side work and Rusty goes there for the booze and women.  Some of the characters in the game do get drunk.  Language is quite prevalent throughout the game and pretty much every word is used other than the f-bomb.    There is blasphemy and statements made in the game that humans don’t need a god since they can stand well enough on their own.  While most of the fighting is tame when it comes to bloodshed, there are some disturbing images of characters bleeding to death.   Last but not least, there is a story sequence that revolves around growing illegal drugs and some of the enemies are actively using them.  

    The main story and personalities are funny and quite entertaining to experience.  I regret not seeing all of the story arcs but the new game + mode fixes that by tripling the amount of free time, allowing you max out all of the character skills.  The second time around also gives you more money and experience per battle.  My first play through was over fifty hours so there’s no doubt about getting your money’s worth on Stella Glow.

    The voice acting is extremely well done and adds to the quirkiness of some of the characters.  I recognized some of the voice actors from popular anime shows that I have enjoyed.  Like many animes, there are bouts with amnesia and Alto has quite the harem at the end of the game.  After the end credits Alto can choose a character he has maxed affinity with to experience various endings.

    The artwork has an anime feel to it as well.  The character stills have much more detail and emotion than the chibi style units on the battlefield.  Many of the powerful attacks have an elaborate animation sequence that goes along with it.  The battle animations can be skipped to speed up the gameplay, yet due to the lack of additional speed-up options, the battles drag on for short eternities.

    In the end, I enjoyed my time with Stella Glow.  It’s a great tactical RPG that has interesting characters and a good sense of humor.  There are many appropriateness issues to take into consideration as this game deserves the Teen rating it was given.  If the language, deity issues, violence, and sexual content don’t faze you, then it’s worth adding to your 3DS library.  

     
  • Stellar Tactics (Preview)

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    Game Info:

    Stellar Tactics
    Developed By: Maverick Games
    Published By: Maverick Games
    Released: September 23rd, 2016
    Version: 0.019
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Strategy RPG
    ESRB Rating:  T for Violence, Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Mild Language, and Use of Alcohol
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $19.99

    Stellar Tactics is a strategy RPG, top down, sci-fi game.  The player wakes up on a starship travelling towards a planet for repopulation, to uncover the facts that lead up to being woken up early.

    For any RPG, stats are critical, for which there are an abundance.  At the start of a new game you assign stats and skills.  Stats affect your overall character (strength, agility, dexterity, etc.) and bleed over into improving health and ability skills (i.e. increased weapon damage).  Skills cover weapons and special abilities (i.e. medkits and hacking tools) to improve the efficiency in using such skills.

    On starting a new game I was dazzled by the amount of character options put before me.  After the initial confusion I slowly and carefully considered the starting stats and skills for my main character.  Then, I realized I had to do the same process three more times for the accompanying party members.  It was an exercise in being meticulous, assigning points in a staggering selection.  Several hours later, I found out I wasted my time for the three of the party members for reasons I will not spoil.

    Your team will level up through combat.  Each time they level up you assign points to the base stats.  As for skills, they increase as they’re used.  For those unaware of stats, an increase in stats means an improvement in that stat and any associated secondary stats.  E.g. If you want to improve efficiency in the shotgun skill, you need to use the shotgun to improve that skill.

    Sound effects are used to present a reasonable atmosphere and fit well enough with the sci-fi theme.  Character voice overs, which are used to present one liners when leveling up or scoring critical hits on enemies, are cheesy at best.  Later on you come across giant alien spiders who screech harshly, detracting from the audio quality.

    Stellar Tactics
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lots of depth and stats for RPG enthusiasts; open world universe to explore
    Weak Points: Bland combat and gameplay mechanics; slow turn based combat
    Moral Warnings: Violence and blood

    You use the mouse to move your team, as a whole or individually in real time.  Combat can be initiated manually at any time, by a quick click on the action toolbar, or automatically when in close proximity to an enemy.  Combat is turn based with the order dependent on a stat, which can be confusing when determining who is up next.

    You can target different body parts depending on the enemy type, i.e. head, body, legs, etc.  Each limb has a varying hit chance.  The percentage to hit is buggy at present.  You can select a different weapon while still hovering the cursor over a limb without the hit chance changing.  This could lead to you taking a 0% chance of hitting when the UI is telling you otherwise.  There is a combat log which details damage taken, given and misses.  Though combat may be bugged, I’ve taken many shots in the plus 80s which appear to have missed their mark and are not logged.  The shots are taken but not acknowledged by the game.

    Each action takes up action points from a pool available to each individual party member.  Points are consumed by firing your weapons, moving, turning to face another direction, etc.

    Combat felt uninspiring and prolonged, leaving me feeling bored throughout each encounter.  I had little joy from playing through the prologue and had to push myself hard to get through the first two levels.

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

    Game Score - 60%
    Gameplay - 10/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The first two levels ended with a boss encounter.  When facing both I had to run away or be swarmed by a group of enemies and have my team eliminated.  Running away and picking off pursuing enemies felt like the only valid tactic available.  This resulted in a slow and prolonged engagement where I felt constantly on the back foot of the engagement.  The second boss fight felt more difficult. By luring the main boss I was able to kill its minions as it chased one of my party members around the level.  It felt as luck prevailed in defeating this second boss, rather than the skill of my party.

    Blood spills out of characters when they are hit without splashing onto the scenery.  There is no swearing.  Violence is against infected humans (turned zombies?), giant alien spiders and normal humans.

    This is Early Access.  The solo developer is aware of the difficulty surrounding the first level and is currently focused on adding new content.  For the moment, the opening stage won’t be changed anytime soon despite its high difficulty.  As it is, by the time I got to the spaceship (something which the community has much praise about) I had lost any further interest in continuing the journey.  No matter what new mechanics it may bring.

    It its current state I would recommend most gamers wait and see how the development of the game progresses.  If you are a hardcore RPG gamer then you’d probably get more enjoyment than I did and would be worth checking out.

  • Stories: The Path of Destinies (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Stories: The Path of Destinies
    Developed by: Spearhead Games
    Published by: Spearhead Games
    Release date: April 12, 2016
    Available on: PS4, Windows
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Violence, Blood, Mild Language
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Spearhead Games for sending us this game to review!

    Reynardo is an adventurous fox who enjoyed his time plundering the floating islands until his mother called to him from her deathbed. She made him promise to protect a character known only as 'the kid with the book'. Not understanding the ramifications of her request, he agreed. While chasing down the kid with the book, Reynardo will learn the basics of combat, grappling, and jumping. These skills will all be beneficial in this 3D action RPG title.

    The chase between the kid and Reynardo is short lived and the fox soon finds this book in his possession and realizes how valuable it truly is. This powerful tome lets him see the outcome of various choices he can make throughout the game. His ultimate goal is to topple the evil emperor and ensure a victory for the rebel army. If he plays his cards right, Reynardo may even find some romance!

    Much like the “choose your own adventure” books, you will begin your story with deciding on pursuing a powerful weapon, or saving an old friend in distress. Each adventure has five chapters so you won’t realize your missteps right away. As you explore various ruins and destroyed cities you’ll come across numerous chests with ore, gems, and elemental materials. Reynardo’s bracers allow him to equip up to three gems at a time and these gems can help him find better loot or reduce elemental and/or physical damage. The ore and elemental counterparts are used for forging and upgrading swords. Not only do these swords have unique abilities to them, but they are also used as keys to unlock gates constructed of the same element. All of the items and upgrades are carried over for subsequent playthroughs.

    Stories: The Path of Destinies
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun combat and good storytelling; twenty-five endings
    Weak Points: Some repetition to unlock all of the endings; no back-tracking
    Moral Warnings: Combat violence; magic use; language (d*mn, *ss, bad*ss); references to other gods and rituals involving sacrifices

    In total, there are twenty-five endings and in order to get the good ending you have to play through at least four times to unlock the four truths. Once all the truths have been revealed, the book will guide to the proper selections to get the good ending. Going through the bad endings is fun too, especially the peace and enlightenment route. The commentary in this game is quite funny at times. Reynaldo can hook his enemies to bring them closer to him and once said “Get over here!” which is the same line used by Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion. The narrator is entertaining to listen to and does a great job with the voice acting.

    There’s no shortage of ravens to fight. They are often accompanied by wraiths who can buff them or hurl ranged attacks that are very painful. Some of the ravens equip shields that need to be removed before you can hurt them and last but not least, are the detonating ravens that need to be kept away from once detonated. Between countering and abilities unlocked through leveling up, the enemies aren’t too challenging until the good ending’s play through.

    Dying mid-quest may happen, and if it does you’ll be respawned with half of your health by the nearest checkpoint.  While this may seem generous at first, without the ability to backtrack, you won’t be able to retrace your steps to change out your jewels or heal yourself by smashing vases and crates.  When I respawned with hordes of enemies waiting for me, I found that taking out the wraiths and luring the rest to you is the best way to deal with them.

    Stories: The Path of Destinies
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Visually this game is very charming and does the Unreal Engine proud. The levels have multiple paths that can be fully explored once you have all of the swords unlocked. If you like to explore, the lack of backtracking will annoy you until you memorize the levels. Given that you will have to play through them several times, memorizing them won’t be too difficult.

    As fun as this game is, it’s definitely not for younger children. With the fantasy violence, magic, and language, it definitely earns its Teen rating from the ESRB. There are references to cities being razed and there are sometimes bodies lying on the ground as a result. The evil emperor seeks to become immortal and is willing to offer his daughter as a sacrifice to achieve his goal.

    Fans of choose your own adventure books and those who like the movie Groundhog Day will enjoy the premise of this action RPG. The price is a reasonable $14.99 and it will entertain you for a few hours or longer depending on how many of the endings you wish to see.

  • Stranger of Sword City (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Stranger of Sword City
    Developed By: Experience Inc.
    Published By: NIS America, Inc.
    Release Date: June 6, 2016
    Available On: PC, PS Vita, Xbox One
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Violence
    Genre: RPG
    Mode: Single Player
    Price: $39.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    In Stranger of Sword City, you find yourself inside of a commercial airplane, when suddenly you are alone and crash onto the surface of an unknown land.  Dangerous beasts threaten to attack you, and some others come to your aid.  They explain that you are one of many Strangers, who came from Earth to this new land in a different dimension, where monsters and special creatures called Lineages threaten everyone's safety.  Once defeated, they leave behind a Blood Crystal, which you must then hand over to one of the three vessels of the Gods of Light, Darkness, or Neutrality.  Doing so unlocks new Divinity skills, and helps steer the future of the world.

    Stranger of Sword City is a rather deep and interesting take on the classic Wizardry RPG formula, where each dungeon is displayed in first person, with a grid map that you can refer to.  As you explore deeper and deeper, monsters try to stop you, and you gain experience from each successful encounter, until you finally level up and gain more power and equipment.  Then this cycle repeats until you and your team becomes a force to be reckoned with.  You may become powerful enough to then conquer the one or more Lineage type of adversary which function as the boss of that area, as well as several hidden enemies.  It is quite common to find yourself in a situation that you can't survive; that is why the game offers you a way to run – because sometimes, running is the right thing to do.

    The game is definitely challenging.  There is a beginner mode I can't vouch for; I played on normal.  The first dungeon really does a great job of getting you to learn to be careful – and that survival is not guaranteed.  Dying has a high cost – unless you can pay the steep healing prices, you can be without your prized character for over a week in game time as they heal at the hospital, or if you don't manage your life points properly, they can disappear completely.  Thankfully, you can always reload, but lost time and progress is a constant companion until you manage to get your characters powerful enough to handle what comes to them – and even then, you can be very surprised by the simplest enemies, as they perform some nasty instant death critical, or all enemies focus on one of your team members unexpectedly.  As they say, always expect the unexpected.

    Each dungeon has one or more enemy that is much more powerful than the rest, and can really mess you up if you aren't prepared.  In the first dungeon, there is one enemy that rarely shows up – but is ten levels higher than almost everything else.  If you don't pay attention to that fact, they can easily wipe your party, or even if they only wipe one character, the setback can be significant.  That is why it is always recommended to create an entire roster of characters, and at least one of each class right away, because if you have someone in the hospital, at least you have a backup.  Team members in reserve do gain a lesser amount of experience, so it's always worth it to fill up your spare character slots.

    Creating characters is a fairly involved process.  There is a ton of character customization options, including various talents, attributes, and starting classes.  I say 'starting', because multiclassing is very easy – and very powerful.  You can multiclass at any time, with up to five class changes per playthrough, though it is highly recommended to wait until at least level 13, as you get a skill token at that point.  Skills from previous classes are assigned to those slots, so tokens are indispensable.  Sometimes, the big payoff for a class is gained when taken all the way to level 28 or 30, which can take quite a while.  But in some cases, it's definitely worth it.

    Stranger of Sword City
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Long and deep dungeon crawling experience; excellent 2D art; great music; fantastic leveling and multiclass system; innovative hiding system for ambushing
    Weak Points: 3D rendered graphics are rendered at a low 720p internally; localization is passable but not great; controllers must be on when the game starts, and if they turn off mid-game, you have to quit out before they are detected again; some may not appreciate the quasi-permadeath
    Moral Warnings: RPG violence, with some cut scenes showing significant blood and gore; some (rarely used) foul language, like 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd', '*ss', and 'hell'; there are several deities (polytheism), each with their own vessels, which compete for your attention; enemies vary from creatures and humans, to dragons and spirits and the undead, including some 'God' class enemies; has a Satan-like enemy named 'Lucifel'; magic use prevalent and basically required to be effective; a spellbook has a hexagram on it; there is a narcotic-like drug present, whose origin is frankly disturbing (*spoilers* cannibalism *end spoilers*); female humans and creatures have varying levels of clothing, with a small number of enemies basically nude with hair covering the required parts, with other creatures having a nipple bump, but no actual nipple; one scene where you see a female human from the rear with her shirt off and you side the rear/side of her breast

    There are several races of humanoids, like short Dwarves, tall and thin Elves, Humans, the dog-like Migmy, and the cat-like Ney. Each race has strengths and weaknesses, which makes them especially suited to certain roles.  A Migmy cleric and an Elven wizard are highly recommended, for example.  Talents, attributes, and age play a big role in how powerful you are as well.  The younger characters have more life points, so they can die more times without requiring a hospital stay.  But, the older they are, the more starting attribute points they get – which can make a big difference.  If they are over 60, they get only one life point, so death is permanent.  Weighing tradeoffs like these are ever present, as levels and multiclassing can have a similar cost, as your ability to hit and do damage with spells is largely affected by level.  Of course, almost any deficit can eventually be overcome with grinding.

    And grinding you will do.  You will almost certainly come upon a boss Lineage, or even a random mob, that consistently kicks you to the curb.  What then?  Grind. Or, more precisely, lots of ambushing for both gear and experience.  Outside of a few bosses, weapon and armor drops almost never come from random enemies.  And buying them is pointless, as you can't get anything good.  Loot is gained by sitting in special ambush spots on each level and choosing ambush.  Doing this shows you what you are to fight, and what class of treasure awaits you.  Doing this repeatedly (it costs morale, which is limited but easy to replenish) gives you stronger and stronger enemies, and their improving loot.  If you skip this, you will fail, and fail hard – be warned.  And, the levels gained will help you be more effective as well.

    The character and multiclassing system is honestly really well done and helps make the game hard to put down.  Grinding never felt boring or purposeless, because I always had that next thing to strive for – and the experience curves, while hardly fast, are balanced well enough that another level isn't too far away once you find a good spot that works for you.  I spent a good chunk of time grinding once I started down the multiclass path.  It was a bit painful at first, but if you stagger your party rather than doing them all at once, you can grow them while continuing to battle high end content for faster experience.  And they become a lot more powerful with each new class – the grind is worth it.

    In Stranger of Sword City, the art style is something to behold.  It's all hand drawn, and simply fantastic.  They do offer two different styles for character portraits, type A and B.  A is the default dark fantasy style, and B is an anime style.  While I love anime, type A is vastly superior in this case.  The music is also excellent.  There are spots where you can tell that the small amount of 3D rendered environments are internally scaled to 720p, and it's a bit ugly there, but honestly it's easy to ignore since the vast majority of what you see is 2D hand drawn art.  There is a GeDoSaTo patch for this, but I was unable to get it to work.  

    The music is also excellent.  I really enjoyed it, even with the many choral pieces.  It fits in with the environment really well.  The voice acting is all in Japanese, with English subtitles.  The localization is passable; there are a few moments when the text doesn't really make sense, though most of it is acceptable. Once you figure out what they mean, it mostly falls into place; it's just a shame that it could have been better.

    Other things that could have been better include the fact that the default install on Steam does not support Xbox One controllers.  I had to use a (thankfully!) patched beta branch.  It has been several weeks since they published that beta branch, and they still haven't patched the main game for those controllers.  The game is perfectly playable with keyboard/mouse, but it's clearly intended for controllers.  The on-screen prompts are as expected with an Xbox controller; with the keyboard, they simply say 'button 1-10', and it's up to you to determine what those mappings are in the options.  It's obtuse, but could be worse – at least you don't have to quit to figure it out.  And eventually you will need to know this, as the Xbox controller support is not hot plug.  What this means is that if it ever gets disconnected for any reason – distance, batteries, timeouts, etc. - then the controller will no longer work until the game is restarted.  And without a save anywhere feature of any kind, you will almost certainly have to go back to town before you can save, quit, and go back to the controller.

    Stranger of Sword City
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    For most of the game, there is only simple RPG violence, where you issue a command and see it happen on screen, in the form of slashes or other effects over the enemy or character icons.  Spells are similar, in that you simply see an effect on screen as a fire or ice splash over your enemy.  Some of the cut scenes are significantly bloodier and gorier than that.  There is a scene where you see a character impaled, with blood splattered everywhere.  It is not animated, but what is happening is clear.  There is also a monster decapitation in another scene, and some monsters are just floating heads with a small amount of blood.  

    Thankfully, it is not littered with foul language; I noticed 'b*tch' and 'hell', and the ERSB also noted 'a*s' and 'b*st*rd'.  While present, those words are thankfully rare; I saw them maybe once or twice each during the rather long adventure.  Unfortunately, there is a drug reference that has a significant plot element.  'Poiney Powder' is a narcotic-like drug that has enslaved much of the slums.  The effects, distribution, and ultimately source are significant plot points of the first half of the game.  Without spoiling too much, cannibalism is also present in relation to this.

    There are also plenty of options to make female characters with lots of skin showing.  You can choose more modestly dressed women, which I did, but that is not sufficient to avoid it entirely.  A few of the NPCs show off a lot, especially various amounts of cleavage, both from the front or side.  One cut scene has you viewing a topless woman from the back, and you can clearly see her breasts at that angle.  Some of the female monsters are basically completely naked; the succubus and similar wear nothing, with hair appropriately placed to keep the game under an M or AO rating.  A couple of monsters have nipple bumps, but no nipples.  The first half or so of the game, you don't see creatures like this.  It's the later part where enemies like this start showing up, and become more common.  There is no sexual dialog of any kind; only imagery.

    Other enemies include creatures ranging from giant rat-like things to dragons to magical and undead spirits.  Magic use is common, and practically required for success (even if magic users are technically optional, good luck beating the game without one).  Healing, attack, and support magic is present.  There is an icon of a spellbook, and it has a hexagram on it.  This is one of the several Divinities you can get, which is a God (the game uses a capital 'G') blessing you.  As mentioned before, there are three competing Gods, and an enemy named 'Lucifel'. Some characters have (or do) try to become Gods at some point in the story.

    Stranger of Sword City, despite some unfortunate bugs, is a really enjoyable dungeon crawler.  If you enjoy games like Wizardry, Etrian Odyssey, or just JRPGs in general, then you should definitely give Stranger of Sword City a look.  It's a solid RPG with a great class system, that really encourages replay value with the built-in New Game+ mode.  But before making that choice, please consider carefully the many appropriateness issues.  It's unfortunate that there have to be so many nearly naked enemies late game.

  • Streets of Rogue (PC) Preview

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Streets of Rogue
    Developed By: Matt Dabrowski
    Published By: tinyBuild
    Released: Preview
    Available On: macOS, Windows, Linux
    Genre: Rogue-Like
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Number of Players: 1-4 Players local or online
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Streets of Rogue is a roguelite twin-stick RPG sandbox brawler stealth game. It has randomly generated levels with permadeath and enemies to punch and shoot. There are also role-playing game mechanics such as leveling up stats, and even hiding from enemies to avoid them. Every objective can be completed through multiple solutions, and it’s up to you to decide how you play.

    You play as one of a large cast of characters, traversing through cities doing whatever objectives the game gives you. The variety of options for completion depends on the items you get and the character you have chosen. Have a machinegun and want to cause chaos? Go for it. Want to throw a syringe into a ventilation system, causing everybody in that building to run outside? You can do that too. Use an item to blind everybody in the room, and sneak by? Why not? It is completely up to you on how you play.

    There are a ton of characters to choose from, such as the Gorilla, Hacker, Assassin, Shopkeeper, Bartender, and so on. Each character has different abilities that change how you play. The Slum Dweller can yell, causing people to come to you, wondering what the ruckus is about. The Cop can arrest people. The Vampire can suck someone’s blood. Every character is unique, and your strategy changes depending on the character. If you want to make your own characters, you can do that as well, mixing and matching abilities from preset characters.

    Along with a diverse set of characters, you can find many items in each level. There are syringes, which you don’t know what they do until you use them. There are guns, baseball bats, swords, tasers, grenades, and other sorts of weaponry. There are lock picks, hacking tools, and hypnotizers. Because of the large item variety, you can end up with multiple ways to play. The game gives you ways to be aggressive, but you can be stealthy or even pacifist at the same time. You have a lot of freedom in what you want to do.

    Streets of Rogue
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Replayable; innovative; multiple ways to play.
    Weak Points: Minor balance issues.
    Moral Warnings: Pixelated gore; sexual references; immoral characters; human violence; occult references; alcohol; minor cursing (d**n, a**)

    Each level is full of life. Opposing gang members will attack each other, and if a cop sees it, they will chase after them. If a thief is inside a store, the shopkeeper will chase him out. Goons will guard various buildings. It all makes everything feel real, just like you’re in a real city. If you do something violent or suspicious, cops will attack, or people will go outside to investigate. You must be mindful of everyone and everything that happens. You can buy items from a shopkeeper, or hire a gang member to do what you ask, or even have the police ignore crimes.

    The levels can have a few kinds of objectives. Sometimes you have to neutralize an NPC. Or you have to operate 3 or 4 buttons inside a building. Or grab an item from a safe. You can do almost every objective either violently or pacifically. Every time you complete an objective, you get rewarded with an item or some gold. Completing objective can be done simply, or through a complex set of planning and thought. It all depends on your playstyle.

    There is some permanent progression. You can unlock items, traits you can get from leveling up, or even mutators which change how the game works. If you complete an area a few times, you can get an elevator that goes straight to that floor instead of always starting from the beginning.

    You get experience by doing various things inside a level. When you level up, you go back up to full health. At the end of the floor, you can choose from different abilities that alter the game. These can be things like “increased critical chance” or “make items cost less” and other simple things. Most of the traits to choose from don’t do anything super significant, but make the game easier and give you a small advantage.

    Streets of Rogue
    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 - 56%
    Violence - 1.5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

    The controls are easy to understand and work well. Keyboard & mouse or a gamepad can be used. The game is viewed from a top-down perspective. Keyboard controls are WASD to move, left click to attack, and right click to use the character’s ability. You have a small inventory to store the items you have picked up, and the inventory is easy to access, and doesn’t slow down the action. On the gamepad it controls just as well, using standard twin stick controls (left stick to move, right stick to aim). There’s a tutorial you can play through that explains everything clearly, and teaches you the basics. Local co-op works perfectly, even having splitscreen for 16:9 resolutions. Online co-op works just as well, I had no latency or bug issues when playing.

    There is little to no story, but it seems like you are a part of a resistance. Unfortunately, that’s all the game tells you as far as lore. The sound is good; hitting and killing things sounds satisfying, when you get caught, it makes a tink, and everything sounds like it should sound. Visually it is nice to look at, and everything is distinct and even under chaotic situations, you can always tell what’s going on. The soundtrack is a sort of jazz, fitting the theme of cities well, though the game does need a few more tracks.

    Streets of Rogue has some minor balance issues. In multiplayer, depending on what characters you choose, you can tear through levels at ease, making the game too easy for its roguelite nature. The character customization lets you make characters that are downright unfair; you can take an ability that originally had downsides and completely remove the cons, making it very easy to make a broken character. It is probably by design, but the inventory feels too small in the late-game, meaning you have to manage your items and you end up with a full inventory quickly.

    There are quite a few moral issues here. To start off, there are some morally inappropriate characters. One of the big ones is the slavemaster, which enables you to enslave any citizen, and forcefully have them do your bidding. There’s also undead, gang members, and a naked shapeshifter, who can possess people at will. There are drugs you can take, such as an “electro pill” which you take and it makes you stronger. There’s also whisky and beer, which contain no side-effects. You can equip underwear, which gives you a small amount of armor. You can use syringes either on yourself or others. The violence is usually against humans, and has some pixelated gore. Violence is sometimes the answer when completing objectives, and usually has you going into restricted areas of a building without permission.

    Even if this game is not the most morally acceptable, it is really fun and addicting. The sandbox-like gameplay keeps you engaged for hours without it ever getting repetitive. I can see myself playing this game for a long, long time, and it’s only in early access! I can’t wait to see what they add to this gem.

    - Kinix

  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (Wii U)

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    Game Info:

    Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
    Developed By: Square
    Published By: Nintendo
    Released: May 13th, 1996
    Available On: Super Nintendo, Wii U
    Genre: Fantasy, Role Playing Game
    ESRB Rating: K-A
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $89.99 Super Nintendo, 7.99 WII U

    Super Mario RPG was created as a joint production between Nintendo and Square (now Square Enix.) After the flop that was Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Super Mario RPG was created to combine the elements of a role playing game along with the familiar storyline and controls of the ever-popular Mario series. For the most part, it worked. The game begins when Toadstool is kidnapped by Bowser while playing with butterflies. Mario then goes to Bowser's Keep to rescue her. But even as it starts, you notice this isn't a typical Mario game. Instead of stomping on enemies, you enter into a battle with them, similar to Final Fantasy, where you command Mario and the enemy also has a turn. Just as you are about to rescue the princess, a sword falls from the sky and sends Mario, Peach and Bowser in three separate directions. Thus begins Super Mario RPG.

    The game is quite a bit different from a typical Mario game in that this is not a side-scroller. Super Mario RPG takes place in the isometric viewpoint. Another aspect of this game is the previously mentioned turn-based battles, a la Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy. In battle, you are given the option to attack, to defend (or run from battle, if you wish), use an item, or a special attack. As with most RPGs, the characters attack with weapons and you can upgrade them as the game progresses. Special attacks are the equivalent of magic or summoning in the Final Fantasy series. They are more deadly but also more costly, as they drain one's flower points, which is the equivalent of MP in a Final Fantasy game. Each character has unique battle moves and functions. Mario's attacks are similar to what he would use in any game- his special attacks are jumping and fireballs that get stronger as the game progresses. Mallow, a fluffy creature claiming to be a frog, is the equivalent of a black mage in Final Fantasy, Geno, a messenger from 'above' has special attacks that don't quite fit into one category, Bowser is the hard physical fighter, and Toadstool is the healer.

    Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique and interesting storyline, easy and fun gameplay
    Weak Points: Graphics are a bit outdated by today's standards
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy magic, innuendo

    The overworld dynamic is interesting in that it differs from typical RPGs where you can explore it freely, albeit getting randomly attacked by enemies you cannot see. That annoying aspect of RPGs is eliminated in this game as you can see the enemies you encounter in Super Mario RPG. Some fights are not avoidable, but for the most part, you can pick and choose your battles in this one. The overworld is shown as a map and your pointer will move from location A to location B, and THEN explore the location. There are also a lot of fun minigames in this game too. One of them is called the Midas River, that has Mario swimming in a river where he can gather coins and frog coins. Another is Booster Hill, a racing game. This RPG is also packed with side quests and secrets. One of the most famous involves Culex, a Final Fantasy crossover in Monstro Town, which is a town of reformed monsters. A nod to Final Fantasy, Culex is harder than Smithy, the ultimate boss in the game.

    As the game progresses, you meet the familiar Mario characters, Toad, the mushroom kingdom people, Yoshi, Bowser, Koopas and Goombas. You also meet new characters, starting first with the Smithy Gang that has taken over Mario's world. The first of this you meet is Exor, the giant sword from the beginning that falls into Bowser's castle seemingly out of nowhere. After being sent from Bowser's Keep, Mario goes to try to retrieve Toadstool a second time, and Exor destroys the bridge. Oh no! How will Mario rescue Toadstool now? Thus, the quest begins with Mario going to Mushroom Kingdom and meeting with the Chancellor to try to get Toadstool back. In Mushroom Kingdom, Mario meets Mallow, a frog (who looks nothing like a frog) who joins his team. After Mack, a giant knife takes over Mushroom Kingdom and they are forced to fight him, the quest begins. Mallow and Mario are told Toadstool is no longer at Bowser's Keep and, furthermore, that the Star Piece they found in Mushroom Kingdom is part of the broken 'Star Road.' What does this mean? Well, it means Mario's world is now a world where wishes no longer come true! Off to rescue it!

    Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Bowser and Toadstool join your game about a third of the way through, in a very interesting scenario that I will leave to you to find out if you have not already played. But suffice it to say, in this game, Toadstool is no longer a damsel in distress. Sure, you do have to rescue her from another certain character, but she makes up for it by being a healer and even a strong physical fighter later on in the game. The controls in this game are smooth and well done. The audio and soundtrack is memorable too. Being a Square/Nintendo collaboration, there are throwbacks to the original Mario soundtrack but mostly, they outdid themselves with the new tracks in this game. The Forest Maze track seems to keep getting remixed, but the ones that I particularly liked were the theme for the Barrel Volcano and the Boss fight music. One thing that was unique for this game was each town had its own music, as opposed to Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger which had at most two town themes per game.

    How does this game hold up morally? For the most part, pretty well. The theme of the game of Mario repairing the Star Road to grant wishes once again and facing off against the Big Bad, Smithy, who wants a world filled with weapons rather than wishes, while not exactly biblical, does not contradict the message of the Gospel either. Smithy the weapon maker only wants to steal,kill and destroy, much like Satan. Like any JRPG, there is magic, but it is not based off Wicca or Satanism but is fantasy magic. As any RPG, there is violence, but it is cartoon like violence that is not graphic.The moral concern in Super Mario RPG is the inuendo. In one area, a female boss's cleavage is not only incredibly visible, but shakes every time she is hit and there is no way to cover this up. There is a scenario that can, if played in a way that leads to it, lead to Bowser and Mario kissing. One scene involves Mario going through Toadstool's underwear drawer, but this can be avoided. This is mostly a clean game, but I would hesitate about giving it to younger gamers due to the innuendo.

    At the end of the day, Super Mario RPG is a well-loved classic for a reason. It even mostly holds up well from a Christian perspective. The only thing really of concern for a parent or believer is the innuendo. Fortunately, this is not a large part of the game and some of it can be avoided. If you have not payed this game already, do so! If you have a Wii U, pick it up now!

     

     

  • Super Paper Mario (Wii)


    Once again, Princess Peach is captured, and this time it's by Count Bleck. When she awakes from her hypnotic stupor, she finds herself in a wedding ceremony with Bowser! This sets off a chain of events that causes Mario and the gang to not only go and rescue the Princess, but also to save all worlds from destruction by the hands of Count Bleck.

    So, what kind of game is this exactly?

    Nintendo's main mascot Mario has found himself in many kinds of games. From his platforming roots, he's found himself in sports games, dancing games, and even role playing games (RPGs). The Paper Mario series has traditionally been one of the ways that Mario has battled foes in a variation of the RPG genre. This time, while sticking with many RPG elements, it has taken a decidedly action/platform approach to the Paper Mario universe. Super Paper Mario is somewhat difficult to categorize as it's not completely a platform game, nor is it completely a role playing game.

    As you defeat enemies, your party gains experience. You defeat enemies by jumping on them, hitting them with bombs or hammers, and various other Mario-esque attacks. You can also combo attacks and chain them in style by shaking the Wii Remote for even more experience points. As you gain levels, you alternate between increasing your heart points (which are like hit points) and raising your attack level by one. There are also items to collect which you can use anytime, and people to talk to and learn from or sometimes buy/sell with. The most useful items are healing items, though some are attack or defensive items. I find most attack items aren\'t that useful, though the ones that double your attack certainly can be in some situations.

    How does the game play work?

    Most of Super Paper Mario takes place in the 2D space – that is, you see the game as though it was flat, like other 2D Mario platform games. Most characters, as well as enemies also see the world this way. Mario gains the ability to 'flip' between dimensions – he can switch between a 2D and a 3D view of the world with a press of the 'A' button. It\'s a pretty neat effect. Some levels and puzzles are much simpler in 3D view, while some are simpler (or only possible) in 2D view. There is also some treasure that is only found in 3D view. It's neat to switch often and it brings a creative element to level design as well. To balance the fact that most of the game lives in the 2D plane, the developers put in a time countdown gauge while you are in 3D view where after this timer counts down to zero, you lose a hit point. It slowly counts back up while you are in 2D view. It works pretty well to force a balance and lead you back to the 2D plane most of the time, especially since 90+% of the enemies can easily be skipped in the 3D view.

    The game has a main hub between worlds called Flipside. Here there is a town with many common items for sale, a fortune teller to help further you along if you are stuck, a chef to help you cook powerful items, an arcade to play simple mini-games, and people to talk to. There are also other things and places to find in town and on the outskirts. This is the main place that the story is furthered as well.

    When you complete one world (in the Super Mario 'chapter 1-1' through 'chapter 1-4' fashion) you collect a Pure Heart which allows you to go to the next world. Usually there is some little side errand you have to perform before going to the next world, even if it's just finding the place to put the Pure Heart you just got. Each of the eight worlds (like other Super Mario games) has a theme. One level is stylized like an 8-bit game, where another is in space, and so on, so each one feels unique. A few of the worlds also have their own towns and shops to visit and buy stuff in. Sometimes it can be quite a hike to get to those shops, so sometimes they have things on sale that you either can't get anywhere else or for substantial discounts. Mario is not alone in his quest to save the world. He is also joined by pixls. Pixls are small creatures that help you in some way perform an action. You start with Tippi, with which you can point at the screen with the Wii remote and identify people, buildings, items, and sometimes secrets. Other pixls, of which you can only use one at a time, give you another ability. These range from throwing things, hitting stuff with hammers, blowing up things with bombs, avoiding enemies, becoming thinner or smaller, or various other skills that help you further your quest. Mario is also joined by up to three other party members that you can switch to at any time. Each of them has unique abilities.

    Though Mario is the only one who can flip into 3D, each of the others has unique skills. *** Some minor spoilers follow. *** Mario's party members include Princess Peach, Bowser, and later on, Luigi. While Mario can basically run and jump as well as flip into 3D, the others cannot flip but have some advantage in the 2D plane. Princess Peach can float long distances with her parasol, and she can protect her head when on the ground by ducking. Bowser is quite handy. Though slow, much larger, and generally clumsy, certain pixls make his movement much more reasonable, and he always does double damage and can breathe fire. This can most definitely come in handy when you want to clean out an area of enemies. I find Bowser quite effective in certain parts of the pit of 100 trials, for example. Near the end of the game, you finally get Luigi. With the exception of Bowser and his damage, I find him (as in many other games) the most effective. Not only can he run and jump fairly similarly to Mario, he has a super jump power that is great fun, especially against airborne enemies. When ducking, he charges up a super jump that can take you to ledges off of the screen. In addition, if anyone is hit by his head as he\'s going up, they take double damage. As you can imagine, those flying enemies don't stand a chance against him – where other characters have a hard time hitting them at all. *** End spoilers. ***

    There are also quite a few hidden things as well as collectibles. Though most pixls must be found as a part of the storyline, not all of them are. In addition, there are maps that you can purchase which show various secrets you can find around the game world. There are also recipes you can collect. Each time you make a new recipe, it gets entered into your character recipe page. And last, but certainly not least, there are items called catch cards and catch card sps. These items can turn a particular enemy into a card. Once you have a card of an enemy, you do double damage to them. This can be stacked, so if you have more than one card you can do several times the damage to that type of creature. Cards can also be bought at a few places as well. This process can be extremely time consuming; I can imagine that the most perfectionist of players could spend easily twice the time playing through the storyline collecting things.

    How is the Wii Remote used in this game?

    The Wii Remote is held in a fashion similar to a NES controller. The d-pad is held with your left hand, and the 1 & 2 buttons are on your right. You play the game similarly to a classic Mario Bros. game most of the time, with '2' being jump. '1' operates the currently selected pixl. 'A' is used to flip dimensions to and from 3D, and it goes unused for the other characters. When you jump on an opponent, you can 'wiggle' the remote to get a style bonus, and if you combo it by immediately landing on an enemy and doing it again, you can rack up large bonuses. The pointer is used for Tippi's identification feature. This game was originally designed for GameCube, and the controls somewhat reflect that, but not to any detriment at all.

    How are the graphics?

    Super Paper Mario, like other Paper Mario games before it, have very clean, paper-like cut-outs for all characters. It\'s a neat effect. This one also shows the environments in a very flat 2D view, unless you flip to 3D. If you flip, the world also looks extremely flat, with items in the 3D plane also looking very flat, but a part of this plane, often instead of the other one. Though it looks good as an effect, the graphics of the 3D view are a bit disappointing. I was somewhat surprised to find the 3D effects in the GameCube Paper Mario game, The Thousand Year Door, to be much better looking. Nevertheless, overall the graphics are good. I was just a bit disappointed with that particular effect. I really like the art, colors, and most other aspects of the graphical design.

    How is the sound and music?

    This game does fairly well here. All sounds as well as the musical score sound great on my surround sound setup. Each world as well as each unique area (like sewer pipes, etc.) have their own themes. Sound effects are appropriate and satisfying. Many of the music themes set a proper mood, and some are catchy. There are a few voices here and there, but mostly the game uses text dialog, which is a long-standing Nintendo stylistic decision. I cannot complain at all in this department.

    How appropriate is this game for Christians?

    I apologize that this section contains spoilers, but an appropriateness review must be fairly complete. This game is mostly clean as far as I can tell, though there are a few things worth mentioning. Some folks consider it a bit darker than other Paper Mario games, and though I haven't played the others to completion, I can't say I disagree. Nastasia, one of Count Bleck's henchmen, has the power to hypnotize people into doing her (and the Count\'s) will. She forces Princess Peach into saying 'I do' to marry Bowser, which creates the Chaos Heart. This Chaos Heart sets about to destroy all worlds, or dimensions. You even get to see one world get destroyed, and it turns into nothingness.

    You are also forced to fight Mr. L., which turns out to be Luigi, who is also hypnotized by Nastasia, and some of his jealousy over his brother comes out. The final story comes out that the reason Count Bleck wants to destroy all worlds, including the one he lives in, is that he could not have the love of his life, so that feeling of depression leads to his madness as he opens the Dark Prognosticus, which is a tome that tells the future, with a distinct bent to bringing about the destruction of everything. The good guys have the Light Prognosticus, which was made in ages past to counter the Dark Prognosticus. Like other Paper Mario games, there is fortune telling, as well as the main plot line of the prophecies relating to the various Prognosticus tomes. There are also ghost-like enemies around. As you can see, there are some topics that may be a bit mature for younger audiences. Though it is all presented in a cartoon-ish enough way that it should not be a problem on presentation alone, there are rather heady concepts that the younger among us might not understand.

    Overall & Conclusion

    Super Paper Mario is definitely a fun game. It's like a fun blend of elements from various Mario games. There is also a very well written script to go along with this, to not just keep your interest, but at times to make you smile, laugh, or even be touched with emotion. The production values are definitely top-notch, as you would usually expect from Nintendo and Intelligent Systems. There are a few things to be watchful of, especially with inquisitive younger players, but it\'s fairly safe for the rest of us.

    Final Ratings

    Appropriateness Score:
    Violence 8/10
    Language 10/10
    Sexual Content/Nudity 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10
    Appropriateness Total: 45/50

    Game Score:
    Game Play 18/20
    Graphics 9/10
    Sound/Music 10/10
    Stability/Polish 5/5
    Controls/Interface 5/5
    Game Score Total: 47/50

    Overall: 92/100

     

  • Sydney’s World (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Sydney’s World
    Developed by: Wise Dad Games
    Published by: Sydney & Snowball DGBL
    Release Date: February 1, 2016
    Available on: PC
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $4.99

    Thank you Wise Dad Games for sending us a review code for Sydney’s World!

    Role playing games are very fun and they are quite popular as a result.  The trouble is that many RPGs are not suitable for children to play.  Sydney’s World strives to change that with its DGBL (Digital Game Based Learning) format.  While there are some battles involving zombies, and other dark creatures, they are all intentional and not randomly placed.  Some battles can be avoided, but many cannot.  

    The story begins with Sydney getting tucked in by her dad who is a powerful wizard.  Despite being protected by her dog, Biscuit, she is whisked away to another world by an evil mage named Nilrem.   Sydney is not alone as she’s accompanied by her toy elf, Snowball. He is actually alive in this other world.  Sydney is voice acted by the daughter that inspired this game and her voice is adorable.  Many of the characters are voice acted, but not all of them.  I wasn’t fond of all of the voice talent, but most of it was decent.

    Sydney’s World
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good story telling and moral lessons to be learned
    Weak Points: Dated and inconsistent graphics; partial voice acting; F12 exits to the title instead of taking a screenshot
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence and magic use; zombies; potty humor

    The 2D graphics are sprite like and typical of any game made with RPG Maker.  The characters are cute and cartoon like while the monsters are more evil looking.  Many of the enemies are dark in nature and the zombies you’ll be fighting were former allies and soldiers of the king.  Magic can be used for healing or attacking.

    Despite the dark elements, gameplay wise this game will be easy to pick-up and play for kids.  The lack of random battles lowers the difficulty significantly.  However, without them there’s not much of an opportunity to grind and get stronger.  Fortunately, there’s an ample amount of elixirs and revive potions placed in treasure chests scattered across the map.  The final bosses were pretty challenging, but the regular battles were not too difficult.  

    While I wasn’t a fan of the many random search quests, the story telling was good and there are some   nice moral lessons to be learned.  There’s even diet and health advice if you discover a certain building in the game.  There are many bookshelves in the game and they have quotes from Taleb, La Rochefoucauld, and Kahneman.  In the game’s credits a Buddhist book was referenced, but the quotes I’ve glanced over seemed to be faith neutral.

    Sydney’s
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 13/10

    There are spirits in this game and you get to talk and interact with them as part of the game’s story.  One of the spirits is trapped in a purgatory like world until something is accomplished and they can ascend to Heaven.  

    I beat this game in roughly ten hours and a good portion of it was spent searching for invisible doorways and finding a correct staircase out of many.  If you get stuck, the developer has an active thread on the Steam discussion board and responds to each question within 24 hours.

    The $4.99 price tag is reasonable and the game is getting updates.  There’s mention of advanced battles being available soon, so I look forward to hearing more about that.  The game’s music is well done and there’s been a lot of thought and effort put into this game and it shows.  If you don't mind the dark monsters and magic used, this is a relatively decent RPG to start kids on.  Perhaps children will have more patience with the many searching quests than me.  They’ll appreciate the fart and butt jokes in the game regardless.  Every kid loves those.

     *5-3-2016 Update: The developer has removed the instances of "OMG" in the dialogue so we have updated the language and overall moral score. 

     *5-14-2016 Update: The developer has removed the pentacles and mention of vampires in the game so we have updated the occult/supernatural and overall moral score. 

  • Tangledeep (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Tangledeep
    Developed By: Impact Gameworks
    Published By: Impact Gameworks
    Released: February 1, 2018
    Available On: macOS, Windows, Switch, SteamOS/Linux
    Genre: RPG
    ESRB Rating: None
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you, Impact Gameworks, for sending us your game to review!

    In the forested labyrinth of Tangledeep, all of nature, both the flora and the fauna, are sustained by a force called ‘Flow’. Some can channel this unseeable power into magic. Others can’t even tap into its minutest nuances, but all life is connected through it regardless. Adventure, treasures, and who knows what else awaits those desiring to explore Tangledeep’s paths, where monsters lie at every turn. For you, as the heroine, that day is today. Traverse each floor. Battle new foes. Earn new skills. Time will tell if the nefarious thieves you meet truly are simple bandits or schemers with far more menacing goals. Time will also tell if this game is even worth putting on your crummiest boots for.

    To give your fantasy trip a personal touch, Tangledeep opens by inviting you to customize three key features on your avatar. First, she needs a name. Second, she needs a job class, and third, you’ll need to decide on two support abilities to help affect how she upgrades. Naming her is a cinch. There’s even a name generator for the indecisive sorts. Choosing support abilities isn’t too hard, but picking a job class is a heftier matter. You must select one out of twelve jobs. Nine are available from the start, which includes: Brigand, Floramancer, Sword Dancer, Paladin, Budoka, Hunter, Spellshaper, Edge Thane, and Soul Keeper. The last three (Gambler, HuSyn, and Wild Child) remain locked until certain requirements are met. Quite an intimidating choice, isn’t it? Well, if it eases your mind, Tangledeep gives in-depth descriptions of each, and you’re allowed to job swap for a fee. Mastering multiple roles is in fact encouraged in this game. Every job has its own set of abilities and tier traits. What’s even nicer is that none of them have an overly exhaustive amount of special moves, so it really doesn’t take long to unlock what’s offered. That being said, I wouldn’t consider all Tangledeep jobs equal. You’ll see why soon.

    Just like any long trip, a traveler must pack essentials, and this game is no exception. The town you start in and can teleport back to acts as your main hub. There you can buy food and armaments, safekeep your stuff in the bank, learn weapon masteries, switch job classes, and receive rewarding little side-quests. You’ll need weapons to fend off monsters. Assorted foods and drinks for nourishment. Armor and clothes for protection and special effects. Then there’s a whole smorgasbord of extra stuff as well. Thankfully, your pockets are as fictionally deep as traditional gaming goes, so horde all you want. Many basic items can be bought from the town merchants who rotate their stock every so often. However, the nicer goodies are better found in outlet stores or scavenged from monsters. Every item has its own benefits. Thus, it’s up to you to decide which things are more important in accordance with your play style and job class. Otherwise, you can sell your useless junk or upgrade it in the town dreamscape. As you brave Tangledeep’s floors, you’ll also be earning gold, experience points, and job points. Gold is gold. You buy stuff with it. Built up experience points upgrades your character level, and job points you spend on learning attacks specific to either your current class or your weapon of choice. It would be in your best interest to learn all you can.

    Tangledeep
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique Gameplay, Good Soundtrack, Fun Class System
    Weak Points: Sometimes Uninteresting Areas, Frustrating Difficulty Spikes
    Moral Warnings: Karma mentioned, New Age based philosophy, a Casino, Loads of Magic

    Tangledeep’s regions are quite nice. A few noteworthy places include the main town hub, the outside of the thieves’ den, and the entrance to the old temples. Those places possess a surprising amount of detail for being composed of blocky color bits. The layered leaves and grass were particularly exquisite. However, most floors in Tangledeep feel rather uninspired. Don’t get me wrong; the first level or two of a swampy cave or an abandoned fortress is fine, but after five levels of the same environment, with the same sprites shuffled around, the areas start getting stale. It feels randomly generated by a computer rather than given an artist’s loving attention. Of course, that’s a nitpicky matter. The creature designs are fun, and the painterly loading screens are an unquestioned highlight. Finally, the music is unsurprisingly excellent. Unsurprising because Tangledeep’s original conceiver and designer is in fact a game composer. A subpar score would have been shocking otherwise.

    Traversing Up, Down, Left, and Right in Tangledeep involves the traditional W, S, A, and D keys on the keyboard. Of course, if you prefer, you can always click on the space you desire to reach. That works too. Keep in mind that every space you pass counts as a turn. You also attack by clicking on monsters. Most actions are triggered by clicking, actually. From navigating inventory menus to choosing your armament, the mouse is all you need, but it’s important to note that there is a whole slew of shortcut keys available. That is, if you’re willing to memorize all of them. They can toggle your weapons, activate specific moves, and open inventory windows. I chose to stick with just the clicking, but how you wish to play is up to you. Controller options are also available if you have one. There’s no denying though that Tangledeep’s control scheme is well put together.

    Before I discuss gameplay, I want lay a little disclaimer that I am not particularly familiar with this type of game. Thus, much of its stylings I experienced as a newcomer, so with that established, Tangledeep’s gameplay appeared as a unique hybrid to me. Its battle system runs on turn-based RPG logic, meaning the player’s moves are done in turns like chess. Walking to a space, drinking a healing draught, or twanging your trusty bow counts as your turn. Then, Tangledeep’s monster populace gets their chance to wander, stalk, and bite before your next move. However, this game fused this RPG style with its more direct cousin the action RPG. Action RPG battles occur as they happen whenever and wherever they happen. In turn-based, the player travels the land on one screen but upon touching an enemy icon, they’re whisked off to the battle screen. Such gaming procedures stall traveling progress until the player’s victory or escape. Refreshingly, Tangledeep’s creators altered this tradition. The fights do still hinge on turn taking, but they don’t wage on a separate screen. Where you walk is where you slay, and surprising as this may sound, this merging of styles produced the most fascinating sensation for me. I’d frequently forget the game’s turn-based nature. I would unknowingly play at urgent speeds that really weren’t necessary, but my mind was so well tricked into treating it like an action RPG, I’d go rapid fire anyway. It was almost like magic.

    Mark my words, though. If you want to survive in Tangledeep, you must slow down and take the game’s mechanics into account. Three meters on your bottom screen must be watched like a hawk: your health meter, energy meter, and stamina meter. It goes without saying, but the health bar is most crucial. Getting smacked around until it hits zero predictably means death, but death in Tangledeep comes with severe consequences. How severe depends on the selected game mode, which we’ll discuss later. Energy and stamina bars are important too, since the majority of your special moves cost one or the other. Lose all of either bar, and you’re defensibly crippled. Food and your flask are your go-to healing methods. Read the inventory labels, though. Different foods replenish different meters. Just remember that eating takes one turn, and you can’t eat again for a few more turns. Oh, special attacks require wait time too, so don’t just spam them willy-nilly. The last form of replenishment you have is bottled concoctions. Like food, you use up a turn to ingest one of them, but unlike food, you don’t have to wait to eat again.

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

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    My initial travels in Tangledeep had impressed me thus far. It’s been fairly difficult with the occasional tough beastie, but nothing too tough. I enjoyed it overall. Then time marched on, and it was over time did the game’s flaws really start to kick in and kick me. You see, the game doesn’t give you much in the way of defense. Unless you can keep your distance, you’re basically a damage sponge. Even then you’re gonna get shot. This all comes to one dismal outcome. If you’re ambushed, you’re toast, and if your job class restricts you to up close combat, you’re dead already. Sometimes the game even shoves you into a den of enemies you’ve never encountered before with no warning! I tried to wisely run from such situations and fight another day. Unfortunately, for some stupid reason, someone decided some enemies should be able to drag you right into their faces. That rendered some escapes impossible because they kept drawing me away from the exit! Then I’d die, . . . horribly. To the creative team, I have to ask, ‘Are . . . you . . . KIDDING ME!?!’ Listen, you don’t have to give enemy-tell-alls, but at least give us non-omniscient mortals a sporting chance. Introduce your new enemies in singles or pairs. That way we can experiment and live, thank you very much! Of course we players can level up, upgrade weapons, and bring monsters we captured to fight for us (a pretty neat feature, I must admit), but that doesn’t help much. It just makes our deaths slower. Pair that with all those food restrictions you insisted on, and you can do the math. I’m glad not all portions of Tangledeep are like this, but these difficulty spikes are grossly unfair.

    Okay then. What if you adjust the difficulty? That setting is determined the second you begin. Before you start questing, Tangledeep offers you three modes: Heroic, Adventure, and Hardcore. They don’t determine enemy strength or spawn rate. Rather, they determine your punishment for failure. Heroic mode, said to be the intended way to play, means you lose everything except for the items and money you saved in the town bank. You’re forced to start the story afresh with a new character, but at least the stuff you saved helps you onto your feet. Adventure mode is more forgiving. Note though that ‘forgiving’ doesn’t mean painless. Death cuts your money, experience points, and job points in half. It will sting, but you get to continue where you left off. Then there’s Hardcore Mode. Oh, boy. Prepare to cower. In Hardcore mode, death is as final as it is in real life. We’re talking a complete save slot wipe. Not a trace of your journey will exist, and considering Tangledeep’s habit of throwing awful curve balls, you can guess which mode I prefer. As capable as I am, how am I expected have fun if I die and retread the same ground over and over again? Not that I hate challenge, but that’s a recipe for repetition - and repetitious it is. Adventure mode all the way, baby!

    Tangledeep’s wilds aren’t dangerous due to monsters alone. There are ethical issues to consider too. The trivialized portrayal of magic for instance. It’s not just ‘abracadabra’ and ‘hocus-pocus’ this game uses. Its magic system is given a source, and that source is that ‘Flow’ every animalistic, humanoid there blethers about. It’s painfully obvious that ‘Flow’ was birthed from New Age philosophies. If even Star Wars’ ‘Force’ talk bothers you, Tangledeep won’t do you any favors and then some. Job classes like Floramancer, Spellshaper and Soul Keeper are witch, spiritist and medium roles relabeled. Attack moves in Budoka and Sword Dancer jobs use eastern, mystical energy called Chi. Even a physically centered job like Hunter utilizes astral projections. Not to mention the abundance of useable magic staffs and spellbooks lying around. Thankfully, if you avoid occult spellcasting as I do, there are plenty of other attacking methods that are plenty efficient without compromising your conscience. Other problems include mentions of Karma, a casino, and a few residents sporting devil horns. However, Tangledeep does have its moral merits. Not one crass word was carelessly tossed. Outfits remained conservatively tasteful, and attacks come in bloodless flashes and bumps. It’s mostly the New Age enchantments you should be worried about. It’s not what you see nor hear that’s the trouble. It’s what the NPCs are doing and what the game encourages you to do that’s troubling.

    Same as a familiar story, a video game fantasy adventure isn’t something new, yet the most rehashed story can find refurbishment via a fantastic telling. Does Tangledeep do the same? From a story standpoint, I’d say no. It’s safely generic. For its gameplay, I’m divided. As I mentioned earlier, my past gaming experiences hardly included turn-based RPGs. I’ve long been aware of its basic mechanics and the genre’s most popular titles by reputation. That doesn’t mean I know if Tangledeep does enough to separate itself from its peers. That judgment call I’ll leave for true turn-based veterans. However, as a turn-based newcomer, I say Tangledeep’s journey was mostly enjoyable. Creature and character designs were colorful. Its gameplay mixed urgent yet unhurried action in a fine blend, but the frustrating difficulty spikes, often un-inspired scenery, and saturation in witchcraft did sour my experience - sometimes significantly. Road bumps aside, Tangledeep did beat a comfortable trail for adventurers with a mild hunger. Just remember to mind the ‘flow’, occult, and casino. They’re ugly ditches.

     

  • Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord (PS3)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord
    Developed By: AQUAPLUS
    Published By: Atlus
    Release Date: October 14, 2014
    Available On: PS3
    Genre: Visual Novel/SRPG|
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Use of Tobacco
    MSRP: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord is the second game in the series, but is the first one to hit our shores.  That was a PC game (which contains erotic material, so please don't look for it), which was later remade for PlayStation 3 with the erotic material removed, but it never left Japan.  This second game is it's own independent story, and does not require having played the first, though I did see some of the connections when I went back and read about it more later.

    You follow Hamilcar Barca, usually called Hamil, and his goddess Astarte, usually called Tarte, and their band of friends as they throw off the oppressive Divine Empire and take back Hispania from their evil rule.  While at first glance it may seem cliché, it really is not – this game is loosely based on the historical figure of Hamilcar Barca and his son, Hannibal, though some say that Hamil's in-game events more closely resemble Hannibal's life than his father's.  Another switcheroo is that Hamil's father's name is Hasdrubal in the game, while history shows that name to match another of Hamilcar's sons.  Regardless of this, it allows the game to have a deep, deep lore to draw from to fill out the game's events and storyline – and that it does with aplomb.

    And it takes plenty of time to develop the incredibly engrossing storyline.  Tears is what they call a Visual Novel, which is to say that much of the game is really sitting through reading and watching the story unfold in a non-interactive manner. While this may sound boring, and if you did not expect it, you might be a bit surprised (the PR from Atlus took special pain to make sure that reviewers understood this going in) and disappointed – if I expected a typical strategy role-playing game (SRPG), I would have been quite upset that I had to wait over two hours before the first battle, and over five hours before getting to the world map. But they did such a great job telling this story, that I am glad I waited it out.

    This game really has two primary modes, along with an overworld map, which is accessible after the second chapter or so.  First, and primarily, is the cut scenes.  These are primarily rendered in engine, with text boxes and character portraits.  The portraits change based on the person's expression, and they are constantly swapped out as conversations continue.  The chibi-style 3D rendered sprites also move a bit to further enhance the storytelling.  Playing this game is, in many ways, like watching an interactive anime, or reading an interactive book (hence Visual Novel).  It does follow many anime tropes, like the tsundere (hot-headed but soft hearted female, for those not up on anime lingo) heroine, the kawaii (extremely cute) girl, and the very attractive cross dresser.  Incidentally, it also in no way underplays a woman's power as a warrior – they more than hold their own in a fight, both in your party, and during storyline sequences.  Also, like many anime, there are at least a couple women who show off far too much skin.

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord
    Highlights:

    Strong Points:  Incredibly engaging storyline; very likeable characters; long, engrossing 80+ hour adventure; excellent music and (Japanese) voice overs; fantastic translation; loosely based on real history
    Weak Points: Very long cut scenes if you aren't prepared for it; all voice acting is in Japanese except for the Bonus Scenario, which has none
    Moral Warnings: Violence and blood, including a few rather dramatic scenes; occasional PG-13 language, like h*ll, b*stard, b*tch, sh*t, d*mn; some alcohol and tobacco use, especially one character in particular; Some female characters regularly show significant skin, with one in particular showing a lot of cleavage, with another showing midriffs throughout; heavy themes of polytheism, some pantheism, some atheism, and the heroes are fighting against an established religion that seems awfully similar to Catholicism; Lucifer is considered a good guy; contains a few hexagrams

    The cast of characters is quite extensive, and the game does a fabulous job endearing the player to almost all of them.  There is Hamil, who is a fantastic leader.  He shows his strengths, weaknesses, and his human side.  They did a great job making him a complex character you grow to love.  His goddess, Tarte, is a lovable tsundere who always encourages people to worship her, while bringing out the best in Hamil.  Dion is a goofball, whose sole goal in life is to figure out how to become popular with the ladies.  Monomachus and Enneads are formers servants of Hamil's father, Hasdrubal, and are leaders of the Barca Faction, the secret organization working against the empire whose sole purpose is to revive the glory days of Hispania and the Barca family.  There are many more characters I could introduce you to – and there are many – but suffice it to say, other than a few late-comers like Golyat, each character is fleshed out in a way that you quickly come to love all of them.

    The other aspect of the game is the SRPG combat.  Each character has a different class, weapon type, and strengths and weaknesses.  Warriors have attacks and techniques, magic users have attacks and spells, and some unit types have both techniques and spells.  Magic and techniques cost magic points, and some skills also cost chain stocks.  Chain stocks are built up during battle, and can be used in a few ways.  The most common way is to press a button while attacking, which allows you to get a second attack in.  Later in the game, as you get more chain stocks, you can actually do this repeatedly, and get in 2-5 attacks in at once. However, skills that require chain stocks to cast are usually a much more effective way to use them because they are often very powerful, or do damage to an area.

    The battle area is arranged in a grid, with various obstacles in the way.  A few characters can float, and actually fly over some obstacles, but most cannot.  Every attack has a range, and an area of effect.  Most melee warriors, for instance, have at least one technique that strikes more than one range, which can be great for avoiding counterattacks.  There are also leadership skills, as well as skills that characters learn through leveling up, or by reading skill books, which uses them up.  Books can be found, purchased, or crafted.  A few skills, like double action or forbid counters, can be game changing.  Forbid counters does what it sounds like, but double action allows you to attack twice if you don't move first. This can really make a huge difference if you saved up the necessary MP or CS to unleash two incredibly powerful attacks.

    A couple of characters, namely Hamil and Tarte, can unleash alternate forms, which are very powerful.  You see, Hamil was cursed by Melqart's sword, and has a demon living inside of him as a result.  He made a pact with this demon, where he promised him the blood of his enemies, and in exchange, he will allow Hamil to summon him at will.  Tarte is a goddess, so she can channel her 'older sister' Tanit, and when summoned, is also considerably more powerful.  These abilities are temporary, and can only be summoned when a meter at the bottom is filled up, based on various factors like how many attacks, deaths, and other things have happened in the battle so far.  After summoning their alter egos, they only have two turns to enjoy their altered state, and then they have one turn of cooldown where they are very weak and vulnerable.  But, with proper planning, it can completely turn the tide of battle.  Melqart, in particular, can sometimes wipe out a boss by himself, and with proper planning, double action and a technique called Eternal Return can send many bosses to, well, their eternal return.

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 63%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10
    Bonus Points: +3 for showing great examples of friendship and self sacrifice

    There is also a map view, where you can do any necessary training or grinding if you wish, along with a base where you can purchase new equipment, items, or craft upgrades to your existing equipment.  The 'game' side is a very solid strategy RPG, and also a very good challenge.  The game allows you to rewind to the beginning of any turn, in case things don't go your way.  Any turn taken the exact same way, will have the same results, but switching the order of things can sometimes change the results, and of course doing different things can as well.  It's very interesting, and fun for those of us who try to do things perfectly.  But get too perfect and you will pull your hair out – aiming for S ranks, which requires getting all objectives, bonus objectives, using few items, and having no overleveled characters – that is a challenge, and I ended up giving up on that goal if I ever wanted to complete this game in a reasonable timeframe.

    And even still, this game took me well over eighty hours to complete.  I started the Bonus Scenario, but decided that I simply couldn't afford another ten plus hours at this time – not that I didn't want to.  It is fun, but I got the most out of the storyline, and the battles, while entertaining, are very challenging and can become frustrating.  On top of all of that, there is a New Game+ mode, so you can carry over all of the equipment you earned on the first playthrough if you want to do it again.  You can certainly get your money's worth here.

    And the quality of the experience is fairly good.  The graphics are nothing special, though they do the job well enough.  The music, sound effects, and voices are fantastic.  No two ways about it – I had my kids (who I couldn't let watch me play too often... more on that soon) asking me for the game music CDs from this game.  It is that good; I agree with them – I want the music too!

    Given that the graphics are anime-like, and the battles are fantasy violence, it may not be immediately obvious why this game would not be safe for kids or teenagers.  But the more you play, the more obvious it becomes that this game deals with a lot of mature topics, and really requires discernment to handle properly.

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord

    First of all, there are the surface issues.  Blood, while not a common occurrence, when it does appear, is rather intense.  It is not gory, but one character offers their bloody arm to another to try to appease Melqart's bloodlust (and it is not figurative – he really does want to drink blood.)  Another time, there is a rather dramatic and emotional death that involves lots of blood everywhere.  Alcohol and tobacco is used by a few characters.  There are PG-13 curse words used, like h*ll, b*stard, b*tch, sh*t, and d*mn.  There are also a few hexagrams found, though no pentagrams thankfully.  One lady Izebel has massive cleavage and very short skirts, while another, the goddess Tarte, has bare midriff syndrome – and she's a melee tank.  I guess being a goddess must give her skin of steel.

    Occasionally, the characters will find themselves in a compromising or 'humorous' situation.  One time, they were traveling through a tropical forest, and several suggested that they strip a bit to handle the weather better.  As it happened, your character (Hamil) accidently stumbled onto Kleito (a dragon goddess) changing. Now, she has a trickster side to her, so she orders him, as a goddess, to put himself into a compromising situation.  Of course, Tarte, who at this point won't admit that she likes Hamil but does, catches him, and 'hilarity ensues'.

    While this is the only situation of this nature exactly, there are several other scenes with characters in odd situations meant to garner a laugh.  Kleito one time seemed like she was making a 'move' on Charis – a twelve year old girl.  I don't want to make it out like Kleito is some crazy evil sex fiend – she is not, and 90% of the time she is respectful, patient, and generally a good character, but once in a while they show a different side to her, where she tries to stir the pot a bit in strange ways.

    And of course, there is the case of Daphnis.  This is a rather strange case, where Elissa, a noble's daughter, is given at a young age by her father a young boy as a bodyguard who he dressed in girl clothes so that they could stay together all the time.  As Elissa and Daphinis go to join Hamil on his quest, they find themselves in a perilous situation, where Elissa expressed her love to Daphnis, and he seems to reciprocate.  But it soon seems like their definitions of love may be different, as Daphnis soon makes strange statements talking about 'my type', and always in reference to other guys...  This is one of several running gags with him, especially with Elissa's reaction to follow.  Some of the girls find him more feminine than they are.  One time he actually wears men's clothes, and they say 'hey no crossdressing' -  and he reminds them that he is actually a man...  Oh and it was an awkward moment when one of my kids walked in and asked 'what is a boy in drag?' since that is his class type name.

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord

    And then there is the brunt of many jokes, Dion.  He is actually a likeable character, despite being a pretty big coward for much of the game, though he does grow and develop into someone at least a little bit more mature.  He always seeks out the ladies, and keeps striking out.  More than once, he doubts that Daphnis could really actually be a man and wants to find out... he says that if he's that cute, maybe he should try dating him anyway?  Is it really that important that 'his first' be a girl?  He does eventually snap out of it.  While far from common, there is enough sexual humor that this is definitely not an experience for a younger audience.  On the plus side, outside of a picture if a lady's bare back, a bit of 'side cleavage' in one shot, and the aforementioned Izebel cleavage and really short skirts, nothing else is really shown.

    And that really only scratches the surface.  What really sets this game apart is the story, and much of it would really give pause to many used to western monotheistic ideas.  The main character came from a family of the Canaanites, in a long line of Ba'al worshipers.  For anyone who knows their Biblical history, that alone should give you pause.  It's not quite as bad as it sounds in some ways, but in others perhaps worse.

    The principle enemy is the Divine Empire, whose trappings seem suspiciously similar to the Catholic Church in many ways.  This Empire talks often about sin, judgment, heaven and hell.  There is also talk of a Divine Scriptures, and a leader called a Pontiff.  The Divine Order worships a God (yes, the game uses a capital G for him, but not for other gods/goddesses) named Watos.

    *** Massive Spoiler Alert ***

    This Watos, whose existence is questioned at certain points in the game by the very founder of the Divine Order himself, was trying to kill humanity, and they were saved by an angel called Arawn, whose other name is Lucifer.  So Lucifer is pitted as a good guy, and he rebelled against the other angels, trying to protect humanity from destruction by Watos.  The Ba'al tribe was a group of an older race called the Elves, and that tribe worshiped Watos very faithfully.  After they decided to help the rebellion to save themselves and the humans, they taught the very young human race basic life skills and the young humans worshiped them as gods.  They initially resisted, but Lucifer encouraged them to accept it.  Like the Elves, the Dragons were also an ancient race, also called gods by the humans.  The end climaxes with you trying to defeat the very machine Watos himself sent to destroy the human race.

    *** End Massive Spoilers ***

    The gods of Ba'al are shown as the good guys, with free will and tolerance as prime traits, while the Divine Empire and its Supreme God is shown as intolerant, discouraging independent thought and education, and generally really bad guys.  

    On the flipside, Hamil bucks the trend of his ancenstors, and decides to avoid the pure warlord path, and tries very hard to save the lives of innocent people as much as possible, even at the cost of great personal hardship.  He is a great example of self sacrifice, and inspires the very best in others.  Hamil is a wonderful leader indeed.

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord ended up being absolutely nothing like what I expected going in.  We have a very richly detailed and interesting world, with lovable characters, buttressed by a solid SRPG gaming experience, filled with mature and difficult philosophical and theological questions that are not for anyone who is not theologically grounded.  This game could help the reader/player ask questions that could lead them to take an atheistic or contrarian perspective for the easily influenced or unstable follower.  For those willing to tolerate the downsides mentioned above, and in my opinion an adult player only, there is a deeply satisfying storyline contained herein that can inspire very deep thoughts – it's not everyday that we get to put on the hat of the other side of the polytheist/monotheist divide and see things from a little bit different point of view.  And on top of that, I learned something about history.  This game was extremely memorable for me, and I won't forget it for quite a while.  But you better set aside a minimum of about two hours per play session, because it's very difficult to play for much less than that in one sitting.

     

  • The Alliance Alive (3DS)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Alliance Alive
    Developed by: FuRyu
    Published by: Atlus
    Release date: March 27, 2018
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for fantasy violence, language, mild blood, alcohol
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

    In 2015 we reviewed Legend of Legacy that was also developed by FuRyu which is a fun, but flawed RPG. Alliance Alive addresses our main concerns with the previous title and adds plenty of new characters and areas to explore. The story in this game goes back one thousand years when the daemons divided the world into separate realms barricaded by an impenetrable barrier. Mankind is oppressed by rules set by daemons and are considered inferior to daemons and beastfolk alike. Since the barrier and daemon control began, there hasn’t been a blue sky.

    At first you’ll be introduced to Azura and Galil who are teased about their closeness and are considered destined to be a couple by the townsfolk. They live in the rain realm where it rains constantly, depressing many of the locals. Living under harsh daemon rule doesn’t help matters and a resistance called Silver Rain is seeking to put a stop to the harsh living conditions.

    Azura’s father runs a resistance hideout in his pub, and like many taverns, you can expect to run into some drunken customers. Language is quite prevalent in this game too. When it comes to magic use, the humans use a different form than beastfolk and daemons. Both forms of sorcery are pretty powerful and they each have unique spells for them which can be purchased in various towns.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Better leveling up system than Legend of Legacy; cute visuals; nice music
    Weak Points: Story direction isn’t always clear and I had to consult a walkthrough for guidance
    Moral Warnings:Fantasy violence and death scenes; magic use; undead creatures; language (hell, d*mn, b*stards); drinking and drunkenness

    Money can be earned through battles, but many skirmishes drop loot instead which can be sold for cash. Aside from loot, you’ll also earn experience and talent points. Experience is used for leveling up and talent points can be spent to focus on unlocking new abilities that are weapon type specific. Like Legend of Legacy, you can unlock new abilities in combat and the harder the enemy, the more likely you’ll learn a new and powerful attack. If you want to learn new moves faster, you can spend your character-specific talent points.

    As you explore new areas, you’ll be introduced to many new people and party members. In fact, the game switches perspectives quite often and you’ll learn about the struggles in the various regions. Your ultimate goal is to bring down the barrier and stop the meddling forces that put it there in the first place. This is easier said than done as each ether gear is responsible for strengthening the barrier and is guarded by several powerful boss parties.

    To aid in battle, each of the party members (maximum of five) can equip two weapons and accessories. Unfortunately, healing medicine kits have to be equipped as an accessory in order to use them. In the event of a party member getting KO’d, the remaining members may go into ignition mode. When the ignition is triggered they can unleash a super powerful attack provided they have enough special points (SP) to do so. Some may consider the ignition mode overpowered, but there is a cost. When ignition is used, the caster's weapon breaks and becomes unusable. If your party is on good terms with the blacksmith guild, the weapon will be repaired the next time the party rests. If your party is fighting near a blacksmith guild tower, they may assist you in battle by firing their long range cannon at your foes.

    As you travel around the world and meet potential recruits, you can strengthen your favorite guild and unlock new technology and battle techniques. The library guild documents the strengths and weaknesses of your party members and enemies you encounter. The tactics guild will teach you new formations and automatically place your party in the best formation in battle if you are near their guild tower. The sigmancy group focuses on magic and can research and teach your party new spells. Last but not least is the recon guild which may sabotage your enemies and stun them for you if you’re nearby one of their guild towers. Some of the boss battles take place near the towers but many of them do not so don't get too reliant on their assistance.

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

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

    Morality Score - 81%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Since you’ll eventually have more friends than party slots, you’ll need to rotate them around so nobody is left behind and weak. There are several instances when party members will have to separate or split up into groups and you don’t want any weaklings holding you back. It’s nice that your health points regenerate between battles with the exception of chain battles which happen in succession with no breathing room in between. SP points only increase slightly between battles so you’ll need to use your most powerful attacks sparingly.

    While the story in this game isn’t amazing, it’s enough to make you want to keep playing. Some notable characters die selflessly and it spurs the party to continue fighting for their sake. The blood is minimal and the art style is rather colorful and cute despite the gloomy circumstances.

    The background music and sound effects are well done. Unfortunately, there is no voice acting whatsoever and I’m spoiled by the fully voice acted games I’ve been playing lately.

    In the end, Alliance Alive is better than Legend of Legacy, but it’s still not a flawless experience. The story is a bit confusing at times and I wasn’t sure where I had to go without consulting an online walkthrough. If you’re diligent and not wandering around aimlessly, you can complete this game in roughly twenty-five hours. The price tag is reasonable given the amount of game time provided. Because of the frequent cussing, I’d think twice before letting a young child play this title.

  • The Bard's Tale Trilogy (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Bard's Tale Trilogy
    Developed by: Krome Studios
    Published by: inXile Entertainment
    Released: August 14, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Role-playing
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $14.99

    The Bard's Tale: Tales of the Unknown was originally released in 1985 for nearly every type of computer system of that age, including the Amiga, the Apple IIe, MS-DOS and even the original NES. The game spawned two sequels and several novels based on the world it was set in. It was considered revolutionary at its time, being one of the first computer role-playing games to sport “3D graphics” and animated character sprites. It still appears on many lists as one of the greatest computer role-playing games of all time.

    In 2018, inXile Entertainment announced that they were creating a sequel to the original trilogy, called Bard's Tale IV: Barrow's Deep. (Oddly enough, inXile also developed another game called the Bard's Tale, released in 2004, but bore very little resemblance to the original trilogy. A review of that game can be found on this Web site, here.) As part of the Kickstarter to fund Bard's Tale IV, inXile offered to revamp the original Bard's Tale trilogy and release it for backers. The trilogy was soon made available to the general public through Steam and GoG.com, with the third chapter added to the collection in February, 2019.

    The Bard's Tale Trilogy consists of the first three games: Tales of the Unknown, the Destiny Knight, and Thief of Fate. In the first game, the town of Skara Brae is afflicted by a cursed, eternal winter, and all the guardsmen have vanished. Instead, dangerous monsters and bandits roam the streets. It's up to a party of adventurers to find the evil wizard, Mangar, and defeat him in order to break the curse. Players can carry the characters from the first game into the second chapter, where the players much search the wilderness and various locations in order to find pieces of the Destiny Wand to defeat the evil archmage, Lagoth Zanta. Finally, in the third chapter, the characters learn that Skara Brae has been destroyed by the Mad God Tarjan. It is up to them to travel to different worlds to assemble the components of a weapon powerful enough to destroy the Mad God for good.

    In all three games, the game play is the same. The party navigates their surroundings by viewing it through a window in the upper left corner of the screen. This window will change when the party engages in combat or talks to a merchant or other characters. Combat is turn-based. The player chooses what action each of the characters will take that turn. The actions then play out through the text window, located in the upper right corner. Combat will continue in this back-and-forth fashion until all the opponents are defeated, or the party is killed. The bottom part of the screen contains all the vital statistics of the player's characters, including a display of what “buffs” are currently active. As with most role-playing games, the party receives experience points after each combat. Once enough points are accumulated, the party can gain levels, becoming more powerful.

    The Bard's Tale Trilogy
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Faithful recreation of the original game; long adventure; decent music
    Weak Points: Somewhat repetitious; some grinding necessary; can be frustrating when starting out
    Moral Warnings: Undead and demons present in game; magic use strongly encouraged; players can summon demons to assist them; use of alcohol

    One of the interesting elements of the game are the magic users. At the start, players can only choose one of two classes of spell caster – either the conjurer or the magician. Once those characters get high enough level, they can switch to another spell casting class, which would now include wizard or sorcerer. In the two sequels, these choices can also include archmage, chronomancer or geomancer. Each class has its own selection of spells to choose from, and spells that the character had learned previously can still be used. Sadly, none of the other classes have the options to change into other classes in the same fashion, which makes their ability to level up somewhat routine.

    The bard is another interesting class in that it is capable of playing songs that act as long-lasting buffs. As long as the bard can sing, the spell is in effect. These songs include ones that can provide light, one that can heal the party, one that protects the party from magical effects, and more. These songs also provide some of the only background music in the game, with each song being distinct. As a nice touch, each song also has a different sound based upon whatever instrument the bard has equipped at the time. However, in order to change songs or begin singing, the bard must “wet his whistle,” as it were, and that takes alcohol. While there do not seem to be any penalties for drinking – or even the ability to get completely intoxicated – the fact that some of the characters need to drink in order to use their abilities may cause some players to pause.

    The game can be difficult when first starting out. Low level characters should stick to exploring the city until they get strong enough to survive their first excursion to the cellars, and even then they shouldn't wander too far from the local temple, where healing can take place. Spell regeneration also takes place only in the sunlight or by purchasing a “recharge” from one place in the city, which can be an expensive prospect. Once the party gets to level five or six they have a better time of surviving, but at the lowest levels it can be a bit frustrating.

    The revamped trilogy remains faithful to the original source material, even if little of the original code remains. I remember playing the first game myself, and having to use a book of graph paper to map out all of the dungeons. In fact, the Bard's Tale even served as inspiration for me to design my own game worlds for tabletop games at that time. With this new trilogy, though, many of the limitations of the past have been lifted. There is now the ability to use the mouse or game controller, an automapping feature, and the ability to save anywhere in the game, rather than at certain checkpoints. Multiple save slots also are an option. The game also sports a bestiary and reproductions of the original maps and manuals. A new feature that was introduced in the latest patch – August 13, 2019 – allows the user interface to be changed so that the 3D display can take up the entire left half of the screen, rather than one corner.

    The Bard's Tale Trilogy
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    Despite the dedication and loyalty to the source material, there are still a few facets of the game that haven't aged well. Even though the original graphics have been touched up – including actual 3D and lighting effects for the town and dungeon – some of the sprites still look a bit on the wonky side. There are a variety of character portraits that can be chosen – many more options than the original games - but many of them still leave something to be desired (none of them really look like a female dwarven hunter!) Also, the game sometimes takes an agonizingly long time to load (around 10 minutes the first time I tried to play it), and I have experienced the occasional crash-to-desktop.

    On the moral front, probably the biggest concern would be the aforementioned spell casters. In order to do well in the game, having at least one spell caster is pretty much required, and two would be better. Some of the spells that can be cast will summon undead monsters to serve you – and when playing a wizard character, these even include demons. Speaking of which, demons are an enemy that you will frequently face, as well as undead monsters like zombies and vampires. Some of the pictures can be gruesome (such as the zombie, which is covered in blood and appears to be gnawing on raw, dripping meat). There are several temples in the game where the players can get healed by donating money, but with the exception of the Mad God Tarjan and a couple of the Norse deities, there are no references to specific gods. The minor swears of h*ll and d**n also appear, but not frequently.

    All in all, this faithful recreation of the Bard's Tale games is definitely worth checking out! The new version also includes achievements and Steam trading cards, for those who purchase it on Steam. For role-playing game enthusiasts that remember the classics, or want to experience them for the first time, this is one to add to the game library.

  • The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrow’s Deep (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrow’s Deep
    Developed By: inXile Entertainment
    Published By: inXile Entertainment
    Released: September 18, 2018
    Available On: Microsoft Windows, Linux, macOS
    Genre: RPG, Dungeon Crawler
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $34.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you, inXile Entertainment, for sending us your game to review!

    Fantasy: the mind’s wildest playground. Sure, it ignores the grueling realities of the medieval period for a romanticized one, but it’s given our imaginations an epic launching pad like no other. Stories the likes of King Arthur and The Lord of the Rings forged dragons, knights, and elves in our heads. The fictional cultures that delight our curiosity; the inspiring underdog heroes; the idea of a reality bigger than ourselves: how could it not fit videogames like an iron gauntlet glove? But this genre, much like its flashing swords, can’t be wielded carelessly. Fantasy’s capacity for sheer size and scope often leaves plenty of room for some sinful influence to sneak in. The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrow’s Deep, a fan-funded sequel to its classic predecessors, might not recognize that fact.

    Bard’s Tale IV’s plot continues in the series’ pre-established universe. Its animated prologue tells a tale of two maddened gods, their brutish apes-turned-into-men, and their attempt to use their barbaric humans to wipe out the ancient races of elves and dwarves.The ancient races triumphed over these gods and sealed them into another realm. As expected though, you can’t imprison any god with lock or key. To prevent their return and to punish mankind, a human princess was enchanted to sing a spell to keep the evil deities contained for all eternity. Her song remained ironclad so long as it was continually sung forever. That, of course, is only what the stories say. The country of Caith certainly knows the legend. Already, three would-be conquers tried freeing the evil gods to win immeasurable wealth and power. Good thing then that they each were defeated by an assorted pack of puny heroes. That’s not to say another greedy bloke wouldn’t try again, and with the sudden violent persecution of non-human races it seems something’s rotten in the city of Skara Brae.

    A fantasy universe requires substance to be interesting. A need must to exist for audiences to want to dive deeper. Stories often do just that. Fantasy worlds are built that way after all, but how well did Bard’s Tale IV build its world? Well, for starters, it’s pretty neat that its lore comes pre-built thanks to its predecessors. Events in prior games were implemented wherever possible. I’m sure that delighted many fans. Regions, tales, and characters aren’t in short supply. Every other conversation contained some sort of significant exposition. However, I tended to get lost in a sea of names. Ever had those conversations where everyone understands the topic but you? That’s this game for Bard’s Tale newbies. Don’t get me wrong. Worldbuilding is very very hard. Any honest writer will tell you that, but a random Joe programmed to mention random stuff does not an interesting universe make. Too much isolated information, untethered to context, floats dead in the water. I commend Bard’s Tale’s team for ambition, and they clearly knew fantasy worldbuilding required hefty lore. I’ve seen many an artist fail to grasp even that. However, lore offered in connected pieces are more digestible than in single chunks.

    The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrow’s Deep
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun Combat System; Lovely Music; Crisp Sound Effects; Good Leveling System
    Weak Points: Lengthy Load Times; Weak Puzzles; Annoying Glitches; Misleading Ranking System; Sink-or-Swim Mentality
    Moral Warnings: Occult Heavy Setting; Encouraged Drunkenness; Light Gore; Mild Swearing; Some Hellish Imagery

    Bard’s Tale IV: Barrow’s Deep is an adventure/turn-based RPG hybrid. That simply means its gameplay is part environmental and part turn-taking. I’ll tackle both sides in their own segments. First, let’s cover a few basics. You aren’t controlling a single character this time. You control a whole group. Now, you technically do have a customizable ‘main character,’ but that simply means it’s the one person you’ll always have. Who and how many join your party will often be your decision. Movement is controlled by the classic A,D,W, and S keys. Left mouse clicks perform actions, and right mouse clicks grants access to the map/quest tracker, inventory, and the options menu. It’s worth noting that shortcut keys exist if you’d prefer something snappier. That pretty much covers the control scheme. It’s nothing remarkable, but it’s serviceable.

    Also worth mentioning now are the character classes. Whether wandering or fighting, recruiting a well rounded group matters to your party. These classes include Bard, Rogue, Fighter, and Practitioner. Rogues and Fighters focus on physical strength, defense, and subterfuge. Bards and Practitioners are effective mental attackers for boosting allies and impairing enemies. Every character also has four skill trees, each categorized for specific qualities. Abilities you pick cost skill points. Skill points are earned via accumulated experience points, but some abilities must come first before others are reachable. This upgrading system appears overwhelming, but I liked it. It doesn’t let one dull the game’s teeth to nibbling yet grants an avenue for one to adjust to his/her needs. Plus, there’s a guild that rewards your deeds with chances to rearrange one character’s skill points. Meaning, if you regret your choices, you can still turn it around. How nice is that?

    Bard’s Tale IV does require you to do a lot of traveling. Thus, its adventure genre comes into play. It is pretty basic. You observe your surroundings, avoid booby traps, and constantly move from point A to point B. You do get to craft items from materials you find like potions, grappling hooks, and pick locks. Merchants will sell you items, attire, tools, weapons, and crafting materials. The most interesting mechanic in your adventuring, though, are the songs you learn. These tunes are super useful for the effects they cause to the world around you. One song rebuilds broken objects. Another activates shortcut warp-points. My favorite is the one that lets you see enemies through walls. It certainly was the most memorable aspect. The map, on the other hand, needs work. It helped somewhat, but the compass was confusing. Landmarks weren’t obvious. I wasted hours figuring out where to go at least twice. The slow loading times between particular places didn’t help either. An inventive mechanic mixed with average standards and poor directions leaves a mixed impression.

    The game also touts side quests. What modern epic fantasy game doesn’t? Side quests often add vibrancy to an already lively game. Unfortunately, the results here were sadly lackluster. Why? Well, take rewards for example. Who doesn’t do side quests for prizes? Extra time and effort in exchange for rare weapons, magic armor, or at least hefty lumps of cash is fair, right? Well, it’s not that Bard’s Tale withholds rewards. It’s just that too many times what’s rewarded turns out disappointing. You may win a weapon less helpful than what you’ve bought. You could use one of your limited lock picks to nab another exact copy of a cheap helmet, or your earnings are a handful of gold. They’re unjustified for all the trouble you go through. It’s unsatisfying. Over time, I grew less and less enticed. If not for the experience points, I’d hardly bother. Of course, these side quests feature extra puzzles. Oh? Did I not mention there were puzzles? Yes, there are, but they’re not noteworthy. Let me put it this way: Compared to games like Myst or Professor Layton, Bard’s Tale IV’s pitiful copycat jobs are puddle jumps. They’re either obvious, tedious, or both. It’s sad when a game tries to be what it’s not. It just leaves wanting to skip the mediocre ‘chores’ to get to the real fun.

    Okay. I’ve been harsh with Bard’s Tale IV‘s puzzles, but now for where the game shines: the battle system. Combat here carries so many intricate factors I doubt I can give it justice, yet here I am to try. Encounters of the evil kind are inevitable. Similar to Checkers, combat is done in turns between your party and the enemy party. Which side goes first depends on who strikes first. You’ve got a limited number of moves (called opportunity) in your turn. Each character only has six abilities, five of which you personally equip. You get four moves, one movement option, and an item slot. Consider how these choices work in a group, though. A well rounded team needs complimentary attributes. In battle, your characters are assembled on a two rowed, four columned grid. Who’s in front and who’s in back in relation to your foes can put you in or or out of harm’s way. Changing positions mid-battle costs opportunity too. Lastly, each attack has different areas of range, cooldowns, and/or charge times. Some attacks can be cancelled mid-charge by mental attacks. Equipped weapons and armor can alter some moves’ behavior, and items grant advantages if chosen wisely. Now, I agree that this all sounds dense. It is, but it’s a good kind of dense, at least to my tastes. I enjoyed the countless variables I had to turn the tides. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was mine.

    The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrow’s Deep
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 44%
    Violence - 3.5/10
    Language - 2.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 4.5/10

    Hold on a minute, though. Fights in Bard’s Tale IV do have a couple crippling flaws. For one thing, encounters have a sink-or-swim mentality. You’ve probably guessed that character classes apply to enemies too. Every enemy type has weaknesses. Throw in the unique specialities distributed among different creatures, and those variances multiply. A means to study your enemies beforehand would have been nice, but there is none. It’s rather baffling actually because in-game prompts suggest studying your enemies. How can you study if you’re given nothing to study with? For another thing, the game’s difficulty gauge is misleading. It’s supposed to indicate a foe’s strength. It’s supposed to distinguish between easy pickings, an average struggle, a tough scrap, or a death-wish. Too bad it lies! Picture this: I spot one group gauged to be unwinnable. A space away stood a big brute rated an average. Naturally, I pick the feasible target. Here’s the plot twist. I reattempted that same fight over five times, maybe ten. All because the ‘average’ giant hit like a truck, had a lengthy health bar, and healed himself between every turn! Now here comes the punchline. I beat the ‘impossible’ group in one try. Now tell me. How is it not misleading to call a huddle of bandits and wizards untouchable, and yet an ugly, two ton, self-repairing goliath ranks an average!?! That does not compute! Even a dum-dum sucker could call that baloney!

    The landscapes of Caith and Skara Brae are pretty impressive. Not that I think it’s always pretty per se, but I digress. On the positive side, Bard’s Tale’s graphics pull off tons of detail. The textures on Skara Brae’s cobblestone streets, water surfaces, and buildings dazzled me. I’m serious. The weather damage, hewn stone, and dirt clods neared photorealism. I just wish I wasn’t stuck in Skara Brae for the first several hours. It’s not really the artists’ fault. It’s just that a finely generated grimy, filthy city is still a grimy, filthy city. Beats me why anyone would enjoy living someplace that dingy. If games could emit smell, I’d bet the town odor would be pungent, and that was just its topside. Skara Brae underground adds ‘grotesquely creepy’ to the list. You don’t know how relieved I was to see trees and more non-brown colors outside city walls. If only the frame-rate didn’t drop. I guess occasional choppiness is the trade for some vibrancy here. Well, at least the region looks better than the residents. I’m not saying the people look awful. They’re fine overall. There’s just something off about their faces and stiff movements. It’s a tad unsettling. The music and sound effects department, on the other hand, knocked it out of the park. They had really good voice actors. Nature sounds, metal, wood, anything capable of noise sounded crisp, clear, and satisfying. For my feelings toward the soundtrack, I’ll express it this way. I enjoyed its Gaelic/Celtic music so much, I considered buying some soundtracks off iTunes. I believe that gets my opinion across.

    Gameplay-wise, most of my gripes were frustrating at worst and mild at best. I’d say the same thing about all the bugs and glitches. Technical errors popped up far too frequently. Sometimes there were funny animation quirks. Others were less amusing. There were times I briefly got stuck while walking. While battling, the game on occasion wouldn’t let me make my selections unless I tapped the ‘escape’ key. (That hiccup shouldn’t happen in the first place.) Also, the game completely crashed at least once. Now, I wouldn’t call one or two glitches surprising here. Humongous games ask for humongous problems. The game’s staff knows it too. They performed at least two repair patches during my playthrough, but the bugs still persisted. Maybe the creators should have squashed a lot more of them before releasing this game. My mood certainly wouldn’t have been soured so many times.

    Time for some serious talk. If the game’s anti-Biblical prologue I transposed for you didn’t scared you, then brace for impact. It ain’t pretty. Let’s put this into perspective. For twenty-seven days, I recorded every dishonorable sight, sound, and policy, and you know what I’ve found? Bard’s Tale IV has no shame. The corrupted “church” in the story (if it could even be called that) are the dirty racists who burn ‘innocent’ magic practitioners at the stake or hang other races along with their sympathizers. Wanton drunkenness and sorcery is constantly encouraged. Enemies taunt by shaking their bums. Characters appeal to gods. Ba***rd, pi**, and da*n infest most conversations. Male’s genitals are mentioned. A particular temple looked ‘puke’ levels of hellish. I even met a half rotted zombie, complete with a sword run straight through his eye and half existent brain, and that’s just the warm up. How about the body raiding? Or the dead summoning? Or the shrine praying? All of which meant to be done by you. Now, I could keep this ball rolling. I could tattle on every blood drop, crass word, or paganistic speech, but then this paragraph could fill the entire review. Besides, the exact number of its offenses doesn’t matter. It’s how the game celebrates these behaviors that’s truly telling. Such ‘sparkling’ wisdom like, ‘Sometimes the hangover is worth it,’ or ‘There’s no justice, just us,’ reveals this game’s true heart more than any review can ever hope.

    So what can be said about Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep? Well, if I could turn my conscience off, I’d consider it decent enough. It’s got some neat ideas. The series’ lore is densely established. The song mechanic is nice. The graphics are impressive, and the unique battle system is a fine crowning jewel. However, when it tries to mimic somebody else it comes out as ‘meh’, and the misleading difficulty gauge, unhelpful map, and glitches were aggravating. If that were it, I’d say consider what you’re willing to put up with and call it a day, but that’s not the case here. Fact is, the moral fiber is too nonexistent for me to recommend a purchase. It’s out of the question for kids, but if by chance you’re still considering, I ask but one question. If you’d blanch at exposing this particular junk to a child, then is it really okay for you? A Bard’s Tale character chopped his arm off for what turned out to be a fake remedy. To erode your own spiritual morals for a sin-glorifying, average game is just as stupid. I’d get out of Dodge - or Skara Brae in this case.

  • The Caligula Effect (Vita)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Caligula Effect
    Developed by: Aquria
    Published by: FuRyu, Atlus
    Release date: May 2, 2017
    Available on: PS Vita
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Language, Sexual Themes, Violence
    Price: $39.99

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

    A famous singer that goes by the name μ (Mu) felt bad about the troubles of many of her fans and created a virtual world called Mobius. In this world, there are no worries and many of the desires of the fans are fulfilled personally by their beloved pop idol. Unfortunately, some bad musicians have influenced μ and it’s now impossible to leave Mobius. Most of the residents are oblivious to the fact that this world is not real. Then there are the digiheads who are hostile digital beings that are formed from negative emotions. As long as you stay out of their line of sight, you don’t have to fight them.

    The main protagonist, a male character that you get to name, realizes that something is not right at a school ceremony. The people there are digitized, fake, and don’t age. When the students graduate high school, they start over again as first year students. I’m not sure what it is with Japan’s fascination with high schoolers, but this game is no exception. When the main character runs off, he quickly meets others that want to go back to the real world. The students who long to go back are called the “Go Home Club.”

    Going home won’t be easy as there are several powerful musicians that enjoy life in Mobius and don’t want it compromised. Each of these musicians must be brought back to their senses or beaten into submission to locate μ and convince her to let people leave if they desire to do so. There are many enemies and thankfully, you won’t have to fight them alone. You can pick and choose your three additional companions from the Go Home Club or from any of the five hundred NPCs wandering around in the virtual world.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Slow paced but interesting story; good music and (Japanese) voice acting; interesting battle system
    Weak Points: Slow performance and some of the battles are choppy; drawn out fight scenes that you cannot skip or fast forward; easy bosses
    Moral Warnings: Lots of swearing and blaspheming; violence; sexual references (teen pregnancy); self-mutilation; suicide; the option to fight against Lucifer; swimsuit DLC; fat shaming

    Each of the characters, NPC or otherwise, have unique abilities, weapons, and fighting styles. Each person in the game also has emotional baggage that you can help them work on. Some of the issues involve lying or lack of confidence, while others are more severe and include suicide, teen pregnancy, and self-mutilation. In order to solve the problems of the NPCs and have them fight alongside of you, you’ll have to befriend them by talking to them a bunch of times. If that’s not tedious enough, some of the requirements for solving their emotional issues takes a lot more work. Often times you’ll have to befriend many of their friends, bring them an item, or invite them into your party to change their emotional state/abilities. In one case, I had to take a level four character and level them up to twenty. They must still have issues since I didn’t bother doing that. The Go Home Club member story arcs can quite often make conversation worthwhile. Extended or repeated conversations unlock scenarios both humorous and dark.

    Besides the emotional issues there are lots of language ones as well. Pretty much every word but the F-bomb is used and there’s some blaspheming thrown in for good measure too. Instances involving blood is described, but not shown. The battles look brutal at times and some limbs get bent in abnormal positions.

    While the battle animations look neat (and noticeably slow down the frame rate), they got annoying since they often continued on well after the foe was defeated and I couldn’t speed up or stop my party from attacking. Coordinating the correct attacks and counters with those of your teammates is crucial to surviving in this game. Many of the attacks only work if certain conditions are met and if they are not, you’ve wasted valuable special attack points (SP) that take a while to recharge. Some attacks only work on enemies knocked into the air while others are intended for grounded foes.

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

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 49%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    When characters level up their attributes are automatically increased, but you can tweak them by assigning various attribute changing stigmas to them. Skill points are earned when leveling and can be spent on learning new skills like ultimate attacks, healing, and resurrecting abilities. Other party members can be brought back, but if the main character gets knocked out, it’s game over. Save points are plentiful and are usually available before entering a boss’ room.

    Many of the areas you visit are rather complex and it’s easy to get lost in the numerous corridors despite the mini-map on the upper right hand side of the screen. Some of the areas are only accessible through one specific entrance out of ten or so. In a few instances you’ll have to re-visit an area multiple times and at higher levels. I found this out the hard way when I wandered into a higher level area with digiheads having fifteen more levels than my party members. Explore at your own risk in this game!

    Scattered throughout the maps are higher level digiheads that can easily be avoided but they’re fun to pick a fight with to test your strength provided you recently saved. Despite playing on the normal difficulty, I found these higher level digiheads more challenging than the boss battles. They handed my butt to me more than the bosses which I always beat on my first encounter. In fact, I don’t think my level 30+ party took any damage in the final boss battle and that’s including the multiple forms.

    In total I spent a little over thirty hours in this game and while it’s flawed, it’s still fun. Even though there are tougher enemies to beat including Lucifer and locked rooms to investigate, I have no urge to continue playing this game after seeing the credits roll. I liked the notion of helping emotionally hurting people; the problem is that it’s just too tedious to do so most of the time. While there are many dark moments, there are some laugh out loud ones as well. Given the various issues discussed, this is definitely not a title suitable for a younger audience.

  • The Disappearing of Gensokyo (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Disappearing of Gensokyo
    Developed By: MyACG Studio
    Published By: MyACG Studio
    Released: January 11, 2018
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Action RPG
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $10.99

    Once again, an incident has befallen Gensokyo. Strange men with bags on their heads have appeared throughout the land, harassing the populace. The native fairies have grown confused and restless, lashing out at anyone they see. Perhaps most troubling, near-exact replicas of the more powerful of Gensokyo’s citizens have appeared, whose vicious attacks have some intelligence behind them. Two people set out to solve the incident: the Hakurei shrine maiden, as usual, and a certain bored celestial, who figures a fight is a good distraction. The Disappearing of Gensokyo follows the latter, Tenshi Hinanawi, as she gets reluctantly caught up in the incident.

    The Disappearing of Gensokyo is an action RPG-shooter hybrid set in the universe of the Touhou Project, a long-running Japanese series of top-down shooters and fighting games centered around myths, legends, and otherworldly creatures. Players control Tenshi, along with a host of other Touhou characters, in real-time combat against groups of enemies and the occasional boss. In keeping with Touhou’s roots as a top-down shooter series, most attacks, both incoming and outgoing, are ranged in nature. The game is separated into sixteen mostly-linear stages, with a few dedicated to boss fights. In between each stage, you’ll see a scene at your home fortress in heaven, where you can talk to other characters, purchase upgrades, and eventually pick a stage to play.

    At the start of each stage, you set out with Tenshi and a second predetermined character; you can change the second one with a tiny amount of points, the game’s currency. Every character has four actions they can perform: a primary and a secondary attack, a dash, and a powerful bomb. Any ranged attack expends a character’s ammunition, and bombing pulls from a shared stock of up to five. Ammo, bombs, and points are gathered from defeated enemies and the occasional pre-placed pickup; you can also swap out characters, including Tenshi, by collecting an icon of the relevant girl’s head (a yukkuri, to be specific; if you have to ask, you don’t want to know) – these also drop from enemies, and will grant a large ammunition refill if you already have that girl in your party. Along with ammunition and bombs, you have a shield bar and dash meter; the former recharges rapidly a few seconds after taking damage, and the latter constantly refills at a moderate pace. Health isn’t represented on-screen, but rather through a heartbeat noise and a subtle red haze that grow respectively louder and thicker the closer you get to death.

    Each of the base game’s ten characters vary wildly from either other, even within the same archetype – for instance, while Cirno the ice fairy and Reisen Udongein Inaba the moon rabbit are both good medium-range damage dealers, Cirno can slow down or outright freeze enemies with all four of her actions for defensive purposes, while Reisen can set up a field that increases her damage output considerably. Even the dash action is different between characters; while it’s usually a change in speed and distance, a few have special properties, such as Cirno leaving a freezing mist, Reisen creating an illusionary clone of herself, and the vampire Remilia Scarlet being able to damage enemies in her path. Altogether, the vast differences between the characters make for a varied and enjoyable experience, and no character is truly useless – though some certainly outclass others (mostly Marisa Kirisame, perhaps owing to her status as Touhou series co-protagonist).

    The Disappearing of Gensokyo
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Wide variety of characters, both playable and enemy; engaging boss fights; hard but fair, with multiple difficulties and increasingly-tougher New Game Pluses; great music
    Weak Points: Nearly half the roster locked behind paid DLC; rather buggy; iffy translation
    Moral Warnings: Violence, occasionally for no reason; magic and magic circles; drinking and drunkenness; fairies, undead, and youkai galore; suggestive themes, lewd jokes and references, and implied homosexuality; language (d*mn, dumb*ss, b*stard, and one f-bomb); rather inaccurately depicts heaven and the people that live there; relentless rabbit bullying

    While characters don’t level up, there are two points of progression. Each stage after the first contains three magic pieces, usually either well-hidden (if not practically impossible to find without a guide) or guarded by strong enemies; after rescuing the Buddhist monk Byakuren Hijiri in the second stage, she’ll use her talent as a sorcerer to unlock various passive buffs with those pieces. You’ll eventually get six tiers, each with three effects to choose from, and are freely interchangeable within the same tier. Byakuren will also offer her Buddhist wisdom if you talk to her before a boss fight, giving hints to the player and annoying Tenshi in the process. You’ll also pick up an umbrella in stage three; she, Kogasa Tatara, will set up shop afterwards, using her surprising blacksmithing skill to upgrade characters in exchange for points. Each girl can enhance two of her abilities twice; while most affect attacks, such as power, range, or cooldown time, you’ll occasionally get something more passive, such as Marisa getting upgrades to her movement speed.

    The variety doesn’t stop at the playable cast. Enemies come in many forms, with new ones being introduced even late in the game. Most non-melee foes also have multiple attacks, which can lead to a cacophony of bullets if you don’t down them fast enough. Enemy attacks are usually telegraphed in some form, allowing a wary player to dodge just about anything – though when you get locked in a small room with a few dozen ricocheting bullets, death is practically guaranteed the first time through. Death, by the way, removes most of your current in-stage point total and sends you either back to the last checkpoint you reached or forces a restart; the stages are short enough that this usually isn’t a huge deal, but can still be quite punishing. With four difficulty modes, and limitless New Game Pluses that increase enemy health and power, you’ll find both a suitable challenge and a reason to replay.

    Bosses are likewise diverse, but they are generally a much different beast than the common grunts. Each of them follows a similar pattern, starting off with a few attacks before ramping up the difficulty as you deal damage – either by flinging more bullets at you or changing to a more complicated pattern. Every attack is fully dodgeable, even if the isometric viewpoint makes that somewhat tricky; it’s balanced by having the harder-to-dodge patterns deal comparatively less damage. They’re hard, but they’re fair; you’ll die a whole lot, but as you recognize their attacks, you’ll invariably get better and better, making it all the more satisfying to finally take them down.

    Despite its solid design, the game is somewhat lacking in its technical aspect. For one, it has its fair share of bugs. Though I personally only encountered two of note – Cirno freezing when she’s supposed to transform into her yukkuri to become playable for the first time and forcing a stage restart, and a text bug in another stage that overwrites a lengthy conversation between Tenshi and Marisa – the Steam discussion page has a lengthy bug report topic. The bugs reported got as serious as crashing the entire computer; while problems of that magnitude are likely rare, it’s worth considering. Also, since MyACG Studio is a Chinese developer, the in-house English translation is a little wonky – along with the fact that it starts in Chinese and requires fumbling through the menus to find the translation option (hint: the settings menu is the third choice on the title screen). It’s by no means unintelligible, but some conversations can get clunky, alongside a few translation errors – keeping the Scarlet Devil Mansion as its original Japanese “Koumakan,” mistranslating a character’s name (Hata no Kokoro, which is “Kokoro Hatano” in-game), and so on. To their credit, the developers are rather active on both fronts, using community bug reports and translation fixes to clean up their mistakes; in fact, the translation has improved markedly since release, especially in the first half of the game.

    The Disappearing of Gensokyo
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 65%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 2.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    There’s also the issue of DLC to bring up: as of this writing, there are nine characters locked behind a paywall – nearly half the roster. While not necessarily a bad thing on its own, especially considering characters that don’t appear in the game otherwise, a few seem pulled from the main game just to sell: namely, Byakuren, Kogasa, and Iku Nagae (Tenshi’s handler throughout the game, and a main character in her own right). The first two even have achievements dedicated to their functions – finding every magic piece and purchasing twenty-four upgrades, respectively – and unlocking them through those achievements seems obvious. Though most characters are $0.99 apiece, all but a couple are lumped in bundles – if you want to buy Kogasa, for instance, you’ll have to buy Iku as well. Considering the DLC is now nearly the same price as the full game, and the characters’ silhouettes appear prominently in the in-game roster screen, it’s difficult to interpret it as anything but a cash grab.

    Visually speaking, the game looks decent, but somewhat aged. The environments are nice, the effects on the various attacks play well, and the overall design is solid, but the character models aren’t exactly of the highest quality – certainly not terrible, but still rough around the edges. You can pick between four levels of camera zoom, but upon closer inspection, it’s obvious that the models, and especially their animations, are created to look better from afar. The art in the dialogue scenes is well done, but some pictures look slightly blurry, as if they've been re-sized.

    The sound design, however, is something else entirely. As typical of most Touhou fangames, the sound effects are ripped from the official games: the tick of collecting items, the powerful hum of Marisa’s Master Spark, and the “pichuun” of defeat are all here. The music, also typically, is made up of remixes of Touhou series songs, which are generally fantastic across the board. The boss fights even feature Japanese vocal tracks of the boss character’s theme. The only negative to be seen is how the music restarts with the level, so when you’re getting continuously blown away by a boss thirty seconds in, you’ll hear the first thirty seconds of their song over and over again. The soundtrack isn’t for sale, but the game comes with a music room for your listening pleasure.

    Morality-wise, violence is a given; considering the main method of attack in Touhou is through “spell cards,” magic use and magic circles are common. Most of the boss fights happen for no reason, and mostly because Tenshi runs her mouth – the other characters will make note of this, at least. The Touhou series in general is filled to the brim with youkai and other fantastical creatures, from fairies to undead to demons to Shinto gods, and this game is no exception. Alcohol is mentioned at a few points, and the first major boss, Suika Ibuki, is an oni who is drunk roughly one hundred percent of the time. The main human enemies, the “sinsacks,” are only concerned with sexually harassing the girls of Gensokyo; along with referencing them and their desires, there are some lewd jokes and references, including Tenshi complaining about her breast size. There is also some implied same-sex attraction between a few characters – some subtle, some much less so. Foul language is semi-common, mostly of the PG-13 variety, but one of the game’s two endings has a character drop an f-bomb. Your home base is in heaven, though of a distinctly Japanese variety, and the people that live there, Tenshi and Iku included, aren’t particularly heavenly. Finally, if you’re sensitive to bullying, be prepared to feel really bad for poor Reisen, who can hardly go a scene without getting abused; it’s played for comedy, but even then it gets to be a little much by the end of the game.

    One last thing to note: while not strictly necessary, fans of Touhou will likely get more enjoyment out of this game than those unfamiliar with it. It’s certainly a good game in its own right, and each stage has a few notes scattered about introducing relevant characters and terms, but it’s still chock-full of references to both the official series and the vast fandom; for instance, the game won’t explain that one playable character, the hell raven Utsuho Reiuji, is also known as Okuu, and will be called both interchangeably. This even minorly affects the gameplay, as most boss attacks are ripped from the official games; even if this doesn’t lend a slight advantage to those who have seen the patterns before, it’s still a treat to see 2D attacks impressively made into accurate 3D representations. It may not be enough to make or break the experience, but it’s something to keep in mind.

    In short, The Disappearing of Gensokyo is a well-designed game, even if bugs and excessive DLC prevent it from realizing its full potential. If you’re lucky with the former and don’t care about the latter, you’ll find enjoyable characters, engaging enemies, and a satisfying level of difficulty. Touhou Project fans should absolutely give this a look, while others might want to wait for a sale first.

    -Cadogan

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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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