enfrdeitptrues

RPG

  • The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall 
    Developed By: Bethesda Softworks
    Published By: Bethesda Softworks
    Released: September 20, 1996
    Available On: MS-DOS
    Genre: First-Person Action RPG
    ESRB Rating: Mature
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: Freeware (was released by Bethesda in July 2009 into the public domain)

    A wide-open world to explore is a common choice for many role-playing games, and if it can be done in such a way to immerse the player and not feel empty and lifeless, it can give the player a lot to do. In 1996, Bethesda Softworks tried to do this with The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall.

    Daggerfall was the second game they made in a wide-open sandbox fashion, the first being its predecessor, Arena, which was in some ways more an experiment with this concept. Daggerfall is, in many respects, a much more refined means of attempting this type of game concept, using the XnGine, an early 3D engine that was all the more impressive for being tailored for DOS at the time.

    The story is simple initially. Emperor Uriel Septim VII speaks with you in a dark room, charging you with putting to rest the spirit of King Lysandus, a loyal subject who died honorably yet cannot go to his grave in peace, and also asks you to find an embarrassing letter he wrote awhile back to the Queen of Daggerfall and destroy it since it never arrived as was intended. The story then snowballs quickly into a complex web of political and supernatural intrigue, and the decisions you make will not only shape the Iliac Bay area (the game setting) but will also shape history itself.

    The gameplay is set in a first-person dungeon crawler style with action RPG controls, with swings of the mouse determining how your weapons move. Actions like jumping and climbing objects are also controlled similarly, and the keyboard serves as a hub of hotkeys to control such actions as talking to people, checking your inventory, and do such things as look at and interact with various objects.

    On top of your assigned mission, there are a variety of organizations like the Fighters Guild, the Mages Guild, and various temples and Knightly Orders to serve. You can also do quests for certain people, indulge in theft and murder via the underworld guilds for those actions, and can even become a vampire or were-creature.

    All of this takes place in a world where time passes and you have a reputation based on regional knowledge of your activities, so you must keep time limits for certain quests in mind as well as how regarded or despised you are, as this can affect future quests and how certain people interact with you.

    The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lots to explore; a wide variety of character builds; interesting and intriguing plot
    Weak Points: Unintuitive controls; lots of bugs and instability; tedious dungeons; some features are completely broken
    Moral Warnings: Intense violence with blood and gore; options to commit many unethical acts including murder and theft; lots of nudity with casual sex outside of marriage encouraged by frequent presence of prostitutes; ability to commit treason against all sorts of authority figures; main quest requires making many ethically gray decisions at best; necromancy and witch covens prominent, with the option to work for those who employ both; some crude language

    The graphics are in a rudimentary form of 3D with a lot of 2D sprites. Given this game was made to run in DOS on the XnGine, this was impressive if somewhat blurry up close. There is a moderate degree of character animation and lighting given the 1996 era technology that existed at the time which was quite good for its time, yet the cramped interface and low resolution of practically everything is bound to look horrible on high-resolution monitors and does not scale very well at all.

    Sound is a combination of MIDI based music and distinct sound effects for every character and action. The latter even serves a gameplay purpose, as a sharp ear in dungeons can help players pick up on nearby enemies. As to the former, it's quite good at setting the high fantasy mood the game is going for, though the tunes can get a bit repetitive.

    Controls are keyboard and mouse-based, with or without an optional HUD display with the most common features clickable in a handy image format, like buttons for "look" or "grab." Combat involves swinging the mouse and clicking the attack button on the mouse in the desired direction, resulting in different attacks based on direction. The overall controls are a bit cumbersome, requiring the memorization of a lot of hotkeys on the keyboard and some tedious list searching, especially when navigating the magic menu. Overall, it's serviceable, but the control scheme is a far cry from simple and easy to learn, despite a very brief tutorial available at the very beginning of the game.

    The difficulty is definitely on the hard side. How you create your character and work for your levels definitely will be important, as you have primary, major, and minor skills, and you must continually develop these to earn attributes points to boost stats. There are special advantages and disadvantages like rapid healing or phobias when encountering certain foes that can increase or decrease the difficulty of gaining levels as well if the player adds these. Finally, player race plays a role, some come with valuable resistances like High Elves, who are immune to paralysis, which can be deadly for a mass majority of the game.

    Gameplay in general forces the player to be careful, as foes can attack at night everywhere, including civilized areas. Dungeons are even more dangerous as they not only have monsters, they also have traps that can be deadly when combined with the fauna you tangle with. Dungeons and some towns are massive, so map checking is an essential skill. All content save for story-specific areas is pre-generated and randomized, so while dungeons will be set into a certain form once accessed, their contents will change after every exit. Finally, certain weapons are useless against certain foes, and failure to plan can and will be fatal.

    The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 62%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 1/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 4%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 2/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

    Game stability is, to be frank, terrible. The stability of Daggerfall is so terrible the developers not only had to patch the game several times, they even had to release copies of the development tools so players could fix bugged save files. Crashes are frequent, and many game-breaking bugs exist. Certain features like the dodging code are either broken or not completely implemented, which can further drive players to frustration. Over a quarter of the magical effects are completely nonfunctional, and the reputation system of the game factions is notoriously complex and also has some bugs that can mess up save files. In short, do not go into this game expecting a smooth ride. The randomly generated dungeons feature is also incredibly buggy, resulting in some dungeons that are impossible to beat due to design errors in the procedural generation.

    The moral side of things is, again to be frank, terrible. This game has a lot of morally objectionable content, especially since it was released before formal rating requirements for many PC games and had a lot of content that would have earned it a modern-day mature or even adults-only rating. There is a "Child-Guard" feature to avoid spawning some monsters who show full female nudity, but it's effectively a tiny band-aid for a massive moral wound this game is scarred with.

    Language is generally mild, the old English style of speech the game text goes for lends itself poorly to nothing other than a few mild expletives (like d*mn or h*ll). There are some crude sexual references, the game has a cut prostitution feature whose code remnants still exist in the dialogue of some characters, though thankfully this is not a common occurrence save for a few characters and rarely shows up unless you are deliberately looking for it. Some in-game books have some obscene material (that later games would have censored in-universe), including descriptions of frank sexual activity.

    Sexual content, in general, is limited to explicit if very low-resolution nudity in some female character sprites, ranging from partial to complete nudity, though without any body parts in enough detail to be alarming aside from exposed breasts. Again, no actual sexual activity is explicitly shown or remains an option for the player, though the implications of the possibility still exist (there is a faction of scantily clad women in-game belonging to the Prostitute faction). However, they can only serve as sources of information or generic quest givers for the most part. Player models have a nude modeled "paper doll" in their inventory menu, and while somewhat cleaner than expected (no lower body parts are drawn in detail), it's still quite explicit from the waist up for female characters, and the Child-Guard feature does not prevent seeing this when changing equipment.

    Violence is pretty graphic. Whenever something dies, it falls at your feet with a mix of entrails and blood mixed with its corpse, though the low resolution blunts some of the horrors, but not enough to be sure whatever died was killed messily. There is a faction of assassins one can join if they choose, and in all cases the deaths inflicted will be done for pay, and by the same token, enemies will be just as cold and merciless trying to strike you down, unless your language skills are high enough, which unlocks an option to walk past enemies peacefully unless you strike first.

    Morally, the game's wide-open sandbox structure (in a world estimated to be the size of real-life Great Britain) allows for many unethical deeds. One may rob stores and homes of their goods, one can engage in murder, either for the assassins guild, freelance, or as a requirement for keeping one's powers as a vampire or werebeast in check should the player become one of those options. It's even entirely possible to betray political higherups, including the Emperor whom you serve as an official agent. The storyline involves necromancy (portrayed as evil, but you can work for those who practice it should you choose as well as being able to summon in-game demons called Daedra), court intrigue involving murders, larceny, and other foul acts of debauchery, and the player can choose to do a lot of work for witch covens, vampire clans, and be involved in sowing all sorts of discord committing various crimes on behalf of some quest givers. Conversely, it's possible to do moral acts like slaying monsters threatening innocent people, exorcising demons and ghosts, and doing civil service work like rescuing children from dungeons, but these options exist right alongside their less ethical counterparts. Further, even the most morally inclined player will have to make some ethically grey at best choices to proceed along with the main plot.

    Even the "good" factions have some red flags. The game has a polytheistic religion, and since nudity and prostitution is prevalent in many of their temples (Especially Houses of Dibella), this will definitely repulse anyone offended by such themes for sure, even if it more accurate to the background lore (later games had to censor and retcon a lot of this due to ratings becoming more prevalent after this game released). While many of the deities espouse virtues such as hard work, charity, and other themes that are not all that offensive, some of the sketchier quests involve a lot of questionable ethics, such as constantly having to hunt down and kill apostates, though the game does emphasize said apostasy usually takes the form of consorting with necromancy or becoming a thug who preys on innocent people as a justification.

    As a game, it was and remains very ambitious yet flawed, and while deserving of being called a classic, it has aged poorly and runs terribly on both DOS and DOSBox (which most modern users will run this under), and thus is not recommended save for a hardcore role-playing gamer or Elder Scrolls fan willing to accept this not a stable experience. In moral terms, it's a dark game full of a lot of violence, adult themes, and is not suitable for anyone who is not an adult, built-in Child-Guard feature or not.

    Overall though, if you can accept the dark sides of the game's nigh legendary shoddy stability and the explicit nature of the violence and nudity prevalent within, Daggerfall does remain one of the most ambitious wide-open sandbox RPGs in the history of the genre and is worth playing at least once.

    Modern players who want a more stable experience might also want to try running it via the Daggerfall Unity engine recreation, which does a lot to mimic the original engine while still preserving the classic feel but with the added stability and functionality of features missing in the original game.

  • The Escapists 2 (Switch)

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    Game Info:

    The Escapists 2
    Developed By: Mouldy Toof Studios
    Published By: Team 17
    Released: January 11, 2018
    Available On: macOS, Switch, SteamOS/Linux, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One.
    Genre: Role-Playing, Simulation, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Mild Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes
    Number of Players: 1 offline, 4 online
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Team 17 for sending us this game to review! 

    Have you ever thought about what it would be like to break out of prison? Well, The Escapists 2 may not be the most accurate or realistic way of breaking out of prison, but it is an enjoyable game. Team 17 has done a wonderful job with this game and there is nothing quite like it currently on the Nintendo Switch. If you have been itching for a simulation game that will let you escape from a variety of prisons, look no further than the Escapists 2.

    The game opens with a flashback of you and a buddy on some beautiful beach, kicking back, discussing how you broke out of your last prison, and are thrown into a tutorial, where the game will teach you the basics of breaking out of jail. As soon as it begins, it ends, with the police busting you and throwing you back into prison. It’s a great way to get acquainted with basic gameplay mechanics.

    You will have multiple prisons to try and break out of, each one increasing in difficulty. They did a great job of mixing them up. There is your typical prison, a train prison, a prison on a boat, etc. There are multiple locations, and each one feels unique and has its own challenges. You will have to exercise patience, timing, and planning; all will be of the utmost importance. You can also customize the look of your character and even the guards to your liking.

    The Escapists 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Breaking out of creative prisons; Great Multiplayer
    Weak Points: Can get bored waiting for the right time; Long load time when booting up
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon Violence; some suggestive dialogue

    Each day will start off the same with roll-call, then to other events like breakfast, lunch, dinner, free time, exercise time, and you will even try to get a job to make money. You can also complete different requests from prisoners, from collecting items, to beating up people, to even sabotaging other inmates. You may have to steal things from prisoners' desks, or even from their bodies when they are knocked out. There is no one way to break out of the different prisons. There are multiple ways and as you complete tasks, and get familiar with everyone’s schedule, opportunities will present themselves.

    You will also be crafting things as you find items; it’s more diverse and complicated than the first game in this series. The combat has been much improved. You can have charged attacks that do more damage and you can block incoming attacks as well. There are also mini games that you can partake in that will increase your strength, intelligence, etc. An example is at the gym, you will get on an exercise machine and must play a mini game to get stronger by hitting the L and R buttons at the right time. This helps break up the gameplay a bit, as each day plays similarly, except in your free time.

    Another new addition is a co-play mode that is enjoyable. If you have a friend online, you can play with them through all the prisons and adds to the fun. Of course, you want to find a way to talk to them, so you can team up on tasks. Otherwise, you can do local Co-Op, which is the best, as you work together in front of the same screen. There is hope for DLC, as the PC version has quite a few more maps and even a map editor that would be amazing on the Switch.

    The Escapists 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - -89%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The graphics retain the feel of the original, though everything looks nicer, and bolder. It is still hilarious at times, as prisoners and other exchanges are usually peppered with humor. I feel there is more diversity in the locations this time around. The controls are great on the Switch and the game runs smoothly. The only issue I encountered was a long initial loading time, but once it gets going, there are almost no more loading screens. Sometimes it can be boring waiting for the perfect time to enact your plan.

    As far as morality goes there is some crude humor every now and then. There are times you are stealing items, and there is violence. You will sometimes have to beat up people, with weapons, though there is no blood, and no one dies. You are just taken to the infirmary.

    The game is a blast to play through and I hope for more maps to come to this Switch version. If the thought of breaking out of prison interests you at all, break out of your house and purchase this game now!

  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd 
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom/XSEED Games
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: May 3rd, 2017
    Available On: PC
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: RPG
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd is the third game in the long running Trails series from Nihon Falcom, which has been expertly localized by XSEED Games. The series is soon to release its eighth entry in Japan, and currently there are five here in the West. Like all other entries, this series is unique in that each game follows on from the previous entries as direct sequels, in this case taking place about six months after the events of Trails in the Sky SC.

    During the development of Trails to Zero, they realized that a large amount of necessary backstory had not yet been filled out, so this game was put together to fill out those gaps. There are several plot points started here that are expounded upon both in Zero/Azure (which are not yet in English), and in Trails of Cold Steel and Cold Steel II. In many ways, this is the connecting point between the original Sky/SC games and the rest of the series; this game plays a special role in the storytelling as a result.

    If it's not already obvious, <b>do not play this game before completing Trails in the Sky and Trails in the Sky SC!</b> While Trails to Zero and Trails of Cold Steel are good entry points into the series as they are somewhat self contained, this game is probably the worst entry point possible, as it not only massively spoils the previous two games, but it expects you to know who the characters are, and puts absolutely no effort whatsoever in introducing you to them.

    Given this, I highly recommend you start with the first chapter, Trails in the Sky, which has two reviews, here and here. If you would like to know more about the series as a whole, our review for SC is also here. From here on out I expect you to have already played Trails in the Sky and Trails in the Sky SC, or at least read those reviews.

    The game engine is for all practical purposes identical to the other two Trails in the Sky games, so the general world vs. battle systems, as well as the top down overhead view, are all the same. The graphics are as well. Even the menus are basically identical, with updated portraits making the newer games noticeably different. One major change is the addition of new turn bonuses during combat. These include 'rush', 'guard', 'vanish', and 'death'. These turn bonuses allow two attacks in a row, no damage, disappearing for a turn on a hit, and instant death on a hit respectively.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Continued excellent world building, storyline, and especially character development; you get to see the new protagonists, Kevin (from SC) and Reis's relationship develop; fun battle system; fantastic music; does a wonderful job of growing and extending the story behind most of Trails in the Sky's character roster; occasionally hilarious dialog
    Weak Points: You must play Trails in the Sky and SC before playing this; many of the dungeons are reused set pieces
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence, with occasional spurting blood; Some swearing, including 'd*mn', 'h*ll', '*ss', 'b*st*rd', 'b*tch', 'sh*t'; Alcohol use shown; at least one character is bisexual, and some of their lines are loaded with innuendo; at least one female shows off significant cleavage; some monsters are naked statues; priest character is hit on by a married woman; lots of discussion around the fictional religion based loosely on Catholicism, with the Goddess Aidios, including passages from the Testaments; their version of hell is called Gehenna (a Hebrew word used for hell) and is discussed often, including that sinners go there and become fiends; various devils from the Testaments are also present; one attack has the shape of a pentagram; one scene near the end of the game is incredibly disturbing, as it details a young girl's life and eventual escape from a child prostitution ring

    In 3rd, the main protagonist is Kevin, the green spiky haired priest who debuted in SC. The game begins with you on a solo mission to retrieve an illegal artifact, which is a magical item from ages past. Their exact origins are unknown – but each one has powerful effects that modern orbal science cannot explain. One of the Septian Church's roles in this world is to catalog and collect these artifacts, as their powers can be very unusual and dangerous.

    His main role in the Church is to find these artifacts, and this leads to him working with the government of Liberl who found an unusual box in the remains of the calamity that happened at the end of Trails SC. It flashed with an unusual power, which is why he was called in. Once it is in his possession, he, and his squire Ries, are strangely sucked into another dimension of sorts, where the rest of the game takes place.

    In this dimension there are various planes, each of which takes place in a unique realm, which is awfully difficult to explain too much without major spoilers. But the main gist of it is that some are otherworldly places not too different from the Tetracyclic Towers in previous games, while others are seemingly based in the reality they are quite familiar with.

    As you go through the game, much of the fun is finding and unlocking pretty much every playable character from Trails in the Sky SC at some point. Each reunion is fun and in some cases heartfelt, as many dearly miss their old friends and comrades. And while the main scenario of the game is interesting, what really opens up the storytelling of the game are the Sun, Moon, and Star Doors.

    These Doors are each an independent story, with five Sun Doors, five Moon Doors, and fifteen Star Doors, for a total of twenty five side stories. The Sun Doors are mini games, with a bit less storytelling but more action (though they generally have great rewards). The Moon and Star Doors are all memories, with some taking place shortly before current events, with others many years prior.

    The Moon Doors are long side stories, that in some cases are more than an hour long. These go deep into the history of one or more characters, and take place far into the past in some cases. Star Doors are much shorter, sometimes on the order of just a few minutes, but they are often packed with useful or interesting information and backstory.

    The Doors are quite simply fantastic. You have a unique way of getting to know each and every one of these characters in a way that normally would be impossible. This series, Trails, has always excelled in telling stories, and helping you come to know and love each and every character, player or otherwise. But these Doors – they managed to surpass even my wildest expectations.

    I think the reason for this is that because of their format, they do not have to squeeze these stories into some overarching narrative, so they can tell exactly the stories that they want to. For example, they don't have to make some excuse to get Kloe to tell her story, or get Schera to tell hers, or get Agate and Tita to spill the beans on theirs – you bring the needed characters to the gate, and it reveals the memories before your eyes. It's a device that might not work for every game, but it works here – to great effect. I kind of hope they do something like this again, so that we can learn even more about some of the newer characters in the Legend of Heroes universe.

    It must be said that one of the Star Doors, number fifteen, is incredibly agonizing in the way that it tells the story there. Here, you have a child who lives through some of the most inhuman torture possible – she is sold to a prostitution ring – and you see her mental anguish and how she deals with it... and how she is rescued, including a side profile of her injured naked body. It's grotesque and would stun even the most callous adult. I understand why this is there because it fills in the backstory of a particularly damaged young person... but be advised this scene should be kept from anyone not old enough to handle such a shock. This scene was censored significantly from the Japanese PSP release because of the graphic content (not visually, necessarily, but storytelling-wise.)

    All of the other Door stories are positive, fun, or intriguing. Some have excessive alcohol consumption, a few have some swearing, and some set up powerful enemies for future titles, but none come even close to the nasty depravity of Star Door fifteen. You find this Door in a place called Gehenna – the Hebrew word for Hell, as it were – which is most certainly appropriate. It is also the last door found near the end of the game.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 49%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 4.5/10
    Sexual Content - 4/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 4/10

    Other appropriateness issues include language, with words like 'd*mn', 'h*ll', '*ss', 'b*st*rd', 'b*tch', and 'sh*t'. There are minor blood sprays and such, but mostly just simple RPG violence, where you see a character or spell hit another. There is alcohol and tobacco use. Like in previous games, Estelle and Joshua are both adopted brother/sister and boyfriend/girlfriend, but that is water under the bridge at this point.

    Olivier is still as obsessed with beauty as ever, and he still is as bisexual as ever as well. His jokes about passionate love with various characters, male and female included, continue in this installment. Other characters seem to consider situations 'romantic', even if there is not both a boy and a girl present. Another makes a comment that two girls look cute together, even if they understand that a man may come between them someday. One woman wears revealing outfits, and one enemy is basically a naked female statue.

    Kevin, our main man priest, is mostly very kind, but his language can be a bit coarse at times, like how he throws 'd*mn' and 'h*ll' around when he is angry, and he is a bit more casual than you might expect a priest to be. He lamented that he couldn't help out a woman whose husband wasn't 'meeting her needs' that hit on him. Thankfully, his cheesy pickup lines from SC are toned down a lot in this game, as he already knows almost everyone. Him and his close friend Ries grow a lot as characters, and it's great to see. I hope we see more of them in future Trails games.

    The spiritual aspects of the game universe are much more on display in this game, which is not too surprising considering our main heroes are from the Septian Church. There is much more discussion about the Sept-Terrions, which were gifts from the goddess Aidios. Aidios is very similar to our Christian God, with Catholic-like traditions, including even a Pope, Bishops, and a holy city (which in this case is Arteria rather than Rome). There is the occasional quotation from the Testaments, which is presumably reminiscent of the Bible, though they were not recognizable as Scripture to us Earth-types. One attack looks like a pentagram when used.

    Many of the enemies resemble various demonic or even angelic creatures, and some of them are explained in game as being right out of their Testaments. As previously mentioned, Gehenna is their Hell, and there are dead sinners and demons there, which you have to fight in some cases. Also, as souls die there, over time they become Grimiores, which are a strange type of enemy in this game.

    Graphically, this game is nearly identical to the previous games; it has a nice art style and has aged well, but you can definitely tell it is dated. After all, the game was originally released in 2007 in Japan, using a modified engine from 2004 or so. Musically, it's simply fantastic. This game may have the best soundtrack yet, and that is saying something. Their sound team deserves the highest accolades. There are voices in battle, but that is all. They are serviceable.

    Just before I completed this game to write this review, XSEED Games released Trails of Cold Steel on PC. As a result, they backported some of the new features from that release to these older games. The biggest notable new feature has to be Turbo mode, where you can make the game go much faster at the press of a button. While I would discourage you from using this on a first playthrough, it does help a lot during grinding. I was able to complete 300 runaway battles for a certain achievement in less than 30 minutes thanks to this awesome feature. It would have taken a few hours otherwise. I played the first seventy hours without this feature, and the last ten or so with it. It was definitely handy, and I probably shaved off between five to ten hours with it, I would discourage its use unless you simply won't play this game otherwise, as there is a certain joy to playing a good game at a more leisurely pace.

    Every new Legend of Heroes game I play is somehow better than the last in some way. While Trails in the Sky SC is probably the most epic game in the Sky trilogy, 3rd has managed to blow me away with an incredibly satisfying conclusion to this fantastic trilogy. If you played through SC and always felt like you wanted 'one more game!' with your favorite cast of characters, then you aren't alone – this game definitely delivers on that. For players of Trails in the Sky SC, this game is practically an automatic recommendation. If you are considering this series for younger players, please consider the content listed in all three reviews as a whole before making that decision. Let me assure you of one thing: once someone plays through Trails in the Sky, SC and 3rd are more an issue of when, not if. Lord willing, of course.

  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: December 22, 2015 (PS3/Vita); August 2, 2017 (Windows PC)
    Available On: PS3, PS Vita, Windows
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence
    Genre: RPG
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $39.99
    (Humble StoreLink)

    Thank you XSEED Games for sending us this game to review on PS3 and PS Vita, and now PC!

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is the sixth game in the 'Kiseki' game series, which is called 'Trails' here in the West. On release for PS3, only the first, second, and sixth games were available here. Now, we have the third and seventh, which we have also reviewed. The fourth and fifth games are not yet officially available in English. Trails of Cold Steel is the first of a new trilogy. Trails of Cold Steel II has already been released on PS3/Vita, and a PC version has been announced. Trails of Cold Steel III is currently in development at Falcom in Japan.

    The PC release of Trials of Cold Steel is XSEED's second from scratch PC port, with the many lessons from their first port coming into place here. They also hired the legendary PC modder Durante to take the port they got from their porting studio and vastly improve it. They wrote about that on one of their blogs, which is worth reading. Honestly, having played this port for a while, it is a truly excellent version. It supports custom resolutions, unlimited frame rates, massive detail enhancements including unlimited draw distance, MSAA, and more. And, five thousand new voice acted lines. On top of all that, they added Turbo Mode, which allows one to more quickly skip through some of the slower content. One of the best PC ports on recent memory, and clearly the definitive edition of this game.

    Trails of Cold Steel takes place concurrently with the fourth and fifth games, and the story is independent enough such that this is a decent place for new players to start. Having played Trails in the Sky FC and SC already, I did benefit from understanding additional lore, as well as background on characters and secret organizations that new players may not get. Nevertheless, being the first game in a new trilogy, this is a decent place to start. It is also by far the most modern entry, as The Legend of Heroes has come a long way since Trails in the Sky.

    Trails of Cold Steel has you following the life of Rean Schwarzer, a new student at Thors Military Academy, and the de facto leader of Class VII. This class is newly created this school year, using a different set of rules than the other classes. Classes I and II are all noble students, while classes III – V are students of commoner background. Class VII is different for a few reasons, and having mixed background students is only one of them. (Yes, there is no Class VI - and it wasn't explained to my recollection.)

    These differences make for some interesting characters and interactions, as well as more than a few clashes. But as these are dealt with, you get to see them become a very tight knit group, and grow as human beings. Falcom has a knack for writing wonderful characters, and this game is certainly no exception.

    Despite the somewhat anime trope-ish setting in what boils down to a high school, it's really hard to overstate how wonderful of a build up this game does in first introducing and making you fall in love with the characters, then slowly revealing the conflicts boiling just under the surface of the world, and then putting you into the middle of it all. The world building and storytelling is simply masterful, and you just can't help but keep coming back for more once you start playing. When I really like a game, I tend to be meticulous and make sure to talk to every NPC and get everything. This was one of those cases. It took me just over 135 hours to beat the game on my first playthrough, and I looked forward to every minute of it. (I suspect it would have gone much more quickly with the PC version's Turbo Mode, but I beat it first on PS3.)

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fantastic world building, storyline, writing, voice acting, characters, and music; fun battle system; very long adventure; draws lore from previous games; PC port is excellent and clearly the definitive edition of this game
    Weak Points: Occasional frame rate drops, especially on the PS Vita version (does not apply to the PC version!)
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence, with occasional blood; magic use, in the form of quasi-scientific orbments; heavy alcohol and tobacco use, including by role models; alcohol is offered to player (he turns it down); lots of conversation loaded with sexual innuendo or even upfront suggestive dialog (though no sex takes place); foul language, using words like 'd*mn', 'a*s', and 'sh*t'; several lesbian characters, including one who makes other girls feel uncomfortable with her directness, and is known to make boys sad with her skill at picking up girls; an older pervy grandpa is present; goddess Aidios is the main monotheistic deity, and other regional spiritual ideas are introduced, like the winds and spirits; vampires are present in a lore book 

    The game switches between more character-focused school days, where you get to bond with your classmates and talk to pretty much everyone on campus if you so choose, and field studies, where you get to go out into the world and solve problems for citizens as part of your course curriculum. You also have the opportunity to investigate an old schoolhouse, as well as help and protect people, which leads to plenty of opportunities to put your new ARCUS to good use, fighting lots of enemies along the way.

    The ARCUS is a new orbment system that differs significantly from how they worked in Trails in the Sky. Each character also uses a unique weapon and crafts, which are special skills only usable by that character. The ARCUS units allow you to use arts, which is similar to magic, and also use link attacks, where you and a partner can double attack (or more) each turn if you unbalance the opponent. Honestly, while I would have preferred it if they had kept the quartz link system for spells (so you wouldn't have to choose if you wanted the stronger or weaker versions of spells because of extravagant EP costs), the new system works well. It sometimes requires tough choices, as no one character can do everything, so each still has roles to fill. Sometimes you may want to optimize for physical attack strength, magic attack strength, speed, or some other effects. The ARCUS system allows you to do this, and more.

    The battle system is fully turn based, with each character and opponent shown in a list on the left, with various bonuses or detriments that will happen on that turn when it's up. If you don't like what is coming, there are plenty of ways to adjust the turn order, including casting arts, or simply using crafts that delay the opponent. Some attacks and other abilities also target a specific range, so placement on the field can be really important. It's a system that works really well. It's a good, straightforward improvement over Trails in the Sky's battle system, and the fully 3D rendered battles also look great.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, is in many ways an excellent evolution over what Trails in the Sky started ten years ago, in 2006. But, just like that game, which pushed a few odd social paradigms (adopted siblings falling in love, bisexual characters), this one does as well. And given the teenage characters involved, there is also a lot of suggestive language and situations. Now, where to start, there is so much to talk about here…

    It has to be said that the main character, Rean, is a perfect gentleman for the most part. He does notice a few characters and their 'assets', but he makes efforts to get his mind onto other things and stay respectful. But not all others, male or female, do the same. There is everything from the stereotypical anime pervy old man, to the rather odd fascination some girls (and women) seem to have with romance novels about young boy lovers. And of course, a sister has feelings for her adopted brother, though thankfully in this game those feelings are not returned.

    There is plenty of suggestive dialog to go around. From a flirty instructor who offers to kiss guys on the cheek, to a 'show dem t*tties' line to more ridiculous lines like 'does a large chest make it harder to climb ladders?' There is a boy whose specialty is taking pictures of girls, and the old pervy grandpa commenting on the 'smoldering homeroom hotties'. And that's only the beginning, for there is a ton of same-sex stuff as well…

    A vast majority of the same-sex lines revolve around a particular character, Angelica. She is a rather aggressive (and funny) second year student who is famous for breaking the hearts of the male population by building her own harem before the guys get a chance to get to them. She's rather unorthodox in more ways than one, as she refuses to wear the girl school uniform and is always clad in full leather. Some of the lines she says are admittedly very funny but… very inappropriate. It ranges from stuff like wanting to get 'intimately acquainted' with the new first year girls, to crazy lines like 'It's not like I spend all my time on the prowl for beautiful maidens to deflower,' and 'I'd like to press my delicates onto that ironing board'. She has also been known to take liberties with girls (like nuzzling against them) that guys would never be able to get away with. I can say this though: you can really tell the localization team had a great many laughs writing some of these lines.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 51%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 4.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

    There are other characters who say some rather odd or outright homosexual things as well. A good friend of Angelica says something like she 'took me for a ride the other day… on her bike, I mean'. One guy says to Angelica that she should stop feeling up lady luck after a particularly lucky break. A different girl also comments that she wants a handful of another girl's dynamite body. The game also seems to follow the trope that strong women naturally attract other girls. One of the main characters, Laura, is a very powerful warrior, and is the daughter of perhaps the nation's most famous swordsman. The girls in the town are rather protective and jealous of her, and won't let any men get near her. Another strong warrior girl has other girls wanting to stroke her hair, almost involuntarily. One other thing I noted is that when a lady steps into the room of girls reading the boy on boy love books, they ask if the guy she is looking for is a 'pitcher or a catcher'.

    Other suggestive or awkward situations also exist. Some characters made a big deal out of mixed gender bedrooms in one case. Honestly, there are so many lines that are loaded with innuendo that I simply stopped taking notes. Now, it's not to say that they are constant, after all this is a very long game, but if it isn't already incredibly obvious, this game is not for children, or even teens in many cases. If there is any uncertainty, just please don't.

    There is a fair amount of PG-13 level language as well. Words like 'd*mn', 'a*s', 'sh*t' are present. There is some blood, but it is not common, and mostly used in cut scenes. There is plenty of fantasy violence and magic. Undead and various ghost-like things, including demon spirits, are present. The Trails' world has a monotheistic goddess named Aidios, with many of the trappings that make the Septian Church that worships her quite similar to the Catholic church. Unlike previous games that I have played, this one explores other beliefs that exist outside of Aidios, like local animism to various regions. Some regions believe in the 'wind', and others believe in the 'spirits'. They didn't go into too much more than that. One of the animistic symbols looked a lot like a Celtic cross.

    Now, on to more pleasant topics. For the PlayStation versions, the graphics are good but not great. It's a fully 3D rendered game world, and the resolution is a bit low, but it works. Both the PS3 and PS Vita version experience framerate drops at times, but the Vita is far worse in that regard. But it's nothing that greatly detracts from the experience. I would say it's more than made up for by the really great soundtrack. Falcom Sound Team jdk just can't make a bad soundtrack. Every one that I have heard has been excellent.

    Now the PC version is another story. The textures and art assets are basically the same as the PS3 version, but the excellent PC port makes it look like a whole new game. While there are times that the polygon count seems a little low, the art style is still very nice, and it works really well. The massively improved shadows, lighting, draw distance, resolution, and anti-aliasing makes the game look stunning, within the limits of the art style. And Turbo Mode can make the somewhat slow pace really pick up, which is a nice touch. And there are fifty percent more voice lines, which is very noticable, since there were many times that Rean (and others) would be silent while others audibly talked to him in the PlayStation versions. The PC port is also really well optimized, and will work well on even very weak computers like the GPD Win.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is in many ways an excellent RPG. It has wonderful characters, an interesting and engrossing world, and a very enjoyable battle system. The voice acting is excellent (though it's only partial, not fully voice acted, which the PC version vastly improves but doesn't eliminate), and the writing and localization is of top quality. It even has decent replay value, with a New Game+ mode. The clear save data can also transfer to Cold Steel II. It's a must play for Trails fans. But it has to be said that the appropriateness issues are many, so please consider this carefully before making any purchasing decisions. Do not buy this game for your children!

  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II 
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: September 6, 2016 (PS3, Vita), February 14, 2018 (Windows PC)
    Available On: PS3, PS Vita, Windows
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence
    Genre: RPG
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $39.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you XSEED Games for sending us this game to review on PS3, PS Vita, and now PC!

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is the seventh game in the 'Kiseki' series, as it's known in Japan. It is known as the 'Trails' series in the west. This was the fourth Trails game released here, immediately after Trails of Cold Steel, which we reviewed. Now that this game has been released on PC, all of the English Trails games are playable, in arguably their definitive form, on Windows PC. This game is a direct sequel to Cold Steel; if you would rather not skip the first movie in the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings sagas, then I would highly recommend not doing so here as well. Since this is a highly connected series, you absolutely must play The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel before playing this game. If you skip directly to this game, there are many scenes that will not make sense. Do not do this. While I would recommend playing the Trails in the Sky trilogy (Sky, SC, and 3rd) before playing this game, it is not strictly necessary.

    The PC release of Trails of Cold Steel II from XSEED means all English Trails releases are now available on PC. Like last time, they hired the legendary PC modder Peter ‘Durante’ Thoman to make the port more than just a straight port – it’s nearly perfect in every way, with amazing improvements throughout. They wrote about many of the changes on one of their blogs, which is worth reading. Honestly, having played this port for a while, it is simply excellent. It supports custom resolutions, unlimited frame rates, massive detail enhancements including unlimited draw distance, massively improved lighting and shadows, MSAA, and more. And, fifty percent more voice acted lines. On top of all that, they added Turbo Mode, which allows one to more quickly skip through some of the slower content. And if that wasn’t enough, they added instant start mode, where you can choose from the launcher to immediately load the most recent save, without having to go through the main menu again. It’s one of the best PC ports in recent memory, and clearly the definitive edition of this game. (Falcom has announced a PS4 release for CS and CS II for Japan, and I seriously doubt that they will be any better than this release.) If that wasn’t enough, Durante has even added support for texture mods from the community, if you want the game to look as good as possible. (You still need to install the mod yourself, but he put hooks in there to make it much easier for the mod developers and end users.)

    Below this point there will be spoilers for Trails of Cold Steel (the first) below. This review assumes that you have played Cold Steel already. If you are looking for appropriateness changes, it is mostly the same as Cold Steel, with some small additions. Please refer to the highlights box. You have been warned!

    Trails of Cold Steel II takes place just a month or so after the events at the end of Cold Steel, where Valimar takes Rean after his nearly fatal battle with Crow and Ordine and spends a month healing and recuperating. When he finally awakens, he finds himself alone on a snowy mountain path near his hometown Ymir, along with the cat Celine, who has been watching over him. Valimar needs time to recharge, so Rean and Celine head down the mountain towards his home, where he finally meets some unexpectedly powerful opponents.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fantastic world building, storyline, writing, voice acting, characters, and music; fun battle system; very long adventure; draws lore from previous games; PC port is fantastic and clearly the definitive version of this game
    Weak Points:  Occasional frame rate drops, especially on the PS Vita version (does not apply to the PC version); you have to read the Memoirs from http://www.trailsofcoldsteel.com or you will be confused
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence, with occasional blood; magic use, in the form of quasi-scientific orbments; heavy alcohol and tobacco use, including by role models; alcohol is offered to the player (he turns it down); lots of conversation loaded with sexual innuendo or even upfront suggestive dialog (though no sex takes place); 'girl talk' about breast sizes; several females wear extremely revealing clothing; foul language, using words like 'd*mn', 'a*s', 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd', and 'sh*t'; it appears to be socially acceptable that an adopted son and daughter would be allowed to be a couple; at least one lesbian character, who makes other girls feel uncomfortable with her directness; an older pervy grandpa is present; one instructor may be gay; several girls’ preferred reading material involves gay boys; goddess Aidios is the main monotheistic deity, and other regional spiritual ideas are introduced, like the winds and spirits, which are expounded on more in this game, including mention of pre-Aidios orbment elements and spells, called Lost Arts; one Lost Art animation has small spinning stars inside a circle (pentagrams); one character is a member of the Occult Research Society, and listens to guardian spirits and devils, and can predict the future to some extent 

    Soon afterwards, in typical Rean fashion, he decides that he must reconnect with his friends from Class VII at all costs – and only then will he know what to do next. During this process, you come to realize what incredible impact the civil war between the Noble Alliance and the Imperial Army has had on Erobonia. Their reunions are each rather touching and well done. Falcom has always done a great job drawing out emotional scenes to give them extra impact, and this is no exception.

    Without getting too far into spoiler territory, Rean and his friends go to great lengths to reunite – but that's only the beginning. Rean, and his powerful Divine Knight, work hard to make a difference in a way only he can – and the results are spectacular.

    It's nice to start off the game in Rean's hometown Ymir, though it is really important to read the first of the two Memoirs on http://www.trailsofcoldsteel.com in the Trails of Cold Steel II section. This actually takes place near the end of Cold Steel, but for some reason it wasn't included in the game, so they decided to back-fill in this event in a drama CD that was included in the Japanese release of Cold Steel II. Rather than reenact the whole drama CD in English, XSEED decided to put the transcript up on the website above. It's strange, because if you don't read it before playing Cold Steel II, you will absolutely be confused as they refer back to the event depicted there many times in the first chapter or so of the game.

    Once you get past the game's early linearity, it really opens up in a rather pleasing way. You have the opportunity to travel across all of eastern Erebonia at will, and that non-linearity is a welcome change from the point A to B that Cold Steel has you do. You can explore the countryside as you wish (and you should!), as well as do quests in any order you like. If you are thorough in talking to everyone, after each main story event it is common for people all across the continent to have different things to say as the story progresses. This has always been a strong point of the Trails series; if you want to get to know each and every character, you can – there is a ton to explore and discover, including hidden quests. Finding and completing every quest, including hidden ones, has a big payoff, so it's very much worth doing.

    If you are like me, and want to see and get to know each and every NPC that is there to be met, and you explore every nook and cranny, you can easily spend well over one hundred hours playing this game. I completed it in over 135 hours, and there is even content hidden behind a new game + if you so choose. I wish I had time for such things, but alas, that is the life of a reviewer.

    Each character, and especially Rean, grows in some wonderful ways throughout the story. If Cold Steel is the origin story, then Cold Steel II is the story of how Class VII matures and becomes a force to be reckoned with. Even some of the more powerful opponents, over the course of the game, come to respect the power and conviction of the heroes. If you didn't love them already, this game drives you deeper into emotional attachment to these characters. Every member of not just Class VII, but the entire school at Thors Military Academy plays a significant role in what comes, and it's wonderful. The amount of people you become close to, and the relationships you forge are all very memorable. It's a great journey all around that just keeps building from game to game. But like all Trails games, you have to be prepared for the slow burn. But then again, if you played Cold Steel first, you know this already.

    The main gameplay systems are largely the same as Trails of Cold Steel, with some small but very welcome tweaks. The playable character roster is just huge, and has some characters that were formerly introduced become playable. It's fun to finally get to play as some of the people you became friends with in Cold Steel.

    Battles are very much like Cold Steel, which is fully turn based. Each character and opponent is shown in a list on the left, with various bonuses or detriments that will happen on that turn when it's up. If you don't like what is coming, there are plenty of ways to adjust the turn order, including casting arts, or simply using crafts that delay the opponent. Some attacks and other abilities also target a specific range, so placement on the field can also be really important. It's a system that works well. It's good fun, fast paced, and the fully 3D rendered battles look great.

    They added the overdrive system, as well as some new powers for Rean (which would be spoilers if I went into too much detail). The overdrive system is neat because you can activate the ability to have two turns in a row, with one turn in between with your link partner. Used correctly, this can do a ton of damage or otherwise be very effective.

    Another addition is the new Lost Arts. These are new spells that cost all EP when cast, but have massive effects. Rather than follow the earth/water/fire/air/time/space/mirage elemental system that all Trails games use, these are based on unknown elements from ages past. Though very expensive, they are very often worth it. They are basically S-Crafts in spell form. One of the spell animations does have pentagrams in it, which is unfortunate.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 51%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 4.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    Like all Falcom games, the music is simply fantastic. More than once a child of mine walked by and commented on the awesome music. While I couldn't always let them watch, that much is certainly true. The graphics are a bit dated, but pleasing. Like Cold Steel, there are times when the frame rate dips, especially on the Vita version. (This does not apply to the PC version – it’s perfect.) It’s a shame, but doesn’t really detract from the overall enjoyment of the experience.

    With great music, a lovable cast, and a deep and interesting grand adventure, there is a lot to like with Cold Steel II. Falcom in many ways is a master storyteller. However, like many of their more recent efforts, there is quite a lot to talk about when it comes to appropriateness issues to be aware of.

    There is fairly constant RPG violence, where you choose 'fight' and watch an attack happen. There are some cut scenes with blood as well. There is PG-13 level language, with words like 'd*mn', 'a*s', 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd;', and 'sh*t'. I found the foul language a bit more common than Cold Steel, but not dramatically so. There is magic, and plenty of it. Most of it is in the form of orbments, which are a quasi-scientific power source that can be harnessed to power both vacuum cleaners and magic spells.

    Undead and various ghost-like things, including demon spirits, are present. The Trails' world has a monotheistic goddess named Aidios, with many of the trappings that make it rather similar to the Catholic church. This one explores other beliefs that exist outside of Aidios, like local animism to various regions. Some regions believe in the 'wind', and others believe in the 'spirits'. There is also a 'Spirit Path' that is referenced and used. One of the animistic symbols looked a lot like a Celtic cross. There is also much more talk about witches and witchcraft, as well as a girl who is part of the Occult Research Society, who plays a more prominent role than in the last game. Where her divination skills come from is unclear, but she said "whenever the whispers of my guardian spirit and the devils beckoned me, I answered their call."

    The most appropriateness issues probably revolve around sexual content. One of the main characters shows off a ton of midriff. Her shorts are extremely short, and much belly is shown. Other girls are well endowed, and their clothing doesn’t hide it, though cleavage is not visible in most cases, other than with Instructor Sara. The other girls' outfits are stylish but not extreme, with one rather significant exception. She is playable near the end of the game, and wears an outfit that is ridiculous, especially around the posterior. Other than these cases, the outfits aren't that bad.

    Most of the characters in the first game that had rather unwholesome hobbies keep them. Some girls still love to read and write stories about boy lovers, and that is explored a bit more here. Other characters, like the lesbian Angelica, has less time to talk about or explore that side of her as she is too busy with the conflicts going on in real life. There is still the older, pervy grandpa, and he still manages to sneak in a comment or two. Rean’s adopted sister still has romantic feelings for him. Rean himself, while still a gentleman, finds himself in a few more inappropriate or unexpected circumstances than before. While he still acts with respect, he sometimes finds himself in compromising situations and (deservedly) incurs the girls' wrath. He means well but is stupid sometimes... Girls still talk with each other (and Rean) about various insecurities including breast sizes as well.

    Other characters who would occasionally make lewd comments continue to do so, though less frequently than before. One girl talks about sexual encounters that never actually happened, but jokes as though they did for comedic effect. Strong warrior women still seem to attract the affections of other girls, despite the feelings not being returned in that way. In summary, many of the same issues with sexual content that existed in the first game also exists here. There are probably less jokes, as the overall tone of the game is more serious, but it's not without some laughs. Like before, this game is not for children, or perhaps teens.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is an excellent follow up to the already great Trails of Cold Steel. It’s really more of a continuation of Cold Steel rather than its own game, and should be treated as such. As before, the writing and localization is excellent, and if a potentially very long main game isn't enough, there is good replay value with a New Game+ mode, with some content only available there. It is highly recommended that you import your save data from Trails of Cold Steel, as certain relationship choices from that game make an impact here also. As before, if you are uncertain about appropriateness issues, please consider this game along with Trails of Cold Steel together, as they are both part of a whole. If the content of Cold Steel was acceptable, then this game doesn't really push the envelope too much farther. The PC port is truly excellent. If you have already played and enjoyed Cold Steel, this game is a must buy.

  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (PS3, PS Vita)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: September 6, 2016
    Available On: PS3, PS Vita
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence 
    Genre: RPG
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $39.99

    Thank you XSEED Games for sending us this game to review on both PS3 and PS Vita!

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is the seventh game in the 'Kiseki' series, as it's known in Japan.  It is known as the 'Trails' series in the west.  This is the fourth Trails game released here, immediately after Trails of Cold Steel, which we reviewed.  This game is a direct sequel; if you would rather not skip the first movie in the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings sagas, then I would highly recommend not doing so here as well.  Since this is a highly connected series, you absolutely must play The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel before playing this game.  If you skip directly to this game, there are many scenes that will not make sense.  Do not do this.  While I would recommend playing Trails in the Sky FC and SC (or 3rd once released) before playing this game, it is not strictly necessary.

    Below this point there will be spoilers for Trails of Cold Steel (the first) below.  This review assumes that you have played Cold Steel already.  If you are looking for appropriateness changes, it is mostly the same as Cold Steel, with some small additions.  Please refer to the highlights box.  You have been warned!

    Trails of Cold Steel II takes place just a month or so after the events at the end of Cold Steel, where Valimar takes Rean after his nearly fatal battle with Crow and Ordine and spends a month healing and recuperating.  When he finally awakens, he finds himself alone on a snowy mountain path near his hometown Ymir, along with the cat Celine, who has been watching over him.  Valimar needs time to recharge, so Rean and Celine head down the mountain towards his home, where he finally meets some unexpectedly powerful opponents.

    Soon afterwards, in typical Rean fashion, he decides that he must reconnect with his friends from Class VII at all costs – and only then will he know what to do next.  During this process, you come to realize what incredible impact the civil war between the Noble Alliance and the Imperial Army has had on Erobonia.  Their reunions are each rather touching and well done.  Falcom has always done a great job drawing out emotional scenes to give them extra impact, and this is no exception.

    Without getting too far into spoiler territory, Rean and his friends go to great lengths to reunite – but that's only the beginning.  Rean, and his powerful Divine Knight, work hard to make a difference in a way only he can – and the results are spectacular.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fantastic world building, storyline, writing, voice acting, characters, and music; fun battle system; very long adventure; draws lore from previous games
    Weak Points: Occasional frame rate drops, especially on the PS Vita version; you have to read the Memoirs from http://www.trailsofcoldsteel.com or you will be confused
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence, with occasional blood; magic use, in the form of quasi-scientific orbments; heavy alcohol and tobacco use, including by role models; alcohol is offered to the player (he turns it down); lots of conversation loaded with sexual innuendo or even upfront suggestive dialog (though no sex takes place); 'girl talk' about breast sizes; several females wear extremely revealing clothing; foul language, using words like 'd*mn', 'a*s', 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd', and 'sh*t'; it appears to be socially acceptable that an adopted son and daughter would be allowed to be a couple; at least one lesbian character, who makes other girls feel uncomfortable with her directness; an older pervy grandpa is present; one instructor may be gay; several girls’ preferred reading material involves gay boys; goddess Aidios is the main monotheistic deity, and other regional spiritual ideas are introduced, like the winds and spirits, which are expounded on more in this game, including mention of pre-Aidios orbment elements and spells, called Lost Arts; one Lost Art animation has small spinning stars inside a circle (pentagrams); one character is a member of the Occult Research Society, and listens to guardian spirits and devils, and can predict the future to some extent

    It's nice to start off the game in Rean's hometown Ymir, though it is really important to read the first of the two Memoirs on http://www.trailsofcoldsteel.com in the Trails of Cold Steel II section.  This actually takes place near the end of Cold Steel, but for some reason it wasn't included in the game, so they decided to back-fill in this event in a drama CD that was included in the Japanese release of Cold Steel II.  Rather than reenact the whole drama CD in English, XSEED decided to put the transcript up on the website above.  It's strange, because if you don't read it before playing Cold Steel II, you will absolutely be confused as they refer back to the event depicted there many times in the first chapter or so of the game.

    Once you get past the game's early linearity, it really opens up in a rather pleasing way.  You have the opportunity to travel across all of eastern Erebonia at will, and that non-linearity is a welcome change from the point A to B that Cold Steel has you do.  You can explore the countryside as you wish (and you should!), as well as do quests in any order you like.  If you are thorough in talking to everyone, after each main story event it is common for people all across the continent to have different things to say as the story progresses.  This has always been a strong point of the Trails series; if you want to get to know each and every character, you can – there is a ton to explore and discover, including hidden quests.  Finding and completing every quest, including hidden ones, has a big payoff, so it's very much worth doing.

    If you are like me, and want to see and get to know each and every NPC that is there to be met, and you explore every nook and cranny, you can easily spend well over one hundred hours playing this game.  I completed it in over 135 hours, and there is even content hidden behind a new game + if you so choose.  I wish I had time for such things, but alas, that is the life of a reviewer.

    Each character, and especially Rean, grows in some wonderful ways throughout the story.  If Cold Steel is the origin story, then Cold Steel II is the story of how Class VII matures and becomes a force to be reckoned with.  Even some of the more powerful opponents, over the course of the game, come to respect the power and conviction of the heroes.  If you didn't love them already, this game drives you deeper into emotional attachment to these characters.  Every member of not just Class VII, but the entire school at Thors Military Academy plays a significant role in what comes, and it's wonderful.  The amount of people you become close to, and the relationships you forge are all very memorable.  It's a great journey all around that just keeps building from game to game.  But like all Trails games, you have to be prepared for the slow burn.  But then again, if you played Cold Steel first, you know this already.

    The main gameplay systems are largely the same as Trails of Cold Steel, with some small but very welcome tweaks.  The playable character roster is just huge, and has some characters that were formerly introduced become playable.  It's fun to finally get to play as some of the people you became friends with in Cold Steel.

    Battles are very much like Cold Steel, which is fully turn based.  Each character and opponent is shown in a list on the left, with various bonuses or detriments that will happen on that turn when it's up.  If you don't like what is coming, there are plenty of ways to adjust the turn order, including casting arts, or simply using crafts that delay the opponent.  Some attacks and other abilities also target a specific range, so placement on the field can also be really important. It's a system that works well. It's good fun, fast paced, and the fully 3D rendered battles look great. 

    They added the overdrive system, as well as some new powers for Rean (which would be spoilers if I went into too much detail).  The overdrive system is neat because you can activate the ability to have two turns in a row, with one turn in between with your link partner.  Used correctly, this can do a ton of damage or otherwise be very effective.

    Another addition is the new Lost Arts.  These are new spells that cost all EP when cast, but have massive effects.  Rather than follow the earth/water/fire/air/time/space/mirage elemental system that all Trails games use, these are based on unknown elements from ages past.  Though very expensive, they are very often worth it.  They are basically S-Crafts in spell form.  One of the spell animations does have pentagrams in it, which is unfortunate.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 51%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 4.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    Like all Falcom games, the music is simply fantastic.  More than once a child of mine walked by and commented on the awesome music.  While I couldn't always let them watch, that much is certainly true.  The graphics are a bit dated, but pleasing.  Like Cold Steel, there are times when the frame rate dips, especially on the Vita version.  It’s a shame, but doesn’t really detract from the overall enjoyment of the experience.

    With great music, a lovable cast, and a deep and interesting grand adventure, there is a lot to like with Cold Steel II.  Falcom in many ways is a master storyteller. However, like many of their more recent efforts, there is quite a lot to talk about when it comes to appropriateness issues to be aware of.

    There is fairly constant RPG violence, where you choose 'fight' and watch an attack happen.  There are some cut scenes with blood as well.  There is PG-13 level language, with words like 'd*mn', 'a*s', 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd;', and 'sh*t'.  I found the foul language a bit more common than Cold Steel, but not dramatically so. There is magic, and plenty of it.  Most of it is in the form of orbments, which are a quasi-scientific power source that can be harnessed to power both vacuum cleaners and magic spells.

    Undead and various ghost-like things, including demon spirits, are present.  The Trails' world has a monotheistic goddess named Aidios, with many of the trappings that make it rather similar to the Catholic church.  This one explores other beliefs that exist outside of Aidios, like local animism to various regions.  Some regions believe in the 'wind', and others believe in the 'spirits'. There is also a 'Spirit Path' that is referenced and used.  One of the animistic symbols looked a lot like a Celtic cross.  There is also much more talk about witches and witchcraft, as well as a girl who is part of the Occult Research Society, who plays a more prominent role than in the last game.  Where her divination skills come from is unclear, but she said "whenever the whispers of my guardian spirit and the devils beckoned me, I answered their call."

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II

    The most appropriateness issues probably revolve around sexual content.  One of the main characters shows off a ton of midriff.  Her shorts are extremely short, and much belly is shown.  Other girls are well endowed, and their clothing doesn’t hide it, though cleavage is not visible in most cases, other than with Instructor Sara.  The other girls' outfits are stylish but not extreme, with one rather significant exception.  She is playable near the end of the game, and wears an outfit that is ridiculous, especially around the posterior.  Other than these cases, the outfits aren't that bad.

    Most of the characters in the first game that had rather unwholesome hobbies keep them.  Some girls still love to read and write stories about boy lovers, and that is explored a bit more here.  Other characters, like the lesbian Angelica, has less time to talk about or explore that side of her as she is too busy with the conflicts going on in real life.  There is still the older, pervy grandpa, and he still manages to sneak in a comment or two.  Rean’s adopted sister still has romantic feelings for him.  Rean himself, while still a gentleman, finds himself in a few more inappropriate or unexpected circumstances than before. While he still acts with respect, he sometimes finds himself in compromising situations and (deservedly) incurs the girls' wrath.  He means well but is stupid sometimes...  Girls still talk with each other (and Rean) about various insecurities about breast sizes as well.

    Other characters who would occasionally make lewd comments continue to do so, though less frequently than before.  One girl talks about sexual encounters that never actually happened, but jokes as though they did for comedic effect.  Strong warrior women still seem to attract the affections of other girls, despite the feelings not being returned in that way.  In summary, many of the same issues with sexual content that existed in the first game also exists here.  There are probably less jokes, as the overall tone of the game is more serious, but it's not without some laughs.  Like before, this game is not for children, or perhaps teens.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is an excellent follow up to the already great Trails of Cold Steel.  It’s really more of a continuation of Cold Steel rather than its own game, and should be treated as such.  As before, the writing and localization is excellent, and if a potentially very long main game isn't enough, there is good replay value with a New Game+ mode, with some content only available there.  It is highly recommended that you import your save data from Trails of Cold Steel, as certain relationship choices from that game make an impact here also.  As before, if you are uncertain about appropriateness issues, please consider this game along with Trails of Cold Steel together, as they are both part of a whole.  If the content of Cold Steel was acceptable, then this game doesn't really push the envelope too much farther.  If you have already played and enjoyed Cold Steel, this game is a must buy.

  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom, Engine Software BV, PH3 GmbH
    Published By: NIS America, Inc.
    Release Date: October 22, 2019 (PS4), March 23, 2020 (Windows)
    Available On: PS4, Switch (coming soon), Windows
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
    Genre: RPG
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $59.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    This series, The Legend of Heroes, has had a pretty storied history when it comes to platforms. The first few games, Trails in the Sky, were all Windows PC native, with PSP ports later. The Crossbell duology were PSP only (not counting Evolution ports made by another company), and the Cold Steel series was PS Vita and PS3, with later ports to other systems. Cold Steel III was first released on PS4.

    Given the PC beginnings of the series, and the relative popularity of the platform in the West, XSEED Games made sure that every game they published (with one exception – but it does emulate well in PPSSPP) also eventually got a PC port. This includes the Trails of Cold Steel I & II ports, which were truly excellent and happened to be ported by the legendary PC modder Durante.

    Durante's ports aren't just good - they're fantastic. So great, that Falcom actually took some of the new features that he introduced into the PC versions and started adding those new features to their future PlayStation releases. This is how things like the Turbo Mode (fast forward through the game at the press of a button) got added to pretty much all Trails games now; you can thank Durante and his excellent PC ports for that. XSEED Games even backported the popular feature to the Steam versions of the Trails in the Sky games as well.

    XSEED Games and Durante did such a great job with the Cold Steel ports that fans were worried and wondered how NIS America could continue that same amazing standard of quality for the PC ports that Cold Steel started. That is why it was with great joy and excitement that NIS America ended up contracting out Durante once again - through his new company PH3 GmbH - to port Cold Steel III to PC. Fans were relieved and overjoyed that we could once again expect the same excellent quality on the Cold Steel III PC port once again.

    And he certainly pulled out all of the stops. We not only have custom resolutions and anti-aliasing, but we have entirely new rendering features like HBAO (Horizon-Based Ambient Occlusion), as well as returning features like Turbo Mode and quick start, where the game automatically loads the most recent save so you can skip the startup screens and get right into the action. There are also little things, like proper button prompts even if you customize controls, full keyboard & mouse support, ultra widescreen support, and so on. While it's not supported, the game also runs pretty well on Steam's Proton for Linux (though the occasional crash or error message does happen, it plays really well most of the time).

    I also love how the game scales both up and down so well. For example, I can make it look quite pretty with perfectly smooth frame rates on my powerful desktop, or I can scale it down to run on my handheld GPD Win 2. It has a preset 'portable' setting designed just for such a low-powered device. While it won’t scale as low as the Cold Steel I & II ports (this game has higher-quality assets), it's still extremely well optimized and runs great on anything. Thankfully, the game itself is still worth playing.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Absolutely fantastic PC port, as PH3 GmbH tends to do; even works in Linux (unofficially); continues the excellent world building, characters, storyline, writing, and music that the Trails series is known for; excellent localization and voice acting; fun battle system, that is even more streamlined than before; extremely long game; borrows and builds from the foundation of previous entries in the series
    Weak Points: Occasional frame rate drops on PS4 (not PC if your hardware is good enough); extremely long game; borrows and builds from the foundation of previous entries in the series
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence, with occasional blood; magic use, in the form of quasi-scientific orbments, as well as more occult-like magic used by witches; alcohol and tobacco use, including by the main character once he is of legal age (he turns an opportunity down before his birthday); conversations include sexual innuendo or even upfront suggestive dialog (though no sex takes place); 'girl talk' about breast sizes; several females wear extremely revealing clothing; foul language, using words like 'd*mn', 'a*s', 'h*ll', 'b*st*rd', and 'sh*t', along with some approximations like 'friggin' and a character flicking off with their middle finger; it appears to be socially acceptable that an adopted son and daughter would be allowed to be a couple; at least one lesbian character, who makes other girls feel uncomfortable with her directness; a woman puts her hand under another woman's armor and grabs her breasts against her will; a male student tells a women he wants to '[get] to the bottom of them tig ol' bitties' to her face; an older pervy grandpa is present, calling out how cute the girls are; one student keeps flirting and trying to sexually hit on her instructor, persistently enough that his friends ask if he's fooling around; several girls' preferred reading material involves homosexual boys; swimsuit magazines are shown at a distance, and several students prize their collections, along with an instructor; goddess Aidios is the main monotheistic deity, and other regional ancient religions are discussed, like animism; gambling 

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is the latest (in the West; Cold Steel IV is available in Japan) release in Falcom's long-running Legend of Heroes: Trails series. This series has been releasing games since 2011 here, and 2004(!) in Japan. Thankfully, XSEED Games worked really hard to bring those earlier entries to English, and now NIS America has done a wonderful job taking the mantle from them to bring this latest, and possibly longest game yet.

    The Trails series consists of eight (ignoring Cold Steel IV) games in the long-running series, all of which are connected and take place in the same world. The Trails in the Sky trilogy takes place in Liberl, during years 1202 and 1203 in the Septian calendar. The Crossbell game duo, which are the only ones not currently available officially in English (there are fan translations), take place simultaneously with Trails of Cold Steel I & II during years 1204 and part of 1205. Trails of Cold Steel III is the latest entry, and takes place in 1205.

    SPOILER WARNING: From here on, it is assumed that you have already played at least Trails of Cold Steel I & II, though really you should play the entire series (as much as is available in your region) before playing this game. While I will try to avoid spoilers for the previous games as best as I can, it's impossible to avoid them all. Don't say I didn't warn you! This is a tightly-connected series of games. Play them in order!

    And really, this game, far more than any other entry, relies on the other Trails games more intricately than any I have played to date. Well, except for 3rd. That game would make zero sense if you hadn't met the characters before. Regardless, it saddens me that I couldn't play Zero or Azure (the tentative English titles of the Crossbell games) since there is an entire chapter dedicated to Crossbell, where you get to meet some of the cast from those games. A few characters from the Sky trilogy are present, and several events discussed there are discussed in great detail. For goodness sake, do NOT play Cold Steel III as your first game - and play the entire Sky trilogy, along with Cold Steel I & II first if you can. (If you are able/willing to use fan translations, I would advise playing Zero/Azure first, also. I know I missed important details by not having done so myself.)

    With that out of the way, I hope this means you are reading from this point on because you have already played five+ other games and you just want to know if this one lives up to the standards of the previous entries. And to that I say yes - very much yes.

    Shortly after the events of Cold Steel II, Rean has graduated from Thors and, rather than going into the military and allowing his exceptional powers and skills to be used by the same government he has reservations about, he instead chooses to become an instructor at Thors' newly established branch campus. While the main campus was realigned to have far more focus on military pursuits, the branch campus' activities far more closely align to the values and mission that Thors' main campus had during Rean's time as a student. As a result, the focus on student autonomy and club activities remains.

    The school's staff is bare bones at best, and many of the students were main campus rejects, or simply didn't have the standing to get into the highly competitive main campus. Others chose to avoid the main campus for personal or other reasons. Regardless, Rean is chosen to lead the newly formed Class VII: Special Operations, and he is given a rather small roster of three students to start with, that are uniquely gifted in skills, leadership, or combat experience.

    At first, I didn't feel much connection with the new Class VII, as I had already gotten to know the old ones through two games and much adventure. And I suppose it's fair to say I still prefer them, though I have had to make room for the new kids, and I did end up warming up to them after all. That just makes the roller coaster that would be the last few chapters all that much more intense.

    The story starts off slow, with what feels like a bit of a rehashing of Cold Steel I, though thankfully the focus is a bit different. Rean is a teacher rather than a student, and the central conflict is different. In place of the pre-civil war noble and commoner conflict, this time there is a different, almost more spiritual undercurrent to what is going on in Erebonia. To say much more would veer far into spoiler territory.

    What I will say is that if you have been keeping up with the games, and following all that is happening, you will be more than rewarded playing through Cold Steel III. The culmination of the characters, lore, secret societies, and many conspiracies that comes to light in this game is a sight to behold. It gets as seemingly crazy as an Alex Jones documentary. I found myself wondering a few times if the parallels between this fiction and real life were coincidental or intentional.

    From a gameplay perspective, it takes the already streamlined turn-based battles that Cold Steel II had and makes it even better. You now have a second use for Brave Points, called Orders. Rather than just more powerful link combos, you can choose to spend the points to issue Orders that can significantly alter the flow of battle. For example, one order increases damage by 20% for the whole party. Another halves damage taken, which can be critical to use to survive some boss encounters. This additional set of tools makes a big difference. They also improved the break system; enemies (and players) can be worn down in battle, and once stunned, your team has nearly guaranteed criticals and do massively more damage until the enemy has the power to recover. The impact of this new system is huge, and can really turn the tide in almost any battle.

    Additionally, they streamlined the control system to have each command be only a button press away, rather than the menu-based method of issuing commands from previous games. This is one of those changes I didn't know I wanted until I got it. It makes the already quick battle system from Cold Steel even quicker. If that wasn't enough, they added a 'High-Speed Mode' that was a popular addition that the PC releases of Cold Steel pioneered, and so now it seems likely that all future Cold Steel games will have to have it. It makes grinding, walking about the large towns and forests, and rewatching cutscenes for various achievements far more tolerable. (You can skip cutscenes with a button press, but sometimes it skips too much.) Every little bit helps, too, because this game is massive ' one of the longest I've ever played. It took me over 160 hours(!) to complete, though if I hadn't made effort to complete every quest and see every bit of expertly-localized dialog I could, it might have gone a bit more quickly.

    While Cold Steel II had Divine Knight battles, and they were quite enjoyable in their own right, they really upped their game here to include Panzer Soldat (mechanized suit) battles. Not only can you fight alone in Valimar, other members of Class VII can pilot their own Soldats. This can lead to some pretty intense three by three mech battles. I really like the tweaks they made to the battle system all around, especially when it comes to the mechanized robot fighting.

    At the end of the day, if you have played any of the Cold Steel games, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. It's still a 3D-rendered anime-style game world, with real-time map movement through mostly linear levels, with turn-based battles. The attacks (physical), crafts (special attacks), and arts (magic) are all still there. There are other additional tweaks like the sub master quartz system, and probably several others I've forgotten, but if you've already enjoyed Cold Steel, then there is more of that here. And in my opinion, that's a good thing.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 95%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 50%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 4/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    Everything else that makes these games great, like the music and voice acting, is as great as always. Conversely, the graphics are still nothing special, but they do the job of telling the story and facilitating the gameplay just fine. Strangely enough, despite the graphics being good but not great, there are still occasional frame rate drops on PS4 Pro. I primarily found this to be an issue during a few particularly busy scenes in town, where there are lots of NPCs everywhere. The game also lacks anti-aliasing as best as I can tell. On PC, all of these issues are resolved if you have powerful enough hardware to handle the graphical load. Lower-end PCs may still struggle in places.

    As much as I enjoyed this game, and I look forward to the next one, it has to be said that the moral issues abound - just as they do in previous entries. If it's an issue with Cold Steel I or II, there are few surprises here. The main issue I can think of that's new is that instead of a teacher hitting on you, a student, you are getting hit on by a female student, as an instructor. Another is that swimsuit magazines were introduced in this entry, and apparently some guys collect them. One scene has a girl borderline sexually assaulting another girl by grabbing her breasts against her will, and the last that comes to mind is how evil is willing to sacrifice human lives to further their goals. But, for the sake of completeness, let's list it all out.

    There is fantasy violence, as expected in RPG games, along with occasional blood, in certain cut scenes in particular. There is PG-13 level language, with examples like 'd*mn', 'a*s', 'h*ll', 'b*st*rd', and 'sh*t', along with some approximations like 'friggin' and a character flicking off with their middle finger. I wouldn't say foul language is particularly common, but it's there.

    Magic and spells are still present, though most come in the form of the quasi-scientific power called orbments, that powers both modern conveniences like cars and motorcycles, as well as magical effects. There is a larger presence of witchcraft-style magic, as a prominent character can cast spells through magical sayings. Some spells show hexagrams prominently displayed.

    Religion is still primarily the Catholic-like Septian Church, where they worship a monotheistic goddess named Aidios. They also feature local animist religions, as well as delve deep into lore relating to the early of the church, and many of the mysteries therein. This is part of the reason why lore junkies will absolutely love Cold Steel III. Spiritual forces, curses, and more, play a large part in the story. Like in CS2, a Celtic cross plays prominently in animism symbolism.

    As in previous titles, most appropriateness issues revolve around sexual ones. As already mentioned, a student hitting on a teacher is a recurring gag. Early in the game, one of the enemies grabs another enemy ladies' breasts rather aggressively; I felt like it was basically sexual assault, as it was clearly unwanted. Along those lines, a male student says he wants to '[get] to the bottom of them tig ol' bitties' to a woman's face, and she gets rather red after hearing that. A pervy grandpa is present in another scene, and he still approves if you were to choose to make moves on his granddaughter. (Rean is a gentleman - almost too much so, as he has several women who clearly like him, and he is made fun of for his obliviousness to it all.)

    As mentioned before, girly magazines are a new 'feature' of this game, though you can't read them as the player. Several girls still love to read and share stories about budding romances between homosexual boys. Angelica still is clearly lesbian, and it goes so far as to have a married woman blush and get flustered when she receives a compliment from her. Her husband notices, and gets understandably angry...

    Women still sometimes show off significant cleavage, and some wear ridiculous outfits that show off tons of skin. A few of the women really 'grew up' and wear outfits that show how they have been blessed, if you get my drift. Short skirts are as short as they can get in a 'family friendly' game, if you catch my drift.

    Sexual innuendo is present reasonably often, particularly with that student being around as much as she is. Despite this, no actual sex takes place, on or off camera. There is 'girl talk' though, about things like breast sizes and such. Other issues to note is that Rean becomes legal drinking age, and as such, he has his first drinks in-game, as well as partakes in gambling on horses for the first time. He is always responsible. Another character smokes tobacco.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is another truly excellent entry in the Legends of Heroes: Trails series, and a very welcome one at that. The final chapter is incredible, and has one of the worst cliffhangers possible in the known universe. Cold Steel IV cannot get here fast enough. If you are already a Trails fan, you probably don't need me to tell you to get this game; if you are on the fence for any reason, don't be - unless you want to wait for its release on your preferred platform (Switch is the only announced platform currently unreleased), or even possibly wait for CS IV so the painful wait in between entries is shorter. That I can understand. Thankfully the PC port is fantastic, so if you have a halfway decent gaming PC, feel free to go for this version if you're considering it. As before, this game series is not for children, so please game responsibly. If you are already invested in this series, I see no reason not to continue. Just realize that you absolutely should not, under any circumstances, start the Trails series with this game. That would be just silly.

  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: NIS America
    Release Date: October 22, 2019
    Available On: PS4 (PC likely coming, but not announced)
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
    Genre: RPG
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $56.89
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

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

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is the latest (in the West; Cold Steel IV is available in Japan) release in Falcom's long-running Legend of Heroes: Trails series. This series has been releasing games since 2011 here, and 2004(!) in Japan. Thankfully, XSEED Games worked really hard to bring those earlier entries to English, and now NIS America has done a wonderful job taking the mantle from them to bring this latest, and possibly longest game yet.

    The Trails series consists of eight (ignoring Cold Steel IV) games in the long-running series, all of which are connected and take place in the same world. The Trails in the Sky trilogy takes place in Liberl, during years 1202 and 1203 in the Septian calendar. The Crossbell game duo, which are the only ones not currently available officially in English (there are fan translations), take place simultaneously with Trails of Cold Steel I & II during years 1204 and part of 1205. Trails of Cold Steel III is the latest entry, and takes place in 1205.

    SPOILER WARNING: From here on, it is assumed that you have already played at least Trails of Cold Steel I & II, though really you should play the entire series (as much as is available in your region) before playing this game. While I will try to avoid spoilers for the previous games as best as I can, it's impossible to avoid them all. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! This is a tightly-connected series of games. Play them in order!

    And really, this game, far more than any other entry, relies on the other Trails games more intricately than any I have played to date. Well, except for 3rd. That game would make zero sense if you hadn’t met the characters before. Regardless, it saddens me that I couldn’t play Zero or Azure (the tentative English titles of the Crossbell games) since there is an entire chapter dedicated to Crossbell, where you get to meet some of the cast from those games. A few characters from the Sky trilogy are present, and several events discussed there are discussed in great detail. For goodness sake, do NOT play Cold Steel III as your first game – and play the entire Sky trilogy, along with Cold Steel I & II first if you can. (If you are able/willing to use fan translations, I would advise playing Zero/Azure first, also. I know I missed important details by not having done so myself.)

    With that out of the way, I hope this means you are reading from this point on because you have already played five+ other games and you just want to know if this one lives up to the standards of the previous entries. And to that I say yes – very much yes.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Continues the excellent world building, characters, storyline, writing, and music that the Trails series is known for; excellent localization and voice acting; fun battle system, that is even more streamlined than before; extremely long game; borrows and builds from the foundation of previous entries in the series
    Weak Points: Occasional frame rate drops; extremely long game; borrows and builds from the foundation of previous entries in the series
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence, with occasional blood; magic use, in the form of quasi-scientific orbments, as well as more occult-like magic used by witches; alcohol and tobacco use, including by the main character once he is of legal age (he turns an opportunity down before his birthday); conversations include sexual innuendo or even upfront suggestive dialog (though no sex takes place); 'girl talk' about breast sizes; several females wear extremely revealing clothing; foul language, using words like 'd*mn', 'a*s', 'h*ll', 'b*st*rd', and 'sh*t', along with some approximations like 'friggin' and a character flicking off with their middle finger; it appears to be socially acceptable that an adopted son and daughter would be allowed to be a couple; at least one lesbian character, who makes other girls feel uncomfortable with her directness; a woman puts her hand under another woman's armor and grabs her breasts against her will; a male student tells a women he wants to '[get] to the bottom of them tig ol' bitties' to her face; an older pervy grandpa is present, calling out how cute the girls are; one student keeps flirting and trying to sexually hit on her instructor, persistently enough that his friends ask if he's fooling around; several girls’ preferred reading material involves homosexual boys; swimsuit magazines are shown at a distance, and several students prize their collections, along with an instructor; goddess Aidios is the main monotheistic deity, and other regional ancient religions are discussed, like animism; gambling

    Shortly after the events of Cold Steel II, Rean has graduated from Thors and, rather than going into the military and allowing his exceptional powers and skills to be used by the same government he has reservations about, he instead chooses to become an instructor at Thors’ newly established branch campus. While the main campus was realigned to have far more focus on military pursuits, the branch campus’ activities far more closely align to the values and mission that Thors’ main campus had during Rean’s time as a student. As a result, the focus on student autonomy and club activities remains.

    The school’s staff is bare bones at best, and many of the students were main campus rejects, or simply didn’t have the standing to get into the highly competitive main campus. Others chose to avoid the main campus for personal or other reasons. Regardless, Rean is chosen to lead the newly formed Class VII: Special Operations, and he is given a rather small roster of three students to start with, that are uniquely gifted in skills, leadership, or combat experience.

    At first, I didn’t feel much connection with the new Class VII, as I had already gotten to know the old ones through two games and much adventure. And I suppose it’s fair to say I still prefer them, though I have had to make room for the new kids, and I did end up warming up to them after all. That just makes the roller coaster that would be the last few chapters all that much more intense.

    The story starts off slow, with what feels like a bit if a rehashing of Cold Steel I, though thankfully the focus is a bit different. Rean is a teacher rather than a student, and the central conflict is different. In place of the pre-civil war noble and commoner conflict, this time there is a different, almost more spiritual undercurrent to what is going on in Erebonia. To say much more would veer far into spoiler territory.

    What I will say is that if you have been keeping up with the games, and following all that is happening, you will be more than rewarded playing through Cold Steel III. The culmination of the characters, lore, secret societies, and many conspiracies that comes to light in this game is a sight to behold. It gets as seemingly crazy as an Alex Jones documentary. I found myself wondering a few times if the parallels between this fiction and real life were coincidental or intentional.

    From a gameplay perspective, it takes the already streamlined turn-based battles that Cold Steel II had and makes it even better. You now have a second use for Brave Points, called Orders. Rather than just more powerful link combos, you can choose to spend the points to issue Orders that can significantly alter the flow of battle. For example, one order increases damage by 20% for the whole party. Another halves damage taken, which can be critical to use to survive some boss encounters. This additional set of tools makes a big difference. They also improved the break system; enemies (and players) can be worn down in battle, and once stunned, your team has nearly guaranteed criticals and do massively more damage until the enemy has the power to recover. The impact of this new system is huge, and can really turn the tide in almost any battle.

    Additionally, they streamlined the control system to have each command be only a button press away, rather than the menu-based method of issuing commands from previous games. This is one of those changes I didn’t know I wanted until I got it. It makes the already quick battle system from Cold Steel even quicker. If that wasn’t enough, they added a ‘High-Speed Mode’ that was a popular addition that the PC releases of Cold Steel pioneered, and so now it seems likely that all future Cold Steel games will have to have it. It makes grinding, walking about the large towns and forests, and rewatching cutscenes for various achievements far more tolerable. (You can skip cutscenes with a button press, but sometimes it skips too much.) Every little bit helps, too, because this game is massive – one of the longest I've ever played. It took me over 160 hours(!) to complete, though if I hadn’t made effort to complete every quest and see every bit of expertly-localized dialog I could, it might have gone a bit more quickly.

    While Cold Steel II had Divine Knight battles, and they were quite enjoyable in their own right, they really upped their game here to include Panzer Soldat (mechanized suit) battles. Not only can you fight alone in Valimar, other members of Class VII can pilot their own Soldats. This can lead to some pretty intense three by three mech battles. I really like the tweaks they made to the battle system all around, especially when it comes to the mechanized robot fighting.

    At the end of the day, if you have played any of the Cold Steel games, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. It's still a 3D-rendered anime-style game world, with real-time map movement through mostly linear levels, with turn-based battles. The attacks (physical), crafts (special attacks), and arts (magic) are all still there. There are other additional tweaks like the sub master quartz system, and probably several others I've forgotten, but if you've already enjoyed Cold Steel, then there is more of that here. And in my opinion, that's a good thing.

    Everything else that makes these games great, like the music and voice acting, is as great as always. Conversely, the graphics are still nothing special, but they do the job of telling the story and facilitating the gameplay just fine. Strangely enough, despite the graphics being good but not great, there are still occasional frame rate drops. I primarily found this to be an issue during a few particularly busy scenes in town, where there are lots of NPCs everywhere. The game also lacks anti-aliasing as best as I can tell.

    As much as I enjoyed this game, and I look forward to the next one, it has to be said that the moral issues abound - just as they do in previous entries. If it's an issue with Cold Steel I or II, there are few surprises here. The main issue I can think of that's new is that instead of a teacher hitting on you, a student, you are getting hit on by a female student, as an instructor. Another is that swimsuit magazines were introduced in this entry, and apparently some guys collect them. One scene has a girl borderline sexually assaulting another girl by grabbing her breasts against her will, and the last that comes to mind is how evil is willing to sacrifice human lives to further their goals. But, for the sake of completeness, let's list it all out.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 95%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 50%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 4/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    There is fantasy violence, as expected in RPG games, along with occasional blood, in certain cut scenes in particular. There is PG-13 level language, with examples like 'd*mn', 'a*s', 'h*ll', 'b*st*rd', and 'sh*t', along with some approximations like 'friggin' and a character flicking off with their middle finger. I wouldn't say foul language is particularly common, but it's there.

    Magic and spells are still present, though most come in the form of the quasi-scientific power called orbments, that powers both modern conveniences like cars and motorcycles, as well as magical effects. There is a larger presence of witchcraft-style magic, as a prominent character can cast spells through magical sayings. Some spells show hexagrams prominently displayed.

    Religion is still primarily the Catholic-like Septian Church, where they worship a monotheistic goddess named Aidios. They also feature local animist religions, as well as delve deep into lore relating to the early of the church, and many of the mysteries therein. This is part of the reason why lore junkies will absolutely love Cold Steel III. Spiritual forces, curses, and more, play a large part in the story. Like in CS2, a Celtic cross plays prominently in animism symbolism.

    As in previous titles, most appropriateness issues revolve around sexual ones. As already mentioned, a student hitting on a teacher is a recurring gag. Early in the game, one of the enemies grabs another enemy ladies' breasts rather aggressively; I felt like it was basically sexual assault, as it was clearly unwanted. Along those lines, a male student says he wants to '[get] to the bottom of them tig ol' bitties' to a woman's face, and she gets rather red after hearing that. A pervy grandpa is present in another scene, and he still approves if you were to choose to make moves on his granddaughter. (Rean is a gentleman - almost too much so, as he has several women who clearly like him, and he is made fun of for his obliviousness to it all.)

    As mentioned before, girly magazines are a new 'feature' of this game, though you can't read them as the player. Several girls still love to read and share stories about budding romances between homosexual boys. Angelica still is clearly lesbian, and it goes so far as to have a married woman blush and get flustered when she receives a compliment from her. Her husband notices, and gets understandably angry...

    Women still sometimes show off significant cleavage, and some wear ridiculous outfits that show off tons of skin. A few of the women really 'grew up' and wear outfits that show how they have been blessed, if you get my drift. Short skirts are as short as they can get in a 'family friendly' game, if you catch my drift.

    Sexual innuendo is present reasonably often, particularly with that student being around as much as she is. Despite this, no actual sex takes place, on or off camera. There is 'girl talk' though, about things like breast sizes and such. Other issues to note is that Rean becomes legal drinking age, and as such, he has his first drinks in-game, as well as partakes in gambling on horses for the first time. He is always responsible. Another character smokes tobacco.

    The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is another truly excellent entry in the Legends of Heroes: Trails series, and a very welcome one at that. The final chapter is truly incredible, and has one of the worst cliffhangers possible in the known universe. Cold Steel IV cannot get here fast enough. If you are already a Trails fan, you probably don't need me to tell you to get this game; if you are on the fence for any reason, don't be - unless you want to wait for its release on you preferred platform, or even possibly wait for CS IV so the painful wait inbetween entries is shorter. That I can understand. As before, this game series is not for children, so please game responsibly. If you are already invested in this series, I see no reason not to continue. Just realize that you absolutely should not, under any circumstances, start the Trails series with this game. That would be just silly.

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)

    box
    Game Info:

    The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
    Developed By: Nintendo
    Published By: Nintendo
    Release Date: March 3, 2017
    Available On: Switch, Wii U
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol 
    MRSP: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    The Legend of Zelda is one of gaming's longest and most beloved franchises.  It is one of Nintendo's flagship properties, and they seem to take more time and care with each entry than almost any other game they produce - and it shows.  While I have not played every entry, my own gaming past has several highlights filled with Zelda games, including the 8 and 16 bit classics, and other notables like Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker.  While not a perfect game (is there such a thing?) Breath of the Wild may just be the best Zelda game I have played.

    Breath of the Wild starts out with Link waking from a 100 year slumber, after a previous failed attempt at saving Hyrule from an imminent attack from Calamity Ganon.  In the early days of the Zelda franchise, Ganon was a corporeal wizard/warrior or beast that Link (or whatever you named him) would defeat.  As time (and the timeline) progressed, Ganon became a powerful evil force for destruction that evolved beyond physical form, and has been terrorizing Link, Zelda, and Hyrule for many thousands of years.

    Over one hundred years ago, signs that Ganon was returning became evident, and the Kingdom of Hyrule spent many years preparing for his return, based on ancient legends and technology that was rediscovered in the years before.  Despite what was perhaps the most prepared Hyrule in millennia, their preparation was all for nothing as Calamity Ganon was able to defeat their best plans.  In a final act of desperation, Link was placed into slumber, and it took him 100 years to fully recover from his injuries.

    Link rises to a world that has gone a century without a ruler or much of a kingdom.  The people are happy to be alive, mostly keeping to themselves, while trying to avoid the constant and rising threats of monsters and beasts all around them.  Hyrule castle is unapproachable by most, as Calamity Ganon's power is centered there.  Link remembers nothing of what happened, and has to piece together what is happening as he explores the plateau he finds himself on.

    Eventually, he is freed from the confines of the starting plateau, and is greeted with by far the most expansive Zelda game ever created.  Link can not only walk around his surroundings, but he can also swim, climb, glide, or shield surf virtually anywhere that he can see in person or on the map.  It's an incredibly vast game area, with a variety of scenery, including mountains, plains, forests, deserts, tropical regions, and winter wonderlands.  It's a truly amazing world to get lost in, as there is almost always something new that is yet to be uncovered.

    The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Large, beautiful, fully explorable world; incredible physics sandbox; breathtaking visuals, despite the hardware limitations; fantastic ambient sound effects on a good surround sound system; tons and tons to do, with great attention to detail
    Weak Points: Some may not like the breakable weapons and shields; story is somewhat optional and easy to forget about
    Moral Warnings: Animated violence; human, monster and undead enemies; magic wands, used by enemies and the player; some cleavage and midriffs on female characters; flamboyant male and cross dressing characters; alcohol reference; mildly suggestive lines; goddess and reincarnation references

    The game world is also lovingly hand crafted, despite the massive scale. You can tell this because of the incredible amount of secrets contained here.  There are 120 shrines, which are somewhat like bite-sized dungeons, scattered throughout the world.  If that wasn't enough, there are 900(!) Korok Seeds, which are little secrets littered everywhere.  They end up becoming a rather useful currency later in the game, so collecting as many as possible is very handy.  It is very rare to go exploring in a new area and not find some out of place rock, strangely aligned trees, or other environmental mystery that does not lead to either a well placed treasure, a shrine, or a Korok Seed.  Each little reward after reward entices you to keep playing like very few games I have ever played before.  I suspect other open world games will be borrowing ideas from Zelda for many years to come.

    Of course, it has to be said that even the development team has admitted that they took heavy inspiration from The Elder Scrolls series, particularly Skyrim.  I don't consider that a bad thing at all, and has led Zelda down a new road.  My only wonder now is if they can surpass what they have done here the next time, or if they have made for themselves a hill that's too difficult to climb.  Especially if it's raining.

    You see, in this 3D third person open world adventure, weather and a full day and night cycle play a significant part in your experience in game.  It's kind of a running joke among Breath of the Wild players that as soon as you decide to scale that large mountain peak, three quarters of the way up the weather will change, and a rainstorm will ensue.  Rather than just being a visual effect, there is significant gameplay impact.  For one, sneaking is much easier, and the rain tends to drown out sounds.  Fires are also put out, which can both work for and against you.  But the real kicker is when you are trying to climb a steep cliff.  On a dry day or night, you can scale nearly anything from anywhere as long as you manage your stamina properly.  But when it's wet?  Yeah... I hope you weren't too attached to that climb, because it's time to slip and fall.  While quite realistic, it can be very frustrating.

    This is not the only system that is well designed.  There is the day/night cycle, as well as the blood moon that resets the whole world every time it happens.  I believe it's monthly, but I never actually counted the days; it might be weekly. It resets all drops and enemies, but not treasure chests.  The physics and temperature model is also amazing.  There is so much attention to detail it's frankly mind blowing.

    The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 98%
    Gameplay - 20/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    For example, you can go fishing by electrifying water.  When grass catches on fire, it causes an updraft that you can use with your paraglider to fly high into the air.  Once you get Zora armor, you can swim much better, and combining that with the Cryonis rune, you can get almost anywhere with water.  Depending on your elevation, the air may become too cold for long term survival without a warmer outfit, or another means to stay warm.  You can eat food for warmth, or even hold something that has natural or magical fire - there are many ways.  The desert becomes cold at night and hot during the day, which requires different means to manage it.  There is also fire that has to be dealt with.

    Honestly, there is so much nuance to the world systems that I could go on all day - and that's the point.  There is such an incredible attention to detail that even Nintendo said that they cannot predict the many ways that ingenious players can use and abuse the game systems to maximum effect.  Even now, over a month after release, videos are coming out almost daily with some new amazing feat where someone managed to do the seemingly impossible.  From flying rafts and levitating carts to floating bombs, amazing bow and arrow stunts, and so much more, there is seemingly no end of things to learn and do while playing this game.

    Cooking is another major system that is crucial to success.  There are many combinations of monster parts, food items, and other things that makes various dishes or elixirs that can give you many temporary boosts.  You can also find the four Great Fairies and upgrade your equipment and receive set bonuses that can make you even more powerful.  Of course there are also special bows, arrows, weapons, and shields that also contribute to your success.

    Those items, bows, arrows, weapons and shields, are all consumable and must be gotten anew every time one of them is spent or lost.  This is perhaps one of the many reasons for the blood moon mechanic - a common way to replenish your weapons is to defeat the monsters who carry them.  Some are weak or not very durable, though sometimes you get some pretty nice ones as well.  Regardless, any weapon is better than none, unless you become a pro at throwing bombs - which is a totally legitimate strategy, as you have unlimited bombs in this game.

    Other than battle strategies, there are also a ton of things to do outside of that as well.  There are the many shrines as previously mentioned, as well as various main and side quests to accomplish.  Monsters roam the land, and many have valuable drops, that either can be sold, used in elixirs or food, or needed for various quests or item upgrades.  You can find many horses throughout the land, and once mounted, can be ridden for greatly increased speed or better battle prowess.  Some boss-like enemies can be fought, including Hynoxes and Lynels.  You can also buy a house and customize it.  I am sure I have missed some here, but again, there is a ton to do, and a fantastic map to explore.

    The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

    Graphically, it is very good, despite a clearly lower than optimal resolution.  The Switch version is 720p in portable mode, and 900p (upscaled to 1080p) in TV mode. While there are times that the frame rate dips, many of those have been greatly mitigated by a recent patch.  The art style does a good job of hiding a lack of detail, which is a typical and proven Nintendo tactic with their commonly underpowered hardware.

    The sound effects are very impressive.  Most of the audio is occasional ambient effects with the rare theme for a town or area.  Despite this, if you have a good surround sound system, you are in for a treat.  The first time I turned, heard an effect pan with my movement, and was able to quickly and easily find my target quickly, I knew that the audio was done quite well.  Frankly, at times it is breathtakingly well done.  If you don't have such a good system, it should still be enjoyable.

    When it comes to appropriateness issues, there really aren't any surprises compared to previous Zelda games.  There is clearly animated violence, as you would expect.  When creatures die, enemies vanish in a puff of smoke.  The ESRB notes a scene with strewn bodies including some impaled ones.  Ganon is still a dark evil spiritual force.  Other enemies include human, monster, and undead foes.  Reincarnation is present, and a foundation for the Zelda story.  There are several goddess statues that you have to pray to throughout the game, unless you are doing a minimum heart/stamina run.  There is a horned statue that trades life essence for money; very useful, but it was a demon who was cursed to that statue by the goddess Hylia.  Both the player and enemies use magical wands.

    There is a clearly effeminate man named Bolson, who wears pink and earrings, sounds funny, and calls you 'studly'.  Of course Nintendo doesn't go to much farther than that, but it does make you wonder.  There is a bar where alcohol consumption is mentioned, and the bartender will not sell you a drink because you are too young. There are some characters who wear clothing that exposes midriffs, cleavage, etc. In one section of the game, you interact with a man who is clearly cross dressing, and prefers to be referred to as a woman.  You also have to dress as a woman in order to progress in the game in that section as well.  A few women subtly hit on you, or at least admire your physique.  The ESRB notes a line "If I have to have something pounce on me, why couldn't it be a lady?" 

    The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is in many ways the perfect Nintendo Switch launch title.  It's a fantastic game in its own right, and a perfect system seller. As of this writing, I have put in over 80 hours in this game so far, and I am still only about halfway into what I want to do before I am truly done (and that doesn't include any DLC that might be worthwhile).  There are memories, divine beasts, shrines, and other main and side quests that I want to complete before I feel like I have seen all I want to.  I feel like this is one game that is easily worth Nintendo's full asking price, and one I will not completely put down for quite some time.  It is a strong game of the year contender and highly recommended.

  • The Lost Child (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Lost Child
    Developed by: Kadokawa Games
    Published by: NIS America
    Released: June 19, 2018
    Available on: Switch, PS4, PS Vita
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $49.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you to NIS America for the review code!

    One of the largest parts of mythology is how humans conflict always mirrors the conflict of the divine. However, this is no coincidence, as the wars are usually fought over the same thing, resulting in gods and humans fighting together. Whether it is Athena helping Achilles kill Hector, or the Aesir and their warriors of Valhalla, religious tales always depict the impact of humans and gods working together. Naturally, this has managed to work its way into video games as well. The Lost Child tells the story of a new war between light and dark, with the mortal world once again the battleground. In the end, it creates a strong, but unfocused, RPG.

    Hayato is a reporter for The Occult, a newspaper that focuses on all things paranormal, as well as (of course) gossip. Recently, there are reports of suicides at train stations throughout the area, so Hayato is sent to investigate. While there, a dark figure pushes Hayato into the path of a train, but he is saved by a mysterious woman, who gives him a locked case. When he returns to the office, Hayato meets Lua, a person claiming to be an angel. She is looking for her sister, and was sent to the mortal realm to assist Hayato, who is apparently the Chosen One. The two manage to open the case, which contains the Gangour, an ancient weapon capable of trapping demons. Soon, the Gangour’s power is demonstrated when a monster attacks the pair, who they are able to capture. Now, Hayato and Lua must journey around Japan, solving cases that often cause them to stumble upon the agents of evil.

    For a game that is centered around the story, The Lost Child tells a relatively good one. Despite being open-ended in the sense that you can complete most cases in any order, The Lost Child manages to maintain a strong narrative, which is accomplished by only a few games. However, I think there could have been much more character development. Hayato is the typical silent, withdrawn protagonist, which means that he has practically no character development. Even the side characters seemed to be more developed than him! I think the developers were trying to make him “fit” you, since you always make decisions for him that would otherwise serve as character development. However, this feels out of place in a story driven RPG, especially since every other character is well developed. However, the majority of the story was surprisingly good. I didn’t expect too much, as it seemed like the plot was simply a conglomerate of various mythos. Many of the story elements were unique to The Lost Child, as opposed to being ripped out of classic tales. I liked this, as it helped give The Lost Child its own identity, instead of just being a mix of other stories. Despite some odd choices in terms of character development, The Lost Child manages to create a nice tale that is not too reliant on familiar faces.

    The Lost Child
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Solid turn based combat, nice story
    Weak Points: Doesn't improve upon any particular genre
    Moral Warnings: Use of religious figures, some language(h*ll), sexual jokes

    The Lost Child combines many different types of gameplay into one great experience. There are elements of dungeon crawlers, RPGs, and visual novels in this game. It’s important to understand the fact that The Lost Child is a combination of many other games. It doesn’t improve upon a particular genre, instead focusing on a great overall experience. If you want a dungeon crawler, just choose an Atlus game; if you want a creature collection game, go buy Pokémon. The Lost Child is great simply because it seamlessly combines many different genres. There is a simple gameplay loop: Hayato and Lua choose a new investigation to cover, travel to the appropriate layer, talk to the locals, then either venture into a new layer or follow a new lead from a local. Along the way, the two stock up on items, and prepare their purified Astrals for combat. This generally repeats itself throughout the entire game, but never gets repetitive. This is due to how varied every scenario becomes, and that each investigation you finish leads to another one. I always played with an intention, yet couldn’t help but get sidetracked by one of the many side missions. Soon, I had a long list of things to do, that just kept getting longer as I cleared some of the tasks. The game is very enjoyable since I never feel trapped on a linear path, yet it is always clear what the main goal was.

    There are two main “phases” in The Lost Child: the normal world and layers. Layers are distortions in reality caused by demons residing in the area, which can only be accessed by a select few. Reality is where the majority of conversations and the decision system of The Lost Child come into play. You can talk to people, which often leads to conversations with Lua. During the conversations, you get multiple response options each time she asks you a question, which grant you karma when you answer. The answer you pick has no real impact on the game besides granting some experience points, so the system wasn’t too important. The bulk of the game is spent in the layers. In layers, the perspective shifts to first person, as Hayato travels through the dungeon. The game becomes a dungeon crawler, with the tight passages, randomized encounters, puzzles, and treasure associated with the genre. Hayato can walk around and interact with objects, but he can’t get far before an enemy attacks. In battle, Hayato, Lua, and three Astrals can fight enemies. Astrals will be discussed more in the next section, but play a large role in combat that can’t be downsized. All enemies have elements, which can be countered using the appropriate Astral. Astrals have many unique skills that completely change battles, so no two battles are ever the same. Combat itself has one main unique aspect: the Gangour. Everything else about combat is standard for RPGs, so it doesn’t impact the game too much. The Gangour allows Hayato to have up to 5 reserve Astrals at a time, which he can freely switch in every turn. This completely changes strategy, since you must try to counter enemy attacks, maximizing every turn's potential. This made The Lost Child surprisingly nerve-wracking at times. While most fights are easy, boss fights force you to use everything you have, though this led to unnatural difficulty spikes. Overall, the combat system was deep and very fun to learn. The Lost Child‘s layer and combat system was complex but made the game great as a result.

    Perhaps the most interesting part of The Lost Child is the Astral system. Astrals are the souls of beings, which can be captured by the Gangour. The Gangour can only capture certain types, such as demons and fallen angels, depending on the settings. I am no expert on all things mythology, but I believe that the majority of Astrals are derived from older media. The game spends no time developing each one as a character, so they feel similar to Pokémon instead of fully fledged party members. Each Astral was very unique in design and stats, so I clearly remember each one as a result. Astrals act like any other unit in combat; each can attack, defend, or use special skills. Each skill has an element attached to it, a certain modifier to attack power, and attacks enemies a certain ways. The two unique systems in The Lost Child both impact Astrals: Fruits of Wisdom and Karma. During battle, a unit may trigger a new skill while attacking, learning it as a result. This is called the Fruits of Wisdom system. It’s often a surprise when a new skill is learned, but it also takes away some of the strategy from battle. You may plan out a turn perfectly to maximize efficiency, but Lua may suddenly learn a new support skill, throwing the turn completely off. The majority of the time, the Fruits of Wisdom system benefited me, but there were some scenarios that were ruined by it. Astrals don’t gain experience from battle like Hayato or Lua. Instead, they must be manually leveled using Karma. As mentioned earlier, Karma can be obtained from making decisions during the story, but is also earned from fighting. Defeating a certain type of Astral gives you its corresponding Karma, which can be used to level your own. Each type of Astral gets more experience from the Karma aligned with its nature, adding a bit of strategy to leveling. This also made it much easier to add new party members, since I could quickly catch them up to the rest of the team. The Karma system helped Astrals feel unique, and added another layer of strategy to a game already ripe with decisions. I love the Astral system, due to how unique everything is. This is truly The Lost Child‘s selling point.

    The Lost Child
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    Like any game that is even remotely related to NIS America, The Lost Child has a great soundtrack and visual style. While there are definitely better soundtracks, this one does a great job capturing the feeling of mystery and haziness associated with The Lost Child. However, the battle music could be better. Hearing the same piece over and over got extremely repetitive extremely quickly, especially since the battle music wasn’t very good to begin with. I would have loved more variety, even if it just distinguished the different origins of enemies. The game has a very unique look. The characters all have the look of a manga, yet everything else is bleak. It’s a nice tonal detail that makes the world seem much more foreboding, and I loved the addition. The Lost Child has a relatively nice soundtrack and amazing visual style.

    The Lost Child may be morally offensive to some, however. There isn't much violence besides the typical fantasy attacks, and a bit of blood, so it isn't too risqué in that sense. A few Astrals, male and female, have clothing that edges on the skimpier side, but most are modestly dressed. There are also a few sexual jokes throughout the game, but they were minor. There was a bit of language according to the rating, though it was so uncommon that I never took note of it besides the occasional h*ll. The real controversy will come from the religious allusions. This game had many religious themes and figures, including a variety of demons, fallen angels, and gods. Hayato uses demons and fallen angels to fight, which may be upsetting. However, he does it in the name of God.

    Overall, I enjoy The Lost Child. The game is an odd blend of many genres, which makes it enjoyable in its own right. The story is very nice, but the character development could be improved. Gameplay is complex and entertaining, but rarely challenging. The Karma system and Fruits of Wisdom provide some new ideas in a game that is otherwise a conglomerate of old ones. Due to the moral issues, it may not be appropriate for children, but teens and up can carefully consider it. While it doesn’t particularly improve upon any one field, The Lost Child provides a satisfying, unique RPG.

  • The Surge (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Surge
    Developed by: Deck13
    Published by: Focus Home Interactive
    Release date: May 15, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for blood, gore, intense violence, strong language
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Focus Home Interactive for sending us this game and the Walk in the Park DLC!

    It’s your first day on the job at Creo, a huge company with a vision to fix the world from the bad things that humans have done to it. Their goal is to provide a better life for everyone and one of the draws of working there is that they have the technology to make your wheelchair-bound character, Warren, walk again. After selecting the class of Field Technician or Heavy Operator, the implant surgery commences. Without the expected anesthetic. There’s something wrong with the machines! Warren’s day starts off bloody and painful and only gets worse from there.

    Although he can walk again, the system deems Warren a failure and discards him in the junkyard. It’s there that he’ll learn the basic attacking and blocking techniques needed to survive in this company that’s overrun with corrupt machinery and cybernetic zombies. Many of the enemies have a weak spot that can be targeted to take them down more efficiently. If you pay attention, you’ll also discover attack patterns that will be necessary to learn to sustain minimal damage.

    As enemies are defeated, you may acquire schematics for their equipment and scrap metal to forge your own versions of them. Scrap is also needed to level up your rig which opens up more upgrade slots and the ability to overcharge various circuits to unlock loot and new areas to explore.

    The Surge
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Action-packed story with challenging enemies and bosses; neat upgrade abilities and the drone is very useful 
    Weak Points: Although it does copy the Dark Souls game style, it doesn’t improve upon the formula; keyboard controls are easier to use than a gamepad
    Moral Warnings: Lots of violence and gore and you rip limbs off of enemies;  every cuss word is used and blaspheming is shown with a lowercase “g”; there’s a pinup of a woman in a bikini

    It doesn’t take long to discover the first medical operations building that heals Warren and replenishes the injectable healing vaccines. It’s in this area that weapons and armor can be upgraded and implants installed. Unfortunately, after healing, all of the previously defeated enemies are once again revived. Because of this mechanic, you’ll need to go easy on the healing injections and perfect your fighting techniques if you wish to survive in this harsh environment. Some areas have a healing station that will replenish your health and injections without reviving the enemies. Take advantage of those!

    The main story is told via audio logs left behind and your goal is to save the remaining normal people left in the facility. An employee named Sally communicates with you via a hologram messaging system and will give you some basic objectives, but all of the heavy lifting is on you.

    As you explore your surroundings, you’ll find various upgrades lying around. The good ones are usually guarded and off the beaten path so keep your eyes open for them. Some of the implants lower the energy or stamina usage needed for attacks, increase your health or allow you to regenerate it, grant you the ability to breathe toxic air without losing health, or increase you attack power. Later in the game, you’ll get a drone which comes in handy for shielding you in battle or attacking on your behalf from a distance. I highly recommend installing the implants for increasing the drone’s damage. Don’t rely too heavily on the drone though as it’s unavailable for some of the boss battles. Like the game levels, the bosses in this title are huge and intimidating.

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

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 47%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The levels are easy to get lost in, but you know you’re on the right track when you unlock a new and faster way to get back to the operations/healing center. Another good sign is discovering a circuit that doesn’t require too much power to override it. Higher-level overrides generally yield nice loot instead of story progression.

    If you purchase the Walk in the Park DLC, you can access it from a train station in Central Production B which requires multiple visits throughout the game’s main story. Another way to enter Creo World is through the Research and Development level. Like the main facility, Creo World has experienced serious destruction and the park’s mechanical mascots have gone haywire and are violent. Much of the park’s landscape is sunken and access to the various attractions is limited. Until you reach the Operations facility, there are no humans to interact with. The guy there is part of a rescue team, but he needs your help in restoring the power, networking, and locating the rest of his team who crashed nearby. There’s plenty of action, enemies, and Steam achievements to be had if you purchase this $14.99 DLC.

    If you enjoy challenging action RPGs, The Surge will scratch that itch. Due to the fighting, you can expect lots of blood, violence, and limbs being torn off (especially during the finishing moves). Language is another moral concern since every cuss word including the F-bomb is heard in the audio logs. God’s name is also thrown around casually and is not capitalized either. Lastly, there’s a pinup up of a woman in a bikini on one of the office walls.

    In the end, I found out that this game style isn’t my cup of tea, but I did find the story fascinating and wanted to see what caused this company’s collapse. I also grew to like the country song that always play in the healing facility and got it stuck in my head on multiple occasions. There are multiple endings and a new game plus mode to explore after you finish the main story. If you’re a fan of Dark Souls-style games then you’ll enjoy The Surge.

  • The Surge 2 (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Surge 2
    Developed by: Deck13
    Published by: Focus Home Intereactive
    Release Date: September 24, 2019
    Available on: PS4, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for blood and gore, strong language, drug references
    Price: $49.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Focus Home Interactive for sending us this game to review!

    The Surge 2 takes place after the destruction from the first game. The city of Jericho has been evacuated and a large wall has been erected to keep those infected with a techno-nanite disease isolated from the rest of the world. Your character (who can be a male or female) crash lands in this city and is one of two survivors. The other surviving passenger is a young girl named Athena who is related to the president of Creo Institute of Technology.

    As you explore the town and battle the hostile cyber-humans, you’ll come across audio logs which tell most of the game’s story. The children in this city have been experimented on and Athena has been captured by the same group of scientists. When you arrive in certain areas, you’ll see a memory flashback regarding what happened to her there. Along with figuring out why you two are linked, you’ll have to save Athena before it’s too late.

    When it comes to battles, you’ll have to perfect your timing for dodging and using your various attacks. Many of the enemies equip a shield that can only be bypassed with a charged attack. Naturally, the enemies won’t wait around for you to kick their butt. The ability to target specific areas comes in handy, especially during boss battles. Targeting unarmored body parts makes taking down foes easier, but you’ll get better loot if you attack fortified areas.

    The Surge 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Action-packed story with challenging enemies and bosses; neat upgrade abilities and the drone is very useful; online graffiti is helpful
    Weak Points: The game may crash repeatedly if your graphics card drivers are not current
    Moral Warnings: Lots of violence and gore and you rip limbs off of enemies;  strong language is used along with blaspheming; there’s a group of drug addicted religious zealots; there's an audio log that talks about sex before marriage

    Chances are you’ll take damage and you can heal by using an injectable health kit (limited qualities), a med station (the best way but there’s not many of them), or a med bay. Alternatively, there are implants available that will replenish your stats for you as you battle so keep an eye out for those. The three attributes you can increase are health, stamina, and battery power.

    The med bays serve as respawn points and are essential for leveling up and upgrading/crafting gear. Unfortunately, after a med bay visit all of the previously defeated enemies are once again revived. As enemies are defeated, you may acquire schematics for their equipment and scrap metal to forge your own versions of them. Scrap is also needed to level up your rig which opens up more upgrade slots allowing you to equip more implants.

    Your drone has several functions and comes in handy during battle. You can have the drone scout for loot, attack from a distance, unlock doors, and spray paint graffiti. If you have the online mode enabled you can see graffiti left behind by other players. Often times the graffiti is merely cosmetic, but there are many instances where it can point out a stash of goodies that you may have missed otherwise.

    The levels are easy to get lost in, but there are a fair number of maps available to keep your bearings. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to quick travel to the various destinations. As you progress in the game, you’ll unlock abilities like using a zip line, lift, and opening magnetic locks. Once acquired, you can use the abilities to enter areas in the map that were not accessible previously.

    The Surge 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 46%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - -010
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Visually, The Surge 2 looks great with highly detailed maps, characters, and intimidating bosses. Due to the fighting, you can expect lots of blood, violence, and limbs being torn off (especially during the finishing moves). Decapitation happens often during a battle's finishing move. For the most part this game ran fine on my RTX 2080 Ti video card. However, I did experience several game crashes in a row that were not resolved until I updated my drivers to the most recent version.

    The sound is top notch in this title and at a particular med bay, the catchy song from the previous game is reprised. The voice acting is well done and brings the characters to life. Language is another moral concern since many curse words are heard in the dialogue and audio logs. One of the audio logs is an advertisement for a consensual relationship. God’s name is also thrown around casually. Religion is not shown in a positive light as there is a group of zealots that partake in drugs regularly.

    With the gory violence, drug use, and language, The Surge 2 definitely earns its “Mature” rating. If you enjoyed the original game and the Dark Souls genre, you’ll want to pick this one up. I enjoyed it more than the original.

  • The Technomancer (PC)

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    Game Info:

    The Technomancer 
    Developed By: Spiders
    Published By: Focus Home Interaction
    Released: June 28, 2016
    Available On: Microsoft Windows, PS4 and Xbox One
    Genre: RPG, sci-fi, action, open world
    ESRB Rating: Mature (Blood, Drug Reference, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence)
    Number of Players: 1 offline 
    Price: $44.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Focus Home Interactive for sending us this game to review!

    The Technomancer is a sci-fi action RPG set in a dystopian colony on Mars several hundred years in the future.  You play as Zachariah Mancer, who grew up in the harshest parts of the colony, at a time he is being initiated into a secretive group with special electrical powers known as The Technomancers. Society has once again adopted naming its citizens surnames based on their trade.  Zachariah’s last name, Mancer, was given after becoming a Technomancer.  Corporation loyalty is important.  On Mars, the majority of the people are brought up by the Corporation they are born into and where their family lives.  Those who seek to leave these corporations are considered traitors.  Life on Mars is harsh; the corporations are at war with each other and life has little value to those higher up in societal.

    There is a steep learning curve for the normal difficulty level.  The developers patched the easy difficulty after release, to reduce the difficulty further.  I opted for the normal difficulty, before realising just how difficult it was and have stuck with it.  I have died many times and how you level up your character can make it easier earlier on, if you know what you are doing.  For those who don’t then it’s an exercise in frustration as you try to learn which skills are the most beneficial early on in the game.  In the first 5 hours I died countless times and learned it’s best to quick save before entering combat as relying on the auto save will put you further back than you’d like.

    Once you get to level 20 you start to feel more useful in combat as you increase your range of abilities and actions, yet Zachariah has a glass jaw when compared to the early enemies encountered throughout his travels.  A few unlucky hits and you are down, while enemies feel over tanked, soaking up damage effortlessly.  

    Each time you level up you get to invest skill points in skills, talents or attributes.  The skill tree is for combat abilities and broken down into four areas.  One for the three stances you can change to, providing different offensive and defensive actions and the technomancy skill to improve your electrical attacks and abilities.   Talents provide new abilities, picking locks, creating health and focus injections, making high level upgrades, etc.  Attributes increase the amount of damage you do, increasing your resistance to damage received, increasing the chance of making critical hits and to be able to wear certain equipment.

    The Technomancer
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Open world; music and sound effects
    Weak Points: Game difficulty; uninspiring dialogue and art design; confusing game mechanics
    Moral Warnings: There is a significant amount of swearing in the dialogue (i.e. f*ck, sh*t, as*hole).  The game centres on violence against enemy thugs, soldiers and monsters.  It also includes sexual material including prostitutes soliciting customers and fully clothed characters straddling or rubbing each other.

    Zachariah is not alone on his travels.  As we progress through the game we are introduced to other characters that are added to a roster to create a three member team.  Each character has different abilities, which can be used to supplement Zachariah’s own skills.  For example, Scott, who you meet at the start of a game, is a medic and has a gun which can be used to inject health back into the party members when shot.  You can change and upgrade each character’s weapons and clothing to increase resistance to damage, knockbacks, poisoning and several other areas.

    A karma system is used.  I have to be honest, after playing for 20+ hours I have no idea what affect this has on the player.  Though some googling suggests it has an effect on your team member actions during cut scenes.  There is also a reputation system, for the various factions in the game.  Once again, I have not been able to discern how this works.  Perhaps doing a second playthrough with a change of play style would shed some light on it, though given the time of investment required it was just not feasible to do for this review.

    With the storyline, The Technomancer starts off strong.  Within the first hour you battle a giant monster which adds to the excitement and anticipation of the game.  Then the all too familiar basic quests come in, requiring you to do a lot of back tracking with uninspiring dialogue and cut scenes, which could have been improved to keep the momentum gained in the opening.  A lot of the conversation starts with Zachariah being very polite and saying “Hi” each time, which gets repetitive fast in a video game.

    Controls are simple to understand, yet are complex when mixed with different combat styles and an action wheel that slows down the speed of the game in combat.  This allows you to activate character abilities and consumable items.  The problem with these is that each action requires an animation to be performed before the actual action happens and they can be interrupted when attacked.  This makes activating abilities and potions difficult early on in the game, when you need them most, as you are generally mobbed by groups of enemies.  

    Choosing the best combat stance can be a trial and error affair at times.  Then, when the only style is Guardian, can prolong combat far too long.  I have come across many encounters where a single stance stands out as being the winning choice; even then it was from trial and error and cannot necessarily be applied to the next engagement.  It sounds like it’s a bad thing; on the plus it’s not repetitive which is good.  It just would be nice if trial and error was less of an issue, removing the harsh punishment for a simple mistake.

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

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    The art direction for The Technomancer is mostly lacklustre.  There is a reason and a theme for each area, though when the opening areas are all lustreless it leaves the player feeling uninspired by the world.  The textures and 3D models along with level layouts are good, though may not stand up to other AAA games released around the same time.  If anything, just more polish and some artistic variety in colour could have improved the overall feeling.

    I found the sound to be great and it does stand out when you are in combat.  There are solid impact sounds for melee combat.  When technomancers use their electrical powers, there are satisfying explosions of energy and crackles as the energy disperses.  Each gun has a meaty pop when fired.  It just makes combat feel as deadly as it really is.  The music is also well made and compliments the theme and locales you visit.

    There is a huge amount of profanity throughout the game in cut scenes and in dialogue with a vast amount of character.  In the 20+ hours I have played, including the side missions, I did not witness any blasphemy.  Though that does not necessarily mean there is none all together.  The game centres on violence against humans and monsters, with very little to no options to avoid it unless it’s part of a dialogue choice, in keeping with the setting.  

    At the start of the game, your mentor talks about the value of life and while you are in combat you effectively beat your human opponents into unconsciousness.  After which, you have the option to outright kill and loot some currency from them.  There are also some dialogue choices in which you can encourage or discourage party members from performing an action, i.e. killing someone or letting them go free.  While some missions task you with killing there is an alternative conclusion to avoid doing just that while effectively accomplishing the objective (just not in the way the quest giver wanted you to).

    The game includes some sexual material.  Prostitutes appear in some locations, soliciting customers.  There are cutscenes depicting fully clothed characters straddling or caressing each other in bed.  There are also references to drugs in the game with some missions involving acquisition for others.

    If you enjoy RPGs with a sci-fi setting then The Technomancer may be worth getting.  However, if you are looking for another Mass Effect this is not for you.  There are many hours to be spent in The Technomancer; the main question you want to ask yourself is “will I be getting anything meaningful by investing my time in this experience?”  The answer to that is most likely “very little.”

    - centaurianmudpig (@themudpig)

     

  • Tokyo Xanadu eX+ (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Tokyo Xanadu eX+
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom/Ghostlight (PC Port only)
    Published By: Aksys Games
    Release Date: December 8, 2017 (June 30, 2017 for Vita version)
    Available On: Windows, PS4, PS Vita (non-eX+ version only)
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Drug Reference, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes
    Genre: Action Role Playing Game
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $59.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Ghostlight for allowing me to participate in the PC version beta!

    Ever since playing my first Ys game, I have been following Falcom's works with great interest. Every game so far has been one that I have enjoyed immensely. Having played most of their western releases by now, Toyko Xanadu ended up being not quite what I expected, and mostly in a good way.

    I think it has to be said that if you are familiar with previous games with 'Xanadu' in the title, like Faxanadu or Xanadu Next (which is an excellent game that we reviewed here), then go ahead and ignore any expectations that this game is related in any way but name. Xanadu Next was a proper sequel to the classic games; Tokyo Xanadu is very much its own thing – but certainly a product of modern Falcom and the kinds of games they make these days, though with a notably different feel.

    Tokyo Xanadu takes place in a fictional suburb of modern (2015, to be exact) Tokyo where the protagonist, Kou, is a second year student at Morimiya High School. While the setting is quite different than the typical fantasy Falcom game, there is still a rather uncanny resemblance to another Falcom series called Trails of Cold Steel with its graphics and high school setting, as well as some Persona thrown in for good measure. While the first chapter or two felt a bit too close to Trails, it wasn't too long before the feel of the game grew on me and begun to really feel like its own thing.

    Like both Trails and Persona, there is a city/town mode, where you explore the school, and eventually much of Morimiya, and get to talk to NPCs, solve quests, and spend affinity shards (similar to bonding points) to get to know your close friends better (at the cost of some of your other friends). This is also the time to buy equipment, power up your characters, do your part time job, and other things which then lead to an episode in the Eclipse.

    The Eclipse is an alternate dimension that only spiritually sensitive people, as well as select others, know exist. It's filled with demon-like creatures called greeds, and the seemingly random openings have been happening with more and more frequency, which eventually happens to our happy protagonist, as well as his soon to be partner, Asuka. While she is not happy having to tell another about what is going on, she soon resigns to her fate as he manifests a spirit weapon which he is able to wield to assist her. Others eventually join you as the scale of the conflict grows, and as usual, a bunch of (mostly) high school kids are tasked with saving everyone.

    Tokyo Xanadu eX+
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent story and characters; very entertaining action; a ton of content and decent replay value
    Weak Points: Some translation text issues remain, especially late game; minor bugs remain in the PC version
    Moral Warnings: Action violence; magic is used by the player and enemies; there is a hidden spiritual world that only a small number of people can see; quite a bit of foul language, with words like 'd*mn', 'h*ll', 'b*tch', '*ss', and 'sh*t', with some faux words like 'effin'; God's name in vain used (God, god, Jesus) as well as some references to Cthulhu; local religions described, including a slightly altered version of Christianity (they call it quasi-polytheistic); tarot cards present, and some references to Ouija boards; some sexual references, with discussions of breasts, porn stashes, and similar things; swimsuit DLC is extremely revealing with massive cleavage; a couple of homosexual non-player characters; fake drug discussed and used (not by the player); alcohol and tobacco present and used on screen (not by the player)

    Entering and exiting the Eclipse manifests in the form of spirit gates, which eventually open in many places throughout the city. They often have a dark and foreboding aura about them, with hexagrams and other symbols swarming on them. Once you enter, inside is where the vast majority of the combat takes place. This game, unlike Trails but like Ys (and Xanadu and Zwei, which are also Falcom action RPGs), has battle that takes place in real time, where you slash up enemies with your weapons. You can also do a power attack, a ranged attack, and a flying attack. These utilize a combination of the attack, special attack, and jump buttons to do their thing.

    Combat is very fast paced, not unlike an Ys game (though not quite a fluid as one). Standard attacks are basically 'free' to use as you like, but power attacks, ranged attacks, and flying attacks use a quickly regenerating meter that goes up as you move around and perform normal attacks. These do much more damage, sometimes many times more, depending on the character and load out. Like always, there are ways to spec out your characters to optimize for various kinds of damage.

    One of the ways that the game keeps things fresh is by giving enemies specific elemental strengths and weaknesses. This not only makes you keep switching characters, but certain master cores, which is how you assign elements to a character, also grant bonuses, which can help tweak your character. Kou can use any element, while everyone else is locked to one of two elements. At the beginning of each dungeon, you can see what the elemental weaknesses of each upcoming greed is, so you can properly plan your party. And, you can switch out character with the press of a button, so you can easily kill one enemy with one party member, and switch out to hit the next one instantly.

    Bosses are very fun and genuinely challenging. There is a bit of an uneven difficulty curve early on in the game, but by chapter three that is mostly all sorted out. Each tends to take place in a rectangular or circular arena, and you can run, jump, or dodge your way to avoid getting stomped. Dodging grants you a small invincibility frame, which can really come in handy, though there is nothing like Ys' enemy stun mechanic. It's otherwise very similar.

    While I hate to mention other Falcom games so often during this review, it's really hard to avoid it, because the game itself does so. For example, Kou's weapon is called a 'Raging Gear', which is almost a direct rip from Zwei II's Anchor Gear. It even moves in the same way. Towa is a clear allusion to one of the same name from Trails of Cold Steel (though her last name is different). Several other Trails characters, like Rean, Alisa, Fie, and others have cameos in various in-universe anime, manga, video games, and action figures. Adol from Ys is visible on posters and signs. Gurumin and other Zwei II characters and trinkets are littered around the toy stores and other places. To point out every reference to other Falcom games could easily be a novel unto itself.

    Despite this, Tokyo Xanadu eX+ manages to set itself apart in ways that makes it truly special. To start with, the characters each experience growth, and you come to love them all. Kou is one of my favorite protagonists now, with his combination of realism and genuine selfless spirit that is truly endearing. Asuka goes from closed and reserved to truly caring and kind. Each of the other characters are so well written that you truly come to care about each and every one. The storytelling is also excellent. The endings (there are three different kinds of endings) are all great and heart-felt.

    The eX+ additions is another highlight. Not only does it add a solid 30-40% more content, but it's great. Early on the flow does seem a bit disrupted, as the first chapter side story introduces things without explanation that the main game has not yet, and the boss is a massive difficulty spike for that point in the game. Overall though, it's great, as it really helps you get to know the other characters much better. And the post game content, in particular the After Story, is really great. Tying up loose ends in such a wonderful way, and then leaving room for a sequel as it does brought me much joy as good endings do.

    Despite all of this, no game is without its flaws, and this is no exception. For one, the localization, while mostly well done and with plenty of character, does still have the occasional issue, especially late game. A few of the interface icons were left in Japanese, which only was a real issue with Kou's character stats, as you have no idea what they mean unless you refer to the built-in help. Of course, anyone who plays this game for any amount of time will notice how so many characters sure do love to *chortle*.

    Tokyo Xanadu eX+
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10-/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 61%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    I noticed a bug in the PC version where if a scene uses one of the non-level musics, it will not start over the next time it is called upon. This is mostly not a big deal, but when I played through two different endings without exiting the game first, it was jarring hearing one ending without any music to accompany it. Also, borderless window display mode works well enough, but the frame pacing is noticeably worse than than exclusive fullscreen mode.

    On the moral front, there is plenty to talk about. The requisite fantasy violence is present here as it often is. It's not unusually bloody or gory. Most PG-13 curse words are used fairly often, which includes words like 'd*mn', 'h*ll', 'b*tch', '*ss', and 'sh*t', with some faux words like 'effin'. There is also plenty of uses of God's name in vain, saying things like 'god', 'God', and 'Jesus', including combinations with the above curse words. Curse word use is common, though not to the point where it feels out of place. The occasional reference to Cthulhu did feel out of place, however.

    There is plenty of occult spiritual content to go over. The entire concept of a spiritual underworld that only the specially gifted can see is obviously occult-like. The gates between worlds are dark and menacing, with hexagrams littering them. One of the characters uses hexagrams to cast his spells. There are references to local religions, including temples to said religions. Ancient animist gods are also referenced, and noted to have power. Christianity is actually shown in a reasonably positive light, with Christian characters, but it's referred to as a 'quasi-polytheistic' religion, which is likely a sin of ignorance rather than intentional blasphemy. Tarot cards are present, as is a reference to Ouija boards.

    One of the plotlines revolves around a fictitious drug, and its distribution and effects. Alcohol is served to adults in your presence, and you take a part-time job as a bartender. Another character is shown smoking tobacco. One woman is a hostess. You also become on good terms with the local Yakuza (though Kou never really feels completely comfortable around them).

    From the sexual content perspective, there is also much to talk about, though they in many ways did exercise restraint. For one, there are no explicit sexual relationships of any kind. Kou is a gentleman through and through (almost to a hardheaded fault), though a friend of his is a bit more forward in that respect. The girls are wearing appropriate clothes almost all of the time, unless you buy the swimsuit DLC, in which case very little is left to the imagination (including massive cleavage). I was happy about how, despite every opportunity to do otherwise, they did a great job keeping most of the girls' underwear hidden, even when doing somersaults right in front of the camera while wearing skirts. (The only exception to this rule is Rion where underwear is briefly visible.) There is the occasional midriff visible, and enemies with lots of visible cleavage.

    But that is not to say that there is nothing to be concerned about. There is a clearly effeminate male homosexual character in the town, and most men are clearly bothered by his presence. He makes statements that can definitely have at least some sexual overtones. Also, one of the girls in the school has a clear lesbian crush on several of the more attractive girls at school. There is also anime-trope level breast size discussions among the girls while visiting the hot springs.

    Tokyo Xanadu eX+ really snuck up on me. I knew that I would enjoy it, as I tend to do with Falcom games, but if 2017 wasn't one of the best years of modern gaming in recent memory, it could have easily been my personal game of the year. Instead, it lives in the same year as Persona 5, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Ys VIII. Nevertheless, it's a fantastic adventure that should not be missed, despite some roughness around the edges, and of course appropriateness issues that should always be considered carefully before any purchase.

  • Torment: Tides of Numenera (PS4)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Torment: Tides of Numenera
    Developed by: inXile Entertainment
    Published by: Techland
    Released: 25 April 2017
    Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Linux, MacOS
    Genre: Role-playing game
    ESRB: M for Mature (Sexual Themes, Language, Blood, Violence)
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $18.00
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Techland for sending us a review copy of this game.

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

    There are few games today that bring back nostalgic feeling of the great PC RPGs like Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, Icewind Dale 1 and 2, and the Neverwinter series. I read on forums and other reviewers how Torment: Tides of Numenera (Torment) gave them that feeling of classic RPG games that are about story more so than just combat. I loved each one of the games I mentioned above for their wonderful story, characters, world exploration, and combat. Torment brings back a lot of those wonderful feelings, but not perfectly.

    Torment has you play as a cast off from a being who has the ability to transfer their soul from one body to another so that it can live for thousands of years or more without the fear of death. The cast offs are then left with no memory of their past, or at least fragments of their past lives they had when they were controlled by this being.

    When you first start this game you are cast off and sent to Earth below and then you have to find your way out of your subconscious while getting a little idea (and I mean a very little idea) of what happened to you and where you are. When you wake up you are greeted by two strangers who say they want to try to help you, and thus your journey begins.

    As you adventure across this massive world you meet an innumerable amount of people who seem strange and interesting. These people have a lot of interesting things to say, and also many secrets. As you spend time talking to them you find out more and more about the world around you, the individual you're talking to, your own party members, and possibly your former host. Also these people might ask you to do them a favor, or send you on a quest far away.

    Torment: Tides of Numenera
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Long and excellent story. Massive open world to explore. Many characters from party members to NPCs to meet and get to know.
    Weak Points: Very deep dialog system that slows down the game to a crawl. With such a long story it could take players many hours to really get into knowing the world and how everything flows and operates.
    Moral Warnings: Language throughout. Blood is present in battles. Some sexual themes throughout the game. Tons of magic throughout the game. Not suitable for children or teenagers.

    This is the type game that requires the player to not rush, and talk fully to every NPC character in the game, because it offers what I mentioned above as well as advances the story of your journey. Every NPC is important and will play a part in your quest to discover your truth. Sometimes, when you are talking to a NPC or one of your party members an amnesia flashback occurs which gives you more insight into your past and also helps you on your journey forward.

    A player could easily sink well over 100 hours into this fantastic world and still have more to do. It's a daunting challenge that many fans have been waiting for. This is a spiritual successor to a critically acclaimed classic RPG video game called Planescape: Torment which was released in 1999. Fans of the original funded a Kickstarter program to get this sequel made. The developer for the most part delivered, but wasn't able to add all the content they promised at launch of the game, but they have with a series of updates and patches been fulfilling their promise to bring all the content they announced to the game. Maybe this will cause some to replay the game after they complete the massive story, or to just patiently wait until all of the content is released in the future. With such a massive game at launch it would probably be the most hardcore fans who would replay the game at a later date once all the content is released, since it's already a 100 plus hour game.

    In my short time with the game I found there is so much going on that I could spend many months trying to discover everything in this massive RPG. Fans of the game will lose themselves in the many stories, quests, and massive world. This could be a game that could be talked about in the same reverence as its spiritual predecessor in years to come.

    The art style in the world is like the old school RPGs I mentioned above. It has an isometric camera angle which works well and moves very smoothly. The animations are good not great but it works for this type of game. I enjoyed the atmosphere of each area you visit. It made me feel that I was really in a special world that the developers took great care to bring to the fans.

    Sound effects are solid, but not at the level of a AAA game, which is not expected based on the budget of the developers, and frankly not needed. The sound is more than adequate for this type game. I enjoyed the voice acting that occurred from time to time, and the background sounds for each area you explored.

    Torment: Tides of Numenera
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 68%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The controls are traditional turn based RPG in combat. You take turns setting up what each character will do and then the game will execute those decisions you made for each of your party members. For example, you might have one party member do a standard attack, while another party member will cast an ability or special skill. It's pretty much like all turn based RPGs.

    Last positive thing I wanted to mention is the stability of the game. the stability is really great, with very little lag or freezing issues in my time with the game. This is refreshing since there have been many games released recently that have had huge stability issues.

    The one major negative I found in playing this huge RPG is the overwhelming dialog that you have with every character you meet. This game requires you to talk to everybody, and then ask some of the questions over again to get a different response that might open more important info you need to know. This process could have you spend quite a few minutes with each character you come across. This to me slowed down the advancement of the story to a dead crawl. I knew I had to keep doing this if I wanted more information that could help me in the long run of my adventure.

    I never encountered any use of the Lord's name in vain, which is a plus compared to many games made today. In the rating of this game there is a mention of "Sexual Themes", but so far I haven't seen any. I would not recommend this game to anyone that isn't an adult since it has a Mature rating.

    Torment is really for two types of gamers. The first is the fans of this series, and have been dreaming of the day that Planescape: Torment would have a sequel to enjoy. The second is for fans of old school RPGs who love taking their time and enjoying a wonderfully crafted world made by developers who have determined to bring a game that will bring back those classic feelings from old school RPG gamers worldwide.

    I enjoyed my time with Torment and plan to go back enjoy it more in the future. I would wholeheartedly recommend this game if you love a long story driven adventure with many colorful characters and a lot to see and do. These types of video games are few and far between, and I look forward to more of these classic RPGs to make a comeback.

  • Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity
    Developed By: Ankake Supa
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: September 20, 2016 (PS4), July 11, 2018 (Windows)
    Available On: PS4, Windows
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Violence, Blood, Mild Language
    Genre: Action RPG
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $19.99 (PS4), $14.99 (Steam)
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you XSEED Games for sending us this game for review!

    The Touhou game universe is based off of a very popular set of "bullet hell" shooters developed primarily by one person, who calls his company Team Shanghai Alice. Rather than tightly control his intellectual property (IP) and characters, he instead allows fans to create other media based on his work. This has led to an explosion of various types of media set in this world, including this game. This fan media is called doujinshi (or doujin) in Japan.

    Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is one of those fan made games. Originally released for Windows in Japan in 2014, it soon qualified for a Sony platform called Play, Doujin!, where it was re-released on PlayStation 4 in February 2016. And just a few months later, it was brought to English speaking audiences with the help of XSEED Games. And a couple of years after that, XSEED Games has now brought it back to PC, with the latest release on Steam.

    While there are many doujin games that XSEED could have chosen to bring over, there is little doubt that this one was chosen because of a passing resemblance to Ys. Unlike most Touhou games, this one is an action RPG, rather than a "bullet hell" shooter. You have a third person view of the action, seeing your character fight against her opponents from an angle up above. You have direct control of her, with normal and special attacks as well as jumps at her disposal. You can choose either the vampire Remilia Scarlet, or her human servant Sakuya Izayoi. After that choice at the start, you are locked to her for the rest of the game.

    While just being a fast-paced third person action RPG itself shares a fair amount with Ys, it borrows other things as well. The main steals, as I see it, are in the combo system. Like Ys: The Oath in Felghana and Ys Origin, when you attack an enemy, a combo meter begins. As you rack up hits and kills, the rate you gain experience goes up, as does damage done. Though, unlike Ys, the combo counter is extremely generous, as you have quite a few seconds to hit another enemy or even item to keep the combo counter going. I have seen combos north of 150 during my time with this game.

    Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun, lighthearted action adventure; decent character progression and loot system; great music
    Weak Points: No voice acting; the plot is very barebones and hardly drives the game forward; occasional frame rate drops; locked camera
    Moral Warnings: Animated violence; fights start with no good reason – the characters are bored and want something to do; blood in the environment in a small number of dungeons; words a*s and hell used; magic spells are used by the character and enemies; some spells are in the shape of hexagrams or pentagrams; most characters are mystical creatures of some kind, like fairies or vampires

    Another difference is that there is a quasi-random loot generation system. Items can boost a variety of stats, including HP, skill points and regeneration rate, base attack, critical power and chance, and the rather odd drop rate. How this stat actually works is unclear, since I had it well over 300% and enemies still did not drop items every time, but when I had it over 800% during a few moments, they sure did drop stuff like crazy (but still not every single enemy). Depending on what you are trying to accomplish, sometimes optimizing equipment for certain use cases can really pay off. For example, there are items that greatly increase drop rate at the cost of power or hit points. While this would never be appropriate for bosses, it can really help when fighting regular mobs, as often better equipment can result. Since both drops and treasure chests are mostly random, it can really pay off if you are very lucky.

    There are also skills and spells that you can earn as you gain levels, and equip at will. Some skills are useful to clear out enemies, while others do lots of damage or some combination of both. All skills require a certain amount of skill points, which recharge quickly, so they can be spammed fairly often if used carefully. Spells are extremely powerful, but require a lot of hitting your enemies to recharge. It's a great way to do serious damage to a boss though.

    If you are hoping for a deep plot to push you from area to area to fight off the next derelict of justice, you most certainly will be disappointed. The plot is completely forgettable. To summarize, Remilia, the 500 year old powerful vampire, is bored, so she decides to go look for something to do and beats up some rabble. Most boss battles involve some form of 'Hey, I'm bored; let's fight!' Her house ends up being damaged by an unknown assailant, and she does pursue this, but the plot is never deep or interesting enough to hold your attention. The reason to play this game is more for the gameplay than the storyline.

    And it is fun to play. The many enemies to beat up in each level, along with bosses that present a good challenge, continue to keep things interesting. If you enjoy beat 'em ups, then I suspect you'd like this too. Bosses take a bit more of their inspiration from the main Touhou games, with bosses that use "bullet hell"-like attacks, and various spells and such. They are definitely the highlight, though I found few of them challenging until pretty late into the game, especially in the post game bonus dungeon.

    The other main draw is the well established joy of collecting loot. It's not nearly as deep or interesting as other games with this mechanic, but hoping to find a new weapon or armor still has plenty of draw. It's also neat that there are a few rare items, particularly in the post game, which can give you special skills that can only be used when they are equipped. Some of them are pretty powerful, which can make the ever-present challenge of attack power vs. critical rate vs. other useful stats or skills even more difficult.

    Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Graphically, Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is quite pleasant. It has a nice animated art style, and some of the scenery is quite pretty. It's not super detailed, nor will it win any awards, but it doesn't have to. I also noticed the occasional frame rate drop. One other complaint is that sometimes the camera occludes our heroes with trees and such, but since it's always fixed, there's nothing you can do. Otherwise, the music is quite good. Not 'have to own the soundtrack' good, but very nice overall. The sound effects also do their jobs well enough. There is no voice acting of any kind, which would be nice, but is completely understandable given it's a fan made game.

    The PC version is, for all intents and purposes, virtually identical to the PS4 version. There is one added difficulty setting, called "Bullet Hell" mode. Also, you can choose your resolution and graphical effects, with 4K resolutions officially supported. I found the very highest settings to cause minor and occasional stutter on my NVIDIA GTX 1070, which really surprised me. Turning it down to high eliminated them. Surprisingly, it also scales down really well, as I was able to play the game perfectly with virtually no frame drops on my GPD Win 2 at 720p on medium detail. The game looks great that way. "Bullet Hell" difficulty adds some extra enemies and damage, and probably more bullets on the screen in boss battles. I found it really fun and challenging; my skills from previously beating it on PS4 definitely came in handy. It also helps that more enemies means more experience and levels, which helps offset the increased difficulty somewhat.

    From an appropriateness standpoint, there are a few things wrong. Of course there is violence, and much of it is pointless, for what it's worth. A small number of dungeons have blood in the environment. There are very minor curse words, like 'a*s' and 'hell'. There is plenty of magic use, by both the player and enemies. Some spells that Remilia can cast use hexagrams, while at least one late game boss uses pentagrams in her spells.

    Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is a flawed but fun game. If you like beat 'em ups, or enjoy Ys games and are looking for something to pass the time before the next release, I can recommend this game, assuming you understand its flaws and appropriateness issues. If you are looking for a highly polished action adventure RPG to keep you locked to your seat, you should probably look elsewhere. Even so, it was nice to revisit again on PC - it's usually a good sign when you play a game again years later, and still enjoy every minute of it. And the price is even better now, so it's certainly worth a look.

  • Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity (PS4)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity
    Developed By: Ankake Supa
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: September 20, 2016
    Available On: PS4, Windows (Japan only)
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Violence, Blood, Mild Language
    Genre: Action RPG
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $19.99

    Thank you XSEED Games for sending us this game for review!

    The Touhou game universe is based off of a very popular set of ‘bullet hell’ shooters developed primarily by one person, who calls his company Team Shanghai Alice.  Rather than tightly control his intellectual property (IP) and characters, he instead allows fans and others to create other media based on his work.  This has led to an explosion of various types of media set in this world, including this one.  This fan media is called doujinshi (or doujin) in Japan.

    Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is one of those fan made games.  Originally released for Windows in Japan in 2014, it soon qualified for a Sony platform called Play, Doujin!, where it was re-released on PlayStation 4 in February 2016.  And just a few months later, it was brought to English speaking audiences with the help of XSEED Games.  While there are many doujin games that XSEED could have chosen to bring over, there is little doubt that this one was chosen because of a passing resemblance to Ys.

    Unlike most Touhou games, this one is an action RPG, rather than a ‘bullet hell’ shooter.  You have a third person view of the action, seeing your character fight against her opponents from an angle up above.  You have direct control of her, with normal and special attacks as well as jumps at her disposal.  You can choose either the vampire Remilia Scarlet, or her human servant Sakuya Izayoi.  After that choice at the start, you are locked to her for the rest of the game.

    Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun, lighthearted action adventure; decent character progression and loot system; great music
    Weak Points: No voice acting; the plot is very barebones and hardly drives the game forward; occasional frame rate drops; locked camera
    Moral Warnings: Animated violence; fights start with no good reason – the characters are bored and want something to do; blood in the environment in a small number of dungeons; words a*s and hell used; magic spells are used by the character and enemies; some spells are in the shape of hexagrams or pentagrams; most characters are mystical creatures of some kind, like fairies or vampires

    While just being a fast-paced third person action RPG itself shares a fair amount with Ys, it borrows other things as well.  The main steals, as I see it, are in the combo system.  Like Ys: The Oath in Felghana and Ys Origin, when you attack an enemy, a combo meter begins.  As you rack up hits and kills, the rate you gain experience goes up, as does damage done.  Though, unlike Ys, the combo counter is extremely generous, as you have quite a few seconds to hit another enemy or even item to keep the combo counter going.  I have seen combos north of 150 during my time with this game.

    Another difference is that there is a quasi-random loot generation system.  Items can boost a variety of stats, including HP, skill points and regeneration rate, base attack, critical power and chance, and the rather odd drop rate.  How this stat actually works is unclear, since I had it well over 300% and enemies still did not drop items every time, but when I had it over 800% during a few moments, they sure did drop stuff like crazy (but still not every single enemy).  Depending on what you are trying to accomplish, sometimes optimizing equipment for certain use cases can really pay off.  For example, there are items that greatly increase drop rate at the cost of power or hit points.  While this would never be appropriate for bosses, it can really help when fighting regular mobs, as often better equipment can result.  Since both drops and treasure chests are mostly random, it can really pay off if you are very lucky.  

    There are also skills and spells that you can earn as you gain levels, and equip at will.  Some skills are useful to clear out enemies, while others do lots of damage or some combination of both.  All skills require a certain amount of skill points, which recharge quickly, so they can be spammed fairly often if used carefully. Spells are extremely powerful, but require a lot of hitting your enemies to recharge.  It's a great way to do serious damage to a boss though.

    If you are hoping for a deep plot to push you from area to area to fight off the next derelict of justice, you most certainly will be disappointed.  The plot is completely forgettable.  To summarize, Remilia, the 500 year old powerful vampire, is bored, so she decides to go look for something to do and beats up some rabble. Most boss battles involve some form of 'Hey, I'm bored; let's fight!'  Her house ends up being damaged by an unknown assailant, and she does pursue this, but the plot is never deep or interesting enough to hold your attention.  The reason to play this game is more for the gameplay than the storyline.

    And it is fun to play.  The many enemies to beat up in each level, along with bosses that present a good challenge, continue to keep things interesting.  If you enjoy beat 'em ups, then I suspect you'd like this too.  Bosses take a bit more of their inspiration from the main Touhou games, with bosses that use 'bullet hell'-like attacks, and various spells and such.  They are definitely the highlight, though I found few of them challenging until pretty late into the game, especially in the post game bonus dungeon.

    Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The other main draw is the well established joy of collecting loot.  It's not nearly as deep or interesting as other games with this mechanic, but hoping to find a new weapon or armor still has plenty of draw.  It's also neat that there are a few rare items, particularly in the post game, which can give you special skills that can only be used when they are equipped.  Some of them are pretty powerful, which can make the ever present challenge of attack power vs. critical rate vs. other useful stats or skills even more difficult.

    Graphically, Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is quite pleasant.  It has a nice animated art style, and some of the scenery is quite pretty.  It's not super detailed, nor will it win any awards, but it doesn't have to.  I also noticed the occasional frame rate drop.  One other complaint is that sometimes the camera occludes our heroes with trees and such, but since it's always fixed, there's nothing you can do.  Otherwise, the music is quite good.  Not 'have to own the soundtrack' good, but very nice overall.  The sound effects also do their jobs well enough.  There is no voice acting of any kind, which would be nice, but completely understandable in a fan made game.

    From an appropriateness standpoint, there are a few things wrong.  Of course there is violence, and much of it is pointless, for what it's worth.  A small number of dungeons has blood in the environment.  There are very minor curse words, like 'a*s' and 'hell'.  There is plenty of magic use, by both the player and enemies.  Some spells that Remilia can cast use hexagrams, while at least one late game boss uses pentagrams in her spells.

    Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is a flawed but fun game.  If you like beat 'em ups, or enjoy Ys games and are looking for something to pass the time before the next release, I can recommend this game, assuming you understand its flaws and appropriateness issues.  If you are looking for a highly polished action adventure RPG to keep you locked to your seat, you should probably look elsewhere.

     

  • Towards the Pantheon (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Towards the Pantheon
    Developed by: Connor O.R.T. Linning
    Published by: Connor O.R.T. Linning
    Released: May 16, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: RPG
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Number of players: 1
    Price: 7.99

    Thank you Connor O.R.T Linning for this game to review!

    Towards the Pantheon is a fun RPG (made with RPGmaker) with a cool story and lots of towns to visit. In this game you (the main character's name is Freyja) will meet new party members and battle new monsters. On your journey you will meet a cat named Bam, a cyborg named Mishima, and a ghost named Phenez.

    Towards the Pantheon was very entertaining to play, and it introduces the story well. You don't have to pay attention to very many things at once, which makes it easier to play. You walk around, and when you run into a monster, you have to fight it. In a fight, you have to choose between the weapons and attacks you have, and watch the monsters get destroyed by your amazing sword-fighting skills. You start with a sword, an axe, and a bow. The first monsters you will run into are probably going to be ferrets. Ferrets will be seen throughout the story in battles, but of course they get stronger over time. It plays well, and runs smoothly, also.

    Towards the Pantheon
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun
    Weak Points: Not very long
    Moral Warnings: Violence; mild language; blood and gore

    There are some side-quests that you can do, and they all help you in your journey in some way. They are not vital, so you do not have to do them. They just give you some useful items. It is easy to tell if an item you find is a quest item or not. If it is described by what it is and not what it does, then it is a quest item. All of the quests are just delivering an item that someone needs, so you will need to talk to everyone to see who needs it. For example, in the city of Adaperion, where everyone is a cyborg and has a cardiochip instead of a heart, someone tells you that their taste bud levels are getting low. Later on, you will find a chocolate smoothie if you look hard enough. Give it to her, and she will give you a key that you can use near the end.

    There are 4 characters that you will meet throughout your adventure. Freyja is the main character, and she is who you will start with. She is an adventurous girl who does not say anything until the very end. Later on you will meet Bam, a silly blue-haired feline who is good with healing spells and cures, but not as good at attacking enemies. A little while after you meet Bam you encounter Mishima. She is found in Adaperion, and you meet her because she challenges you to a battle. After you beat her, you have a talk at her house and she joins you. Mishima can hack in to some doors to let you through, and also can hit more than one enemy at once. Closer to the end, you will meet a ghost named Phenez. Phenez can turn invisible and roam around without getting noticed by guards, and is good at curses and spells.

    The music is amazing, and the graphics are supposed to make it look like an old-school RPG. The controls are as expected, and it tells you the controls for the controller and the keyboard.

    Towards the Pantheon
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    There are soldiers called the Sworn Light that are taking over the land. If Freyja doesn't stop them now, then they might enslave everyone. She has to get to the Pantheon and fight the overlord.

    There is quite a bit of violence, but it is not too bad. Near the end, though, you will start seeing disembodied parts of soldiers scattered all over the ground, and it is pretty detailed. There is also some mild language (d*mn, h*ll) used throughout the game.

    Towards the Pantheon is for anyone who enjoys games with cool story-lines and awesome characters. It is only 10 hours long, but it was probably pretty difficult to make, for an RPGmaker game. The reason I say that is because it is more detailed than most games made with the same software. They did a very good job making it, but there are still a few bugs and glitches.

  • Transistor (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Transistor
    Developed by: Supergiant Games
    Published by: Supergiant Games
    Release date: May 20, 2014
    Available on: iOS, macOS, Linux, PS4, tvOS, Windows
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for mild language and violence
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Vagrant for gifting this game to us to review!

    Supergiant Games is well known as the creators of Bastion. After producing such a smash hit, it’s hard to follow-up with a game just as good if not better. Transistor meets and exceeds many of the expectations for gamers who enjoy action RPGs.

    The atmosphere in Transistor is futuristic and cyberpunk in nature. Your character, Red, is a famous singer who narrowly survives an assassination attempt. Not only does she survive the attack from a group known as the Camerata, Red comes in contact with a mysterious talking sword-like weapon called the Transistor. The voice of the Transistor is from the man whom the weapon was retrieved from. Red’s voice is absorbed into the sword as well.

    The Transistor guides Red and teaches her some basic attack techniques. The robotic enemies can be attacked in real time by right clicking on them, or you can enter the Turn() mode and plan your attacks and then execute them at the cost of requiring a recharge before attacking again. There are a wide variety of enemies and dispatching them takes both brains and brawn. A few of the enemies will be shielded from attacks until you take out the one protecting them. Bosses often have multiple stages and lots of health points.

    Transistor
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful visuals; great music and voice acting; fun and challenging combat system
    Weak Points: Linear and short gameplay
    Moral Warnings: Mild language (d*mn); robotic violence and suicide is shown; homosexuality is hinted at

    While exploring the city of Cloudbank, you’ll come across terminals that you can interact with. You can order yourself a meal or read the news about the city’s attack and destruction from the Process. The story of the origin of the Transistor and the Process unfolds as you play through this game which can be completed in less than five hours. After finishing the main story, you can play through it again in a New Game+ mode to further upgrade your character and fight tougher enemies.

    As you level up, you can upgrade Red’s memory, cache, and permissions. Along with the Transistor, Red can fight with various functions she accumulates throughout the game. In order for the functions to be loaded into the primary, secondary, or passive slots, you need to have enough free memory. When leveling up, you’re given several choices of functions and upgrade options. Increasing the memory is always a good choice to make if given the option.

    One of my favorite functions was a dog that I could summon and it would attack enemies for me. This came in handy for the final boss as well. Other handy functions include ones that have area of effect damage or the ability to temporarily convert an enemy to attack foes on your behalf. By experimenting with and changing your function loadouts you can unlock some character backstories. You can also equip limiters that make battles a bit more challenging but in turn will increase the experience earned and allow you to level up faster.

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Along with an option to freshen up in the ladies' room, Red can visit backdoor areas which have various mini-games and challenges to complete. The stability test is a survival mini-game where Red has to withstand attacks for over a minute without dying. The practice is a great place to try new and different function configurations and see which combination is the most powerful. The planning test requires that a certain number of foes are eliminated in only one turn. Steam achievements can be earned by completing all of these challenges.

    Transistor is a well-polished game and the artistic style and artwork is top notch. The voice acting and background music is exceptional as well. The soundtrack is available as DLC for $9.99. I may consider picking it up on a Steam sale one day.

    Morally, Transistor does warrant its Teen rating for the violence and mild language. Though most of the enemies you fight are robots, there are some human characters who need to be dealt with as well. Some of them wind up taking their own lives too. While not completely obvious, one can assume that the male couple that took their lives were homosexual. The swearing was pretty infrequent, but I do recall hearing d*mn at least once.

    In the end Transistor is a short, but exceptional game. The $19.99 asking price is a bit steep for a game that can be completed in five hours, but it does have some replay value with the New Game+ mode. If you see this title on sale and haven’t played it yet, it’s certainly worth adding to your game library.

  • Tropia (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Tropia
    Developed By: Street Gaming Inc
    Published By: BajoGames
    Released: April 17, 2019
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Retro Turn-Based RPG
    ESRB Rating: None specified
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $3.99

    First, thank you to Street Gaming Inc for the review key.

    Some people will never let go of nostalgia, and with the advent of retro-styled games, they don't have to. The game Tropia attempts to appeal to those who have fond memories of NES JRPGs, but how well they pulled it off is what we will be discussing.

    The story is amusingly clichè. King's daughter kidnapped by a demon, wants you to rescue her, that's it. The story is quite basic, but considering this game is a throwback to the days where the plot of a game could fit on a business card, it works just fine.

    The gameplay is classic top-down, NES RPG style. It's menu-driven and has turn-based combat, so if you fondly remember such games as Ultima III's NES port, it will feel very familiar. There is a party member switching mechanic involving switching a different character as the leader of the group. This allows for different actions, like opening certain doors or getting past certain obstacles, and it will be used very frequently.

    Tropia
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nice throwback to NES-era RPGs
    Weak Points: Repetitive gameplay; some graphical glitches
    Moral Warnings: References to theft and demons

    The RPG gameplay is not hard to get used to but has a stiff difficulty curve involving a lot of level grinding. The game does feature a few hidden areas but tends to be on rails, with your next objectives more or less impossible to miss. The secret bosses the developer advertises are not all that hard to find, but getting them to fight you involves a bit of backtracking after getting certain items. Finally, while it's not a hard game to learn, featuring excellent in-game tutorials, it can be very tedious and repetitive due to limited gameplay outside of fighting a lot and solving the occasional puzzle.

    Graphics are deliberately in the hand-drawn 8-bit pixel style common to the NES and look simple yet colorful. Enemy, character, and set-piece design also follows the same motif and has the half anime-half western style most NES games that were ports of PC RPG titles tended towards. Sound is simple chiptunes, and while nothing overly impressive, it tends to be excellent if a tad repetitive.

    Controls are keyboard-driven and work well, though the game tends to seize control of the mouse while running. One can Alt+Tab and get the mouse control back if you need to switch to another application. The game is generally stable, though there are some graphical glitches like some tiles being walkable that should be impassable and hidden doorways that tend to flicker between invisible and visible in certain areas.

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

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Morally, this game has very few issues.

    Violence is of the RPG variety, yet is bloodless and devoid of gore. Language is very clean, much like the NES era games tended to be under Nintendo's family-friendly policies. Sexual content is absent, the magic is incredibly generic, and while demons are present, they are evil and must be put down, and there is no obvious occult imagery or influences.

    The game does jokingly reference theft, mostly snarking about how RPG characters tend to be able to pick locks and take items from random people's homes without breaking actual laws. As for anything that would be a legal offense in-universe, you are generally unable to do anything that would get you in actual ethical, moral, or legal trouble.

    As a game, it's short, can be beaten in under a week and is worth its small price tag if you are a serious nostalgia fan of classic NES style RPGs. Morally, it doesn't have too many issues and is perfectly fine for kids and adults alike.

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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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