enfrdeitptrues

RPG

  • Undertale (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Undertale
    Developed by: Toby Fox
    Published by: Toby Fox
    Release Date: September 15, 2015
    Available on: PC, Mac, Steam
    Genre: RPG
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

    A special thanks to the reader who gifted us this game!

    Undertale was successfully Kickstarted in 2013 after raising ten times the $5,000 goal.  It was delivered a year later than anticipated, but better late than never right?  What sets Undertale apart from other RPGs is the unique battle system or the lack thereof.  You do not have to fight the monsters and can avoid conflict by distracting or helping them. Fighting is still possible and you will gain experience for doing so.  If you spare them, you’ll be rewarded with gold instead.

    The background story goes as follows: monsters and humans used to live in peace until a devastating war took place (you’ll learn the cause later in the game!).  The humans eventually won and sealed away the monsters and cast a magical barrier to keep them underground.  

     

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny dialogue; good music; multiple endings
    Weak Points: Crashes when exiting; partial controller support
    Moral Warnings: Same-sex attractions; language; blaspheming

    In the year 201X, an androgynous child climbs Mt. Ebott and finds a mysterious cave with a hole in the wall.  Upon investigating the crevice, he/she falls in, and the journey begins.  The first underground creature to come in contact with is a flower that talks down to them and calls them an idiot many times.  The child is then rescued by a motherly monster named Toriel.  Despite Toriel’s hospitality, the child still wants to go home, but soon learns that humans that fall into the underworld, never return.  

    Determined to return to the surface, the child sets off to find a way.  With the instructions given by Toriel he/she learns the basics when it comes to solving puzzles and maneuvering the battle system.  Fighting enemies is possible by timing your attacks and then dodging their counter attacks retro shooting game style!  

    As I mentioned earlier, fighting is totally optional.  The Act button lets the player choose to do an enemy-specific action to channel its hostile feelings towards them into friendlier ones.  For example, some enemies will enjoy being flirted with while others prefer to have muscle flexing contests.  After a couple of rounds of back and forth bantering, their name should turn yellow indicating that they can be spared if the player chooses to use the Mercy option.  I like how bosses in this game can actually be your friends afterward!

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 65%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Besides the unique fighting system, Undertale prides itself on the numerous puzzles within the game.  I was able to solve a majority of them on my own, but one of them sent me to the Steam community to find the needed solution.  While there are no Steam achievements, there are trading cards that fetch roughly $.30 apiece if you plan on selling or buying them to craft badges.

    Undertale has quite a following and with the quirky characters and funny dialogue, I can understand why.  It’s worth noting that there are some budding homosexual relationships.  Other issues worth mentioning are minor language (d*mn) and blaspheming.  

    The graphics have an old school feel to them and don’t require a high end video card to run this game.  The soundtrack on the other hand is superb and I highly recommend buying it bundled with the game or on sale on its own.  Undertale and the soundtrack sell for $9.99 each, but you can buy them together for $18.  I beat the game in roughly seven hours and to unlock the better ending I would have to start from the beginning and make it to the end peacefully.  While I was usually merciful, I did fight a few monsters.  Needless to say, this game is very entertaining and worth playing again to do things that I wasn’t able to my first time around.  There is plenty of replay value and I highly recommend checking it out if the moral issues don’t bother you.  Because of the language and homosexual references we think that this title is better suited for older audiences. 

     

  • Unexplored (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Unexplored
    Developed by: Ludomotion
    Published by: Ludomotion
    Release date: February 22, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Action RPG (Roguelite)
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you, Ludomotion, for sending us a review key!

    Procedural generation, roguelike elements, simplistic graphics: among indie games, these elements are legion. The game joins its contemporaries by using the high difficulty, permadeath, and general item randomness that define roguelikes. Unexplored embraces these and other cliches such as unidentified magical scrolls, unexplained altars, and cryptic notes left by previous explorers. All this takes place in the classic procedural Dungeon of Doom where stairs in the volcano can lead to a prison which leads to a library which leads to a jungle which leads to an ice cave. Unexplored goes back to its roots and, in so doing, emerges as an accessible and engaging throw-back to the ASCII dungeon delves of yore.

    Unexplored tasks the tiny yellow player cyclops with the goal of entering the Dungeon of Doom and returning with an amulet. If you wish, you can spend some of your gold to buy extra starting gear or get tips on the dungeon. Gold accumulates over time and is tracked throughout your dungeon trips and deaths, so don't spend it too quickly. Different starting items and classes are unlocked by fulfilling certain tasks in the dungeon such as collecting arrows or killing goblins (this overlaps with the Achievement system). This kind of progression labels a game "roguelite." Your first several trips will likely be spent learning about the dungeon's common enemies and traps while trying to unlock more starting gear. If you take your roguelikes in just that flavor--like the game Rogue--you are welcome to spend no gold and to start with no extra tools except your accumulated knowledge.

    Once you enter, you can't leave without the dragon-guarded amulet. The wise player will thoroughly explore the given instance of the dungeon in order to collect as much useful gear as possible before the dangerous lower levels. Much of what you find in chests and enemy corpses are standard swords, spears, and so on. There are a good variety of weapons which attack in different ways and have different cooldown times. There is also basic armor. These reliable standard pieces of equipment will do you good for a while, but eventually you're going to need the proverbial big guns: magic items.

    Unexplored
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent procedural dungeon generation (expansive content and varied layouts); real-time action that keeps the feel of turn-based roguelikes; good item variety; clear, informative visuals; useful difficulty settings
    Weak Points: Occasional framerate and sound glitches; aspects of the interface are unexplained
    Moral Warnings: Functional magic and prayer to various gods; large cartoon blood splatter; some scary imagery; references to alcohol

    Unfortunately, magic items come unidentified. Usually you will have to equip and use one to determine what augment it has. Often that shiny sword will shoot lightning or deal fire damage, but perhaps it is cursed to slow you while preventing you from unequipping it. Even items taken from fallen foes might be cursed, so there is always a risk to using magic. The same applies to rings, amulets, helmets, armor, and magic scrolls, which must be read to trigger the effect and, consequently, find out if you just gained strength or called a group of floating knives to attack you. The negative effects hurt, but almost none of them are game-ending when tested in a safe environment. The risk is further mitigated by magical scrolls of identity which tell you what a given item or potion does. You can forge magic items at anvils in the dungeon to pick their augment. Sometimes the game provides a note with a potion or scroll to give context. You can also throw unknown potions at enemies; in fact, this is recommended. Every creature in the game follows the same rules as the player. If that purple liquid is a Potion of Combustion, it will be as happy to combust an enemy as it will be to combust yourself.

    Combat takes place in real-time and requires planning and care. Weapons deal damage by running them into a foe or by swinging/thrusting them for extra damage. Both options put the weapon in a brief cooldown during which it doesn't harm enemies or block their attacks. As you balance your weapons' cooldowns with those of the enemy, battles become stuttering dances of tag mixed up by weapon variety (maces, clubs, whips, and more) and enemy type. Again, fights have to be approached with planning: a room full of basic wolves can be deadly if the player has no way of escape. It is moments such as those that often led to me reading every scroll I owned in the hopes of being randomly teleported away.

    "Planning" in this game means more than observing a room before entering. Often the books scattered around the dungeon contain information on bosses and levels to come. For example, you might learn that a mage likes fire magic and you'd best chug a Potion of Resist Fire before engaging. These hints and solutions take place over multiple floors of the dungeon, requiring the player to go up and down stairs--of which there might be several on a floor.

    Notes will also help you reach treasure caches and pick the right item from a group of pedestals. This small bit of puzzle-solving, along with the varied dungeon layouts, lends a good deal of depth to Unexplored. Difficulty settings adjust the numbers of puzzles, magic items, enemies, and bosses. There are noticeable differences between them, so dungeon-delving experts can enjoy the experience along with the uninitiated. The text seed used to randomly generate the dungeon can be set, allowing dungeons to be replayed and shared online.

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

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    Unexplored's gameplay is solid; however, the game itself is rough around the edges. The graphics are vibrant and instantly let you recognize items, yet the music is quite forgettable. I experienced multiple freezes and sound issues (unrelated to the Cursed Helm of Deafness). It was also several hours before I found certain parts of the HUD. While one could blame this on me as an unobservant player, I had trusted the tutorial to explain the interface. Unknown scrolls are essential to the game's design; unexplained menu buttons are not.

    Morality concerns include much cartoon blood and some scary moments involving the monsters and spiders and those spiders jumping out of eggs which cause more to jump out...*shudders*. The gold-for-hints system takes the form of buying your guide a beer at the tavern. Altars and references to gods are spread throughout the dungeon. The player always has the option to pray for help (which typically comes in the form of a door being opened).

    Unexplored offers a fresh take on the essential roguelike formula. It is not, however, going to win over players who do not enjoy the genre. The description on Steam, "the roguelite that feels like a roguelike," uses jargon such that it's clear this game was built for people who know the expected tropes of difficulty, randomness, and procedural generation and enjoy them. If you've never picked up a roguelike, Unexplored is a great way to try the genre out. It's accessible, fun, and visually stimulating. If, on the other hand, you know exactly what to expect from the genre, you already know whether or not you will like Unexplored. Those who are repelled by randomness and contextless dungeon dives will be repelled by this game. Those who love the inherent surprises and challenges of the genre will almost certainly enjoy Unexplored.

  • Valkyria Revolution (Vita)

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    Game Info:

    Valkyria Revolution
    Developed by: Media.Vision
    Published by: SEGA
    Release date: June 27, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Vita, Xbox One
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Language, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence
    Price: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you SEGA for sending us this game to review!

    Not long ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Valkyria Chronicles Remastered on PS4. This classic is the first in the series and worthy of the retouching done to it. I hadn’t played the other games in the series until now. While Valkyria Revolution has a gripping story, it does have other glaring issues that may deter many from experiencing it.

    The game begins at the grave of the five traitors. A student is researching their history and asks the nearby teacher to help fill in the holes to their historical records. It just so happens that the teacher, Richelle Caudrup, has inside knowledge that was not recorded in the history books. As she retells their story, you’ll learn about each of the five traitors and their role in the war.

    The traitors are childhood friends who lived at an orphanage that was burned down by the emperor of the Ruzi empire. In the fire, they lost many of their friends and the lady who ran the orphanage was kidnapped and never seen again. Each of the children were eventually adopted and all lived in Jutland which was being blockaded by surrounding territories and was on the verge of economic collapse.

    Valkyria Revolution
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Intriguing story about five friends who have started a war for their personal revenge and were branded as traitors for their actions
    Weak Points: Lots of loading time between story sequences; repetitive battles; annoying boss fights that can last over an hour long each; game crashed on me once
    Moral Warnings: The story revolves around revenge; violence; language (hell, d*mn, sh*t, *ss, b*stard) and blasphemy; drunkenness, sexual references and cleavage shown

    Solomon was a member of Jutland’s parliament and proposed going to war with Ruz to ease the blockade that was in place. The diplomat between Ruz and Jutland was against the war from the start but was outvoted by the majority who were in favor of liberating Jutland and other nearby territories. Solomon’s dedication, scheming and military tactics were key in the traitors getting their way and the revenge that they desired.

    Fritte was a newspaper columnist who often wrote political stories to sway the opinion of the masses. He would put a positive spin on all of Jutland’s battles even if they were defeated. Thankfully, with Amleth’s leadership as an army captain, the losses were minimal. Most of the game is shown through Amleth’s perspective.

    Basil was a businessman who helped his adopted father run his ragnite factory. While Basil is flashy and likable, he’s got a crude tongue and cusses the most out of all the characters in the game. Thanks to his connections, the anti-valkyria squad always had the most technologically advanced weapons available. Research of secondary weapons, grenades, and character upgrades can all be done at Basil’s factory.

    The last traitor is Violette who gathered military intelligence by seducing enemy officers. Her outfits were rather revealing in the chest area. Violette isn’t the only character to flaunt her “assets” in this game. The female valkyria is crazy endowed, so much so that she probably doesn’t require a tray table and could get away with using her chest to rest her dinner plate. The valkyria talks about pain, suffering and agony and with having such a disproportionate and unrealistic body shape, I can see why she suffers so much.

    The story sequences are good but often short and disrupted by loading screens every couple of minutes. I’m not sure if the PS4 or Xbox versions are any better in this regard. The Vita did run the game admirably though it stuttered occasionally during some of the intense boss battles.


    Valkyria Revolution

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

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 48%
    Violence - 3.5/10
    Language - 2.5/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    A typical military mission is not timed, and you have to secure enemy bases to claim victory. Some of the missions have you take control of two different squads to secure multiple points simultaneously (story wise). A couple of the missions are timed and you have to complete all of the objectives in ten minutes or less. For the timed missions I often found my characters under-leveled and had to play a couple of the free missions to make their attacks stronger.

    Ragnite is the mineral that everyone is fighting over in this universe. With ragnite you can level up your character’s affinity towards it and make their attacks more powerful as a result. Alchemy attacks are elemental based and each of the enemies and bosses have an elemental affinity/weakness. Each character has a battle palette that lets you equip a few ragnite attacks along with access to secondary weapons and grenades. Make sure you have all of the elements represented because it’s not fun facing a boss that you don’t have a counter elemental attack for.

    Even with my potentially under-leveled characters, many of the boss battles were overly long and drawn out in my opinion. A couple of the battles took me over an hour to beat due to the boss’s health regeneration. There’s a dual headed mechanical snake tank that has one head vulnerable to physical attacks while the other is weak to fire alchemy. If you’re not fast enough in disabling both heads, the boss regenerates a third of its health. Besides the heads, you can disable a couple of the middle sections too, but I discovered too late that the heads are the main parts you have to focus on.

    Most of the time you get to save before a big boss battle. However, there was one boss in the finale that one-hit killed my entire party and I had to repeat a 3-part mission to get the “honor” of fighting him again. In total, there are ten chapters and a finale in this title.

    Overall, my experience with this game is mixed. The action RPG elements are merely okay and the boss battles were unpleasant at times. Despite the flaws, I did enjoy the story and suffered through long battles and loading screens to see it to completion. Due to the violence, language, and sexual references, this game does earn its Teen rating from the ESRB. I have seen PS4 and Xbox One versions of Valkyria Revolution on sale for less than $15 on Amazon and for that price it’s worth considering. Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to complete the boss battles. The convenience of powering off and resuming battles on the Vita was a life saver so portability is worth it for this game in my opinion.

  • Valley (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Valley
    Developed by: Blue Isle Studios
    Published by: Blue Isle Studios
    Release date: March 7, 2019
    Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, macOS, Linux
    Genre: RPG Platformer
    Number of players: Single player
    ESRB Rating:T for Blood and Violence
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you, Blue Isle Studios, for sending us a review key!

    The central appeal of Valley is the fantasy of running down a ski jump faster than humanly possible, leaping off, and landing safely. Walking on walls, a grapple gun, and more sweeten the pot over time. For certain people, myself included, that is enough to spark interest. If that's you, let me tell you now: Valley delivers. Until the last moment of the game, it lets you run down hills, launch onto mountainsides, and leap through the trees. Indoor and underground sections do not feel confining. The more typical woodland environment is visually interesting and freeing. Though Valley doesn't provide strong motivation to replay levels, it satisfies while it lasts. Valley is not the ideal first-person 3D platformer, but it's a good one.

    The player character of Valley is a modern archaeologist who enters a little-mapped valley and stumbles upon the old WWII exosuit which facilitates the game. The L.E.A.F. suit is the type of tech that provides such wondrous services that one might ask how it remained an obscure prototype. This exosuit gives the wearer super speed, super jumping, and control over life and death. The game introduces that last out-of-place feature about as abruptly as I did. It's central to the story, less so to the gameplay. The story centers on the experiments run in this valley in pursuit of what might be a spoiler. A scientist has a large ego; a scientist concludes that the project's reach exceeds its grasp; things explode. It's well-done, if not very creative. More creative are the spirit-like wisps who wander the valley along with their taller, more deadly cousins called Wendigo who eventually become enemies. The in-game Slenderman poster is merely an Easter egg from the developers of Slender: The Arrival; in return, the game provides a surprising end-game boss in tune with the slowly building horror atmosphere.

    Valley
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Pretty and varied environments; steady supply of new mobility abilities; lots of opportunity to run and jump freely
    Weak Points: Certain abilities are a hassle but necessity to use; exploration off the main path is unevenly rewarded; can be too easy
    Moral Warnings: Some swearing; Blood splatter and human skeletal remains; Wendigo myth and cannibalism referenced; Ghost-like enemies; Ritual locations including a shrine implied to be used for human sacrifice

    Limited energy powers grappling, double-jumping, and bolts of light used to pacify enemies. Taking damage from enemies siphons energy. Taking damage while out of energy, falling into water, or falling into holes kills the player character. This is where the power over life and death comes in. The player revives nearby, but the valley starts to die. Trees wilt and animals die. The L.E.A.F. suit allows life to be taken from or given to the environment in exchange for energy. If the valley runs out of life energy, it's a game over. The game motivates life-giving with golden acorns needs to unlock extra areas which often contain audio logs and suit upgrades. Bringing trees and animals back to life also effectively provides extra lives for the player. It's a neat mechanic. I was at risk of a game over maybe twice, both times due to poor handling of the grapple gun. The game provides enough energy pickups to allow most life to be restored, either for acorns or for the player's own satisfaction. On Switch, at least, the graphics are good enough to make valley restoration satisfying. The environments are varied, though not very detailed.

    The star of the show is the L.E.A.F. suit's mobility capabilities. The hills, rocks, and ruins in the valley provide plenty of fodder for running and jumping. I have no idea if the gravity is realistic. It feels weighty without being oppressive. Running straight through the level without taking detours is fun and rarely challenging. Some areas were explicitly built by the in-game creators of the suit to train with it. The artificiality of ramps and tree platforms does not hamper the joy of jumping around. The grapple gun does not feel as good to use as I would hope, but when it works, it works. Walking on walls can feel disorienting, but leaping over a chasm and attaching to the side of the opposite wall feels awesome. There are a few more abilities, all delightful. The game is more creative with indoor space than I expected, sometimes taking advantage of very obvious uses for the L.E.A.F. suit that make sense both for the story and the gameplay.

    The game is not as good at filling empty spaces in levels. Early on Valley makes clear that the player would do well to gather acorns and small gears. Sometimes they are on the side of the path; often they are tucked onto higher cliffs. I wish exploring the levels was rewarded more often, especially since I must stop the more-enjoyable running in order to do it. To gather all the collectible gears, levels must be revisited with abilities gained in later levels. I was not very excited to do so after gathering all upgrades; mostly I just wanted to play through the levels again while ignoring collectibles.

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

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 15/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Valley's story unwraps over time; its gameplay is much more straightforward. For me, the game mechanics are deeply and viscerally appealing. The story mostly elicited feelings that it was better than it needed to be. It's also scarier than it seems at first. The Wendigo can pop out of nowhere to rush the player. They do not eat the player as do the Wendigo of real-life myth, but sometimes the player will find skeletons of those who were less fortunate. Ruins and audio logs suggest that certain areas used to be used for human sacrifice. One of the pits the player can fall into and die has something supernatural and full of teeth at the bottom. Next to the gore, the occasional swearing in audio logs is probably a minor concern. The voice acting is decent. The music can be thrilling but is more often merely passable.

    The Switch is probably not the best platform for Valley. The console’s power seems to limit graphics and framerate. If it's the only option available or if portability is desired, Valley on Switch is still worth it. The game is fun throughout. At maybe six to eight hours it was not long, nor did I find it too short. If running and diving through trees interests you, I recommend you try Valley.

  • Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr
    Published by: NeocoreGames
    Developed by: NeocoreGames
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore, Violence
    Available on: Windows PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
    Release Date: June 5, 2018
    Genre: Action Role-playing
    Number of Players: 1 - 2 players local, up to 4 online
    MSRP: $49.99 (PC), $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One)
    (Humble Store/Amazon Affiliate Links)

    Many thanks to NeocoreGames for the review copy!

    Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr is a top-down action game similar to Diablo III, set in the Warhammer: 40,000 universe.

    Most video games these days that are set in the Warhammer: 40,000 universe focus on the most well-known element in that setting: Space Marines. This is not one of those. The player takes on the role of an Imperial Inquisitor: an agent of the Imperium of Man tasked with hunting down and destroying heretics, aliens, mutants, unsanctioned psykers and traitors. Inquisitors have nigh-unlimited authority and power, and are supported by various Inquisitorial orders of the Imperium.

    The campaign story begins with the Inquisitor boarding a derelict Imperial Starship, the Martyr, which has been found adrift in space. The first few missions take place aboard the ship before the action switches to various worlds and space stations as the Inquisitor follows a trail of clues to solve the mystery. Along the way, he gains allies, upgrades and information as he purges the enemies of the Imperium.

    As is often the case with licensed Games Workshop titles, great care has been taken to faithfully reproduce the feel and tone of the 40K universe. That means grimdark, gothic design and plenty of violence. The Martyr is an Imperial ship, and as such is styled to resemble Gothic architecture of the sort found on European cathedrals and the like. I'd give the game developers an A- on the accuracy of 40K. Yes, there are a few minor nitpicky things that only a true 40K fan would notice, such as depictions of the Imperial Aquila having both eyes or the way "Gellar Fields" is pronounced, but only someone as obsessive over these details as I am will be distracted by them.

    There are plenty of in-game tutorials to help the player get used to the various features, which is very handy since the game gets a bit complex. Between various weapons loadouts, special abilities, special equipment and so on, there's plenty going on.

    The various chapters in the story are told in the form of missions along with dialogue to move the plot. Mission length is about 10-20 minutes depending on how thorough the player is in searching the mission maps, or how long the fights take. Tactics, special equipment and weapons choice have a big effect here. Pick the wrong loadout and you'll be here awhile. Pick the right one and the game feels like it's perpetually in easy mode.

    The player can choose to do only the campaign missions, but doesn't have to. There are plenty of side missions that can be done to gather more loot, gain more experience for leveling and just have more fun. Beware: The side quests are more challenging than the campaign missions, and if you fail, you don't get another chance at that particular side quest. Not to worry, they're procedurally generated so it isn't like you'll be missing important story content. You do only get three lives for one of these, so be careful. Fortunately, the difficulty rating of the missions are displayed and can be compared to the Inquisitor's power level so the player can make an informed decision about whether to attempt the mission. The Inquisitor's power level is the total power of all of his equipment.

    Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good campaign story, simple UI and smooth combat
    Weak Points: Repetitive missions; not playable offline
    Moral Warnings: Very violent and bloody; mild language

    Loot drops are plentiful, and can easily keep the Inquisitor up to speed on what he needs to complete the missions. Additionally, the Inquisitor can purchase gear from the Rogue Trader whose ship he has commandeered. Excess equipment can also be sold.

    There are plenty of options for customizing the Inquisitor. Not only is there a basic class/level system, there is a skill tree, perks, attributes and of course, equipment. The player gets two separate loadouts that can be easily swapped during gameplay. For example, I used one weapon set for melee action, and the other for ranged combat. Swapping weapon sets is done by either clicking the swap button in the UI or by hitting the tab key.

    Between missions, the Inquisitor can buy/sell equipment, store gear in a storage unit (called a stasis casket) as well as advance the story by talking to various characters.

    The game control setup is straightforward, with all the available special attacks for the current weapon set along the bottom of the screen. Right and left clicking the mouse button on an enemy activates the first two special attacks, but the others are activated by hitting the number buttons on the keyboard. With the way the special attacks available are arranged on screen, it feels like they should have been buttons, but aren't. They show the cooldown for each attack and what keyboard number (or mouse button) activates them, but that's it. As a veteran MMORPG player I kept trying to click them to activate the abilities. Moving the Inquisitor around the map is done by pointing and clicking with the mouse. Overall the controls and UI are simple and easy to use.

    Combat is straightforward with the Inquisitor normally operating alone but sometimes NPCs will join him during the course of a mission. There are usually units of Imperial Guard (ok, Astra Militarum nowadays) or Space Marines (did you think there could be a 40K game without them entirely?). Environments are destructible so taking cover is a wise but temporary solution to being under heavy fire. But look at the bright side: The enemy's cover is destructible too. The mouse wheel zooms in and out and pressing the center button allows the player to rotate the camera.

    Inquisitor - Martyr is a game with very heavy emphasis on community. There are leaderboards that track players' success with a Glory meter that resets each week. There's also multiplayer, with the option to play in either PvP or co-op mode. The community feel is complete with an in-game messaging system that functions like e-mail. The downside to this is that the game cannot be played offline. This is a pet peeve of mine personally.

    The game difficulty overall is not very high. When I play games I generally leave them at the default difficulty setting and at that level I could play this game with about the same level of concentration as a game of Spider Solitaire... Which is to say that it was fun and engaging, but I didn't have to stop playing in order to have a conversation with someone. I think part of the problem is that the missions get fairly repetitive and while they have lots of variety in a narrative sense, the actual gameplay doesn't offer much variety. When choosing mission options I quickly found that I didn't need to think too much about my choices. It always boiled down to "run through the maze, kill everything that moves, take the loot, and click the thingies (or stand next to them and hold the 'F' key) that represent mission objectives." That isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if you like a casual game experience. It just made it a little bit harder to care about all the great detail and options they built into the game.

    Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    The graphics are pretty smooth and high quality. I experienced no lag or issues running on a custom-built Windows 10 machine with an AMD Ryzen 5 1600 6 Core 3.20 GHz Processor, 16 GB of RAM and an ASUS Dual-GTX1060 6GB GPU. (No tweaks or boost to the GPU.) I did experience only one glitch, which was that after a mission on my first time playing the end mission summary screen got stuck and I had to quit the game and try again. The issue didn't come back.

    The sound is great and the background music is suitably moody and depressing. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand, though there are captions provided onscreen in case you have to play muted.

    Yes, I know I say this with every 40K game I review, but it's still true and needs mentioning yet again because it's always been true and probably always will be. This is a game set in the grimdark universe of Warhammer 40,000, which means it's violent, bloody and brutal. When enemies are slain they tend to instagib (fly apart in a bloody mess) unless they're larger, in which case they just bleed a lot. All in all, fairly on par for a 40K title.

    On the upside, the 40K setting has never been one for any kind of nudity or significant sexual content, and I didn't see any in this game either. Language was very mild, with the occasional words that would be unsurprising on broadcast television (such as the 'd' word), but even that was rare.

    Again, as is common in the 40K universe, there are occult themes in the form of human psykers (people who can use psychic abilities) and the Chaos Gods. Also, the Inquisitors revere the Emperor of Mankind almost at a godlike level.

    Ethically, this game can be problematic mainly in what an Inquisitor is. An Inquisitor in 40K is not someone who shows mercy, or who would hesitate to wipe out entire populations if he believes that's what it takes to destroy the threats to the Imperium. An Inquisitor is at best an antihero, and at worst, an extreme pragmatist with zero compunction about destroying the innocent to get at the guilty. Whether depicted that way in this particular game or not, that's what a 40K Inquisitor is, and players who know the setting will have that in mind when playing this game. Yes, the Inquisitor is out to destroy evils like Chaos, but the phrase "the ends justify the means" may as well be stamped on their foreheads.

    Here's the thing about 40K that I think is troubling to my Christian mind, despite how much I love the games and the setting... Despite the vaguely Christian trappings in use by the Imperium (especially Catholic in theme), there is absolutely nothing whatsoever in common between any type of Christianity and the Imperium. When an Inquisitor (or Space Marine, or any other agent of the Imperium) is dispatched to deal with an enemy, there is absolutely zero room for compassion, forgiveness, redemption or anything else that comes out of the New Testament. The theme of the Imperium is to take the more brutal elements of the medieval church to an extreme. 40K is generally not a spiritually uplifting setting.

    Are the quasi-religious elements used in 40K disrespectful to Christians? Well, that's a subjective question. I honestly do not believe the intent is to be disrespectful as such, though it's easy to interpret the setting as being somewhat satirical toward the Roman Church of the Middle Ages through the Renaissance. The Inquisitors do mirror the infamous Spanish Inquisition. The style and iconography is meant to mirror Gothic cathedrals, and the official language of the Imperium is "High Gothic," which sounds and reads like pseudo-Latin. I do not personally find these elements troubling, but I could definitely understand where a Catholic might.

    I enjoyed this game. It gave me exactly what I expected in that the game developers competently created a game that plays smoothly and simply, and can be easily played in a short session to bang out a mission or two. I recommend it to anyone who liked the gameplay of Diablo, or who is into Warhammer 40,000 in general. This game isn't for the little kids, or those who are squeamish about violence.

  • Warhammer Chaosbane (PC) (Preview)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Warhammer Chaosbane
    Released: June 4, 2019
    Published By: BigBen Interactive
    Developed By: Eko Software
    ESRB Rating: Not Yet Rated (M)
    Reviewed On: Windows 10 PC
    Available On: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, XBox One
    Genre: Action, RPG
    Number of Players: Up to four
    Price: $49.99

    Many thanks to HomeRunPR and BigBen for the review copy!

    Chaosbane is an adventure game set in the Warhammer Old World. That's right, pre-Cataclysm, Pre-Age of Sigmar. The player can choose to go as one of four possible characters: A Wood Elf Scout, a Human Soldier, a Dwarf Berserker or a High Elf Mage. The game begins in Nuln, an Imperial city experiencing an attack by creatures that appear to be coming from Nurgle, chaos god of plague.

    The player reports to Teclis, a well-known High Elf character from the Warhammer lore who functions as the quest giver in the main tower, which is the "home base" the player starts each quest from. Once a quest is given, the player heads over to the quest area by running through the appropriate illuminated archway. New archways unlock as the player progresses through the game.

    The game is played form an orthographic point of view. Movement is controlled by clicking the mouse button which will cause the character to move to the spot pointed to by the cursor. Clicking on items or enemies will cause the character to interact with them - attacking enemies and barrels, opening chests or picking up items. The player clears each map of enemies, picking up treasure and items along the way. At the end of the quest, the player goes through an exit doorway to return to the tower.

    As the character levels, new attacks and abilities are unlocked, and are unique to the character class chosen.  For example, the Scout can fire a spread of arrows that covers a wide area, while the Soldier gets a shield bash that can cause damage and push enemies back, even at a short distance.  It takes energy to use these special attacks, however, and the energy reserve depletes quickly.  It can be replenished by using normal attacks to slay enemies.

    Warhammer Chaosbane
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Quick to learn; good graphics quality
    Weak Points: Not very original
    Moral Warnings: Lots of combat and bloodshed; occult themes

    I found that gameplay wasn't very different between a melee class and a ranged class. In either case, enemies close in on you so quickly that you can't kill all of them before they're in melee anyway. The Scout seems to be equally effective in both ranged and melee which makes it feel more powerful than say, the Soldier, which has almost exclusively melee attacks. Again, since the enemies close in so quickly it's not a huge advantage, but it does feel more restrictive.

    The character can also find items to upgrade, such as weapons, armor talismans, etc. These are normally found in crates and barrels that can be broken in the various quests. Breaking barrels also frequently rewards the player with small amounts of gold.

    Game difficulty is set by a slider, which I found to be an interesting way to go. By default, it's on the light end of medium difficulty, which I found to be incredibly easy. I mean effortlessly easy. Early in the tutorial you have to drink a healing potion whether you need it or not, and I felt like it was a waste because my health was still completely full.

    There is a multiplayer component to the game, though I never seemed to pick a time when others were playing so I could try it out. This is still in beta testing, however, so that isn't too surprising.

    Chaosbane is currently in beta so there are a few minor technical issues that still need attention. I'll list my observations here in the hopes that the development team finds them useful.

    If you click beyond an obstacle the character will run up to the obstacle and run in place as he or she tries to reach the point clicked on. The 'use potion' key seems to be mislabeled in the UI (It says 'Q' whereas the tutorial tells you to use 'A.' The tutorial is correct.) None of these problems hampered the ability to play the game, however.

    The load times are a bit long for a game in 2019, especially one that doesn't seem to need a huge amount of system resources.

    The game does play smoothly and I didn't notice any graphical glitches, though it would benefit from having the gamma bumped up a bit. Some of the breakable barrels in the sewer were hard to see. The same would be true of the enemies, though they're highlighted in red to help with that.

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    The sound effects are good enough to convey the point, and the music supports the gloomy feel of a Warhammer game. I do think the voice acting could use some work, particularly the Wood Elf. Her lines and tone would actually be perfect if the tone of the game itself were more lighthearted. More on that later.

    Moral warnings here are the usual ones expected from a Warhammer game. It's a high fantasy setting, so there will be magic, monsters and plenty of action. Most of what you fight are different types of monsters, but there are humanoid enemies too and there's plenty of blood splatter from hits. There was no profanity that I observed, and no sexual content of any kind. The Warhammer world does have the idea of gods and goddesses, both benevolent and evil, though there is no playable class that would have the player interacting directly with any of that.

    Morally, the game does better than most licensed Warhammer titles. The character is always of one of the "good guy" factions and is working to destroy evil. Some may be uncomfortable with the mage class, however, since it means the direct use of magic spells.

    So this is a game in which you play as one of four archetypes, get quests from a wizard in a tower, and clear hordes of monsters from mazes. Does any of this sound familiar? It should, if you've ever played Gauntlet: Dark Legacy. It's essentially the same game. You get a choice of (initially) 4 possible characters consisting of an elf, a wizard, a warrior or a valkyrie, and off you go, working your way through the mazes as hordes of enemies attack you. There are breakable barrels with loot items and gold, and a powerful wizard in a tower sends you on the quests.

    Is that meant as a criticism? Well, yes and no. Chaosbane is not the most original game concept ever, but people who played Gauntlet: Dark Legacy remember it fondly for the good time they had with friends, playing a whimsical game and just having fun. If you'd like to play a game like that again but aren't looking to get an old GameCube or PS2, this might just scratch the itch. The problem is, it would still have to be played over Steam, as opposed to everybody being together on the sofa. The only other problem is this isn't Gauntlet, this is Warhammer. So there isn't much of a whimsical element in this game. Old Warhammer, like from the 80s and 90s, had a light, silly tone to some of it and I really think this game would benefit from reaching back and incorporating that tone. That would have made it much more fun. Instead, it has more of a "modern" Warhammer feel which is more grim, depressing and dark.

    My beloved Bretonnia does not appear in the game, much to my sadness.

    So is this a good game? Yes, I would recommend it to Warhammer fans and to fans of games like Gauntlet: Dark Legacy or Diablo. It's fast, it's smooth and can be a lot of fun with friends as well. It isn't going to blow any minds but it's a solid game.

  • Wave of Darkness (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Wave of Darkness
    Developed by: Dreamatrix
    Published by: Dreamatrix
    Release Date: November 5. 2015
    Available on: PC
    Genre: RPG
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $29.99

    Thank you Dreamatrix for sending us this game to review!

    Wave of Darkness is the second in an action RPG trilogy made by Dreamatrix.  The first in the series is Legends of Dawn which was successfully Kickstarted in 2013 and was released the same year.  Sadly, the game didn’t fare to well and was eventually pulled off of Steam and relaunched with the word “Reborn” added to the title.  The negative reviews came back with a vengeance since not much was changed from the original release.  Despite Legends of Dawn’s failure, Wave of Darkness was successfully Kickstarted in April of 2015.  Since I haven’t played Legends of Dawn, I can’t compare the two, but I will say that if I backed this title I’d be disappointed.

    The world of Narr is corrupted by many violent cults and calls for help have been increasing until they fell silent altogether.  It's your job as a human, elf, or Danian to solve this mystery and rid the land of the evil that plagues it.  There are four difficulties to choose from: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Legendary.  No matter what difficulty you choose, the enemies won’t go easy on you!

    Though the game promises the ability to explore without limits or invisible walls to hold you back, it’s actually a false statement.  Instead of invisible walls, the world uses water that’s too deep and will kill your character in seconds if they try to cross it.  Even with the deep waters there’s plenty to do and explore in this open ended RPG.

    Wave of Darkness
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Open world RPG that lets you battle and explore wherever you please; good background music
    Weak Points: Lackluster animations; not many NPCs to interact with; cumbersome inventory management
    Moral Warnings: Bloody battles; swearing; magic use

    The tutorial island will teach you the basics for collecting keys and runes to opening chests and foraging for herbs, ore, and other items for crafting weapons and armor.  It’s at this beginning island that you start to see some areas for improvement in this game.  The island only has a handful of NPCs to interact with and they don’t do anything but talk and stand still.  There are many NPCs in this game and many of them don’t even have dialogue.  When mining for ore or collecting wood, you simply have to right click on the target and the inventory box is brought up.  There is no animation or sound effect for mining or chopping wood.    

    It won’t take long or much foraging to discover that you’re out of inventory spaces.  When in town be sure to buy and stock up on as many inventory bags as you can afford.  I was able to find a bag or two out in the wilderness, but they are not easy to come by.  In fact, if you want any decent items in game you’ll have to craft them yourself.  The biggest challenge in crafting is to have enough of the items required AND the space to store them all.  Spells can be crafted in a similar fashion.

    Though the 3D graphics and feel of the game are similar to Diablo, the inventory and crafting mechanisms are much too cumbersome to my liking.   I like how other dungeon crawlers drop slightly better armor and weapons more frequently instead of relying on gathering and making room to store components to craft my own.  Since many of the reagents collected look the same, crafting is complicated even further.  Despite the lack of detail in the reagents, the enemies are nicely detailed and vary in their appearance and attack styles.  Like many dungeon crawler games, the view point is from a top down perspective.  

    It’s up to the player to set the pace in the game.  You can take on storyline or side quests (with emotionless voice acting) or just explore and fight against carnivorous plants, insects, lizards, and sea monsters.  There are many rabid cult members that are blood thirsty as well.  The battles are gruesome with sprays of blood occurring with each strike of your weapon.  Some of the enemies are undead and others will hurl magic at you.  Many of your battles will be against cult members who are trying to make you their next sacrifice.  Their encampments often have piles of bodies that were former offerings to their gods.  Throughout the game some characters use swear words like d*mn and b*stard.

    Wave of Darkness
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 62%
    Gameplay - 8/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - -/5
    Controls - -/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 3.5/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Even though the voice acting didn’t impress me, I did enjoy the background music.  The visuals are a little dated, but they get the job done.  I was surprised to see this game lagging my powerful desktop system with only a handful of enemies on the screen.  Fortunately, it ran fine most of the time, but it still took me by surprise.  It’s unfortunate that there’s not many animations for the main character or the townspeople doing basic tasks.  The enemies, on the other hand, move fluidly when they’re attacking.  

    When the main character is injured, they can drink a potion or eat some food to regenerate health at a faster pace.  Scattered throughout the maps are campfires which can be used in delayed intervals to recuperate fully.  In the event of a player’s death they are brought back to the last spawn point they set.  There’s a detailed map that will display icons for the save spots, teleportation stones, quest giving NPCs, and places of interest. 

    Many of the classic RPG elements are here including stat and skill boosting to tweak your character to your liking.  You can specialize in particular weapons and make yourself immune to various elemental attacks.   With every new level you can get new skill points to allocate as you deem fit.

    There are some promising aspects to Wave of Darkness, but in the end, I just couldn’t get immersed in this bland world.  If you like to kill and craft stuff, there is plenty to do.  In fact, there’s over one hundred and twenty-five Steam achievement for taking out hundreds of various enemy types.  As for me, I’ll stick with the dungeon crawlers that have better weapons and armor just around the corner.

     

  • Xanadu Next (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Xanadu Next
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: November 3, 2016
    Available On: Windows, N-Gage
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Mild Violence (N-Gage version); PC version not rated
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game (RPG)
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    XSEED Games seems determined to plow the depths of Falcom’s excellent back catalog, and bring it over for our consumption and enjoyment.  Xanadu: Dragon Slayer II was among Falcom’s first ever action RPGs, and indeed among the first ever action RPGs period, with a release date in 1985.  Xanadu Next was released in 2005 in Japan as a celebration of Xanadu’s 20th anniversary.  They release a new Xanadu each decade in recent years, with the 30th celebration being Tokyo Xanadu, which the West is due to get in 2017 via Aksys Games.

    Hardcore Falcom fans have long known Xanadu Next is a fantastic game; so much so that they released a fan translation patch several years ago.  XSEED has worked with fan communities before on translations, and they did it again for this one.  Here, we have a professionally edited, tweaked and modified version of the game optimized for modern computers.  It shows that the fine folks at XSEED are very clearly hardcore Falcom fans themselves, as they so lovingly bring these games over for a larger worldwide audience.

    Xanadu Next takes place on the island of Harlech, where passersby often see an image of Castle Strangerock in the fog.  Charlotte, a scholar trying to make a name for herself, recruits one of her childhood friends, a knight, to join her in her quest to determine the secrets of the island and this castle.  What starts out as leisurely exploration, soon becomes something much more.

    As one of the last knights alive in this era where knights are no more, our hero (you name him) explores his first set of ruins.  Here, he finds a powerful treasure, and his life is very nearly stolen from him, as is what he found.  This near death injury leads to our gravely injured knight being kept alive by magic and  powerful spirits called Guardians.  These Guardians are like deities that grant powers to those who are bound to them.  The people in this town baptize their children, and give them a Guardian that sticks with them their entire life, and grants them unusual power or skills in a specific area.  Well, it is one of these Guardians that keeps our hero’s life in the balance.  It is only the legendary Dragon Slayer sword and its incredible power that can help him live a normal life now.

    Xanadu Next
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Absolutely fantastic soundtrack; interesting game world, with a backstory that is truly engaging; fun action, with many different play styles possible; skill, guardian, and level system makes grinding fun
    Weak Points: A few bugs; dated graphics; control scheme is meant for keyboard + mouse play, but gamepad works fairly well, with some caveats
    Moral Warnings: Blood sprays when some enemies are hit; some women wear very skimpy outfits showing lots of cleavage; words ‘hell’, ‘b*st*rd’, and ‘d*mn’ used; icons like hexagrams present; guardians are spirits that protect and enhance people in the village, and people craft idols to them; enemies include goblins, wizards, skeletons, and other undead

    Every time I start up a new Falcom game, I am forced to reckon with why I have come to love their games so much.  First, the soundtrack hits you like a ton of bricks with excellence galore.  Then the world building, art style, loving polish, and fantastically crafted action keeps on drawing me in.  And such is how it goes.  This game is no exception.

    The soundtrack, to put it simply, is absolutely fantastic.  All Falcom games I have played are something special in that regard, and this is an excellent example of that.  Unlike many of their other games, there is no anime or feel good here.  Each song is ambient, moody, and appropriate, and brings about proper levels of brood, peace, or tension.  The Harlech town theme is one of my favorite town themes in quite some time.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself here.  Xanadu Next is an isometric, 3D third person action RPG where you explore the island with its many interconnected passageways, while attacking the many monsters that get in your way.  As you explore, you find various treasures as well as pieces of lore that Charlotte (often abbreviated Char) can translate for you.  There are weapons to both buy and find, as well as various artifacts which can help you traverse through the world by granting you a new skill or act as a key for new areas.  There are also Guardian cards which give you special bonuses when activated.

    The Guardian cards are an important part of the strategy in Xanadu Next.  Each card gives some kind of bonus, from improved item effects, to bonus hit points, to extra experience, and more.  Some of them, like the one which grants improved buying and selling prices, or the one which improves skill learning speed, are very handy.  Of course some of the end game Guardians are extremely powerful as well.

    There are three major things that require leveling: you, your Guardians, and your weapons.  Each Guardian becomes more effective as they level, until they hit a maximum.  Each and every weapon can also be leveled.  Here, it’s called proficiency.  As you get better with a weapon, you both do more damage, and start to learn the skill embedded within.  Some skills have active effects, while others are passive.  But in order to collect all of the skills, you will have to wield each of the thirty weapons to at least 100% proficiency, while optionally going up to 200% if you continue to use it.  

    You can equip up to four skills at once, as well as up to four items.  Equipped items, like skills, can have either active or passive effects.  If you choose something like a potion, it can then be activated with a hotkey; otherwise, you have to go to the item screen during combat, which must be managed in real time. It’s a tricky balance, but I found that if I didn’t wait until near death, I could get away with using the inventory.

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

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

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The game world and dungeons are fully interconnected.  There is a clear loop around from the first few dungeons, and even through the last one there is more than one way to get there.  There are always monsters awaiting your sword, and the game world intersperses combat and puzzle challenges throughout.  There are many secrets waiting for you, and there are also reasons to backtrack to earlier areas.  

    Among those secrets are tablets and memoirs, which is how the world building and story lore is exposited.  The quality of the translation is very well done, and feel appropriate for the dark and foreboding setting.  I found myself drawn to the setting and genuinely looked forward to having the next piece translated.  They are of decent length and interesting.

    At the end of each major segment, as is often the case, there are bosses.  They are appropriately challenging and fun to play, though nowhere near Ys difficulty.  Once I figured out how to hurt them, it always felt fair and reasonable to beat them. And it’s usually not too difficult to add an extra level or two, if needs be. Worst case, it is very easy to add a stack of potions to your item bar and have at it.

    Graphically, the game is clearly from 2005.  They (not sure if added by XSEED or not) did a good job with the graphics options by allowing you to choose the internal resolution, which is a form of upscaling/antialiasing.  So it probably looks as good as you can expect from a game of this age.  It’s also a shame that Microsoft’s DirectX 8 support in Windows 10 is imperfect as well; there is frame rate stuttering that is apparently common with most or all games from that era.  I found a useful workaround though; if you increase your pre-rendered frames (4 was the value I tried) it makes it a lot smoother.  You can also try various DirectX 8 wrappers which make a big difference, but they introduced crashes for me.  I also experienced an odd bug near the end of the game with a certain character flickering wildly.  It was humorous, but not game breaking.

    I prefer the gamepad controls over keyboard and mouse, though both have pluses and minuses.  I think the Steam Controller is the best of both worlds, though. Inventory management is much better with the mouse, and combat and platforming (with one exception) is more fun with the gamepad.  Unfortunately, inventory management is done using a gamepad with a virtual pointer controlled by the sticks, which is hardly ideal.  The Steam Controller seems to be the best because you can do all combat with the sticks and buttons, while assigning the mouse pointer and buttons to the touchpad and triggers.  This way you can maneuver through your inventory much faster than a normal gamepad.  On the other hand, having skills activate with a button press is also quite handy on the mouse + keyboard, though the Steam Controller can emulate that, also.  The only gamepad gotcha is that some platforming that requires long distance floating with the wing boots works much better with the mouse.  The Steam Controller can help with that, too.

    When it comes to appropriateness, there are a few marks off.  There is violence, as is expected.  The enemies splat blood when they die, but it does not pool; it dissipates in the air.  Enemies include goblins, wizards, humans, and undead like skeletons and others.  There is magic used, both by the player and enemies.  There is an evil dragon, and a ‘black bride’ that is his wife.  There are Guardian spirits, and the people make idols to them.  Children are baptized to a specific Guardian when they are young.  The main character can change Guardians often.  I noticed a hexagram used in several spots, and other ‘mystical’ symbols, though not any that I recognized.  One character is often drunk at the bar.  Some female characters wear obnoxiously skimpy outfits, but the 3D models themselves are laughably low polygon, so while it’s obvious they are wearing skimpy outfits, I think few would find them alluring.  Words like ‘hell’, ‘d*mn’ and ‘b*st*rd’ are used.

    Xanadu Next, despite its age, is a fantastic action RPG that is worth checking out even in this modern age.  Good games don’t stop being good, even if the presentation isn’t.  The graphics are decent, the story and world are very interesting, and the music is phenomenal.  The action itself is lots of fun, even if it’s a bit slower paced and easier than a typical Ys game.  And yet, it’s different enough to be its own thing.  Please consider the appropriateness issues before buying, but beyond that, Xanadu Next is an easy recommendation.

     

  • Yo-Kai Watch (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Yo-Kai Watch
    Developed by: Level-5
    Published by: Nintendo
    Release date: November 6, 2015
    Available on: 3DS
    Number of players: Single-player
    Genre: RPG
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence and comic mischief
    Price: $28.89
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Nintendo for sending us this game to review!

    Yo-Kai Watch was originally released in Japan in 2013 and sold quite well.  Australia and North America got their launch at the end of 2015 while Europe was finally able enjoy this game in April of 2016.  In the fall of last year, the sequel arrived in two parts: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls.  Like Pokémon, each game offers different Yo-Kai that are exclusive to them.  

    Yo-Kai Watch and Pokémon are very similar, but Pokémon is all about catching monsters while Yo-Kai Watch revolves around catching spirits that are only visible with the help of the special watch.  At first, your character is not aware of the presence of Yo-Kai and is focused on catching rare bugs for their science project.   While travelling deep into the woods they discover an old looking capsule machine and like any child would, they insert a coin and turn the handle.  The child (whom you get to name and choose their gender) is then introduced to Whisper, a typical ghost looking Yo-Kai that gives him/her a watch and explains how to use it.

    Some Yo-Kai are peaceful and mind their own business while others are more mischievous and cause people to argue, forget, be indecisive, or even lose cell phone signal.   While the victims act like they are demon possessed, only the forgetfulness requires direct contact from a Yo-Kai; the rest of the odd behavior is done by nearby spirits. Only a few Yo-Kai are out in the open as many of them need to be located after you pick up their auras on your watch.  Your watch will notify you when you’re near a Yo-Kai and you’ll then have to use your lens to spot and track them until you get locked in on their location.  They’re usually not happy about being discovered and will pick a fight with you soon afterward.  If you fight well enough, they may offer you their friendship and give you their medallion to summon them by.  Most of the time you’ll have to get them to like you more in battle by throwing some food that they like their way.  

    Yo-Kai Watch
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: It’s fun to collect bugs and Yo-Kai; decent variety in battle mechanics and bosses; this game enforces following traffic signals and punishes your character if they jay-walk too many times
    Weak Points: Lots of “fetch” side quests; many of the Yo-Kai are palette swapped; confusing controls at times
    Moral Warnings: Yo-Kai are spirit beings that can influence people to do various things out of character; many of the Yo-Kai must be tracked down by sensing their auras; mysticism and crystal balls are used to foresee future events; various seals have to be restored to stop Yo-Kai from flooding into your town; potty humor is used throughout the game as some of the Yo-Kai have snot dripping out of their noses or their faces are shaped like butts; some of the story levels involve breaking and entering into buildings at night

    There are many places to search for bugs and Yo-Kai.  Be sure to look under cars, vending machines, in the grass, as well as up trees and telephone poles.  The higher the Yo-Kai rating, the harder they are to lock in on.  In order to see higher level Yo-Kai, you’ll need to have your watch upgraded a few times.

    At first, you’ll need to locate the parts needed to upgrade your watch, but after that you’ll have to defeat stronger Yo-Kai to prove that you’re ready.  The battle system provides plenty of strategy and variety.  Up to six Yo-Kai can be in your party and each Yo-Kai has a certain type/affinity, and when you have the same kind adjacent to each other, you’ll unlock various offensive and defensive boosts.  There are other attributes to take into consideration as well and there’s nothing worse than having a loafing Yo-Kai that barely fights.  

    In battle the Yo-Kai will attack automatically unless they’re too lazy and don’t feel like it.  If their soul meter is filled up, you can do a special attack or ability.  Activating one of these special moves requires completing a random mini-game.  Sometimes you have to tap on falling coins, trace rune-like symbols or simply spin a wheel until it fills up with energy.  When an enemy attacks, your Yo-Kai may get dispirited/debuffed and you’ll have to break that curse by completing a different set of mini-games.  Those games have you rubbing or tapping away the spell that’s on them.  The last thing to look out for is the health meter of your Yo-Kai; you can send them food items to replenish their health.  You can only do it occasionally so it’s important to have healing Yo-Kai in your party.  If a Yo-Kai falls in battle you can revive them if you have medicine on hand.  Thankfully, their defeat is not permanent, as they’ll be revived with one health point after the battle.  If all of the Yo-Kai are defeated, you’ll lose the battle.

    When you’re not hunting or battling Yo-Kai, chances are that you’ll be in the middle of a story or side-quest.  This game is broken down into episodes like its TV show.  After completing each episode you’ll be prompted to save and see  “To be continued….”  Upon finishing a side quest, you’ll be rewarded with some experience, money and/or items.   You’ll also get to see a random animated short that lasts a few seconds.  

    With the silliness that delves into some potty humor, I’m sure kids will find this game entertaining.  Adults may want to think twice about the lessons that this game teaches.  On a positive note, I like how Yo-Kai Watch encourages honesty and following traffic signals, but it teaches a bunch of other things that makes me want to keep it out of my children’s hands.  Some of the story quests involve breaking and entering into buildings at night.  Besides encouraging breaking the law, there are many occult references including Yo-Kai possessing people or influencing them to do things out of character.  The whole aura sensing and using crystal balls to foresee the future go against Biblical teachings (Deut 18:10) as well. 

    Yo-Kai Watch
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 72%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    I have yet to play a bad Level-5 game and Yo-Kai watch is definitely no exception.  I have put in roughly twenty hours before completing the game and there is still plenty more to do after the credits roll.  The limited voice acting is well done and I like how each Yo-Kai says their name when they become your friend.  The cut-scenes are fully voice acted as well.  Most of the game is text only though.  The background music is good and has a haunted theme throughout the game.  

    Graphically, the game is well done.  The Yo-Kai for the most part look cute and creepy at the same time and that’s a tough balancing act.  In your world are several different colored boxes that have items inside and these boxes have an eye on them which is rather weird.  When you visit the Yo-Kai world later in the game you’ll have to pass through several gates which also have a huge eye on them as well.  With over two-hundred Yo-Kai there’s quite a bit of variety among them, though many of them are stronger with palette swaps to differentiate them.

    While I didn’t experience any system crashes I did have to resort to a search engine to find out why I couldn’t climb up a rope ladder once.  As it turns out this particular ladder required pressing the joystick to the right instead of the logical direction, up.  Other than that, this game is very intuitive and easy to play.

    In the end Yo-Kai Watch is a fun game that children will certainly enjoy.  Adults should be aware of the potty humor, breaking and entering, and occult references before giving this game to their children though.  If that’s not an issue, this game sells for less than $30 for a physical copy on Amazon.  The digital version still goes for $39.99.

     

  • Ys Seven (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ys Seven
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom/XSEED Games/Hyde, Inc.
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: August 30, 2017 (PC); August 17, 2010 (PSP)
    Available On: Windows (reviewed), PSP, PS Vita
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated (PSP: T for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language)
    MSRP: $24.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    Ys Seven was an important turning point for the Ys franchise when it was released, as it was the first PSP only release, and it was also the basis of the game engine that would come to define Ys ever since. Before Seven, Adol was always alone in his adventures. Here, he has a party, where up to three members at a time each lend a hand, and they can help not only as additional life bars if Adol gets low, but they also attack with different types, like slash, strike, or pierce. This system continued in the next Ys game, Memories of Celceta. It is also the first title where everything in the game is 3D rendered; previous to this, the characters were all 2D sprites in a 3D rendered world, or completely 2D in the case of Ys I & II.

    What makes this release unique is that, previous to Ys Seven, all Ys games (with the exception of a couple of SNES releases) were all on PC. Today, you can buy all but one Ys game that was released in the west on Windows PC, as they were originally meant to run there. That includes Ys I & II, Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, and Ys Origin. And now, that list also includes Ys Seven. Ys VIII: The Lacrimosa of Dana is scheduled to be released soon on PlayStation and Windows, and so that only leaves Ys: Memories of Celceta as not having a western PC release. (Yet?) Also, this is the first PSP port to PC from XSEED Games, which opens up the opportunity for more ports in the future, as they have brought us a lot of great PSP games in the past.

    Ys Seven takes place in Altago, where Adol and his buddy Dogi arrive relatively unscathed (a rare successful boat ride, which Dogi is faithful to point out). Shortly after arriving, they get into some trouble, though Adol is quite famous by this point in his life. The king ends up taking an interest in him, and asks him to investigate some local disturbances. As is often the case, it doesn't take long before Adol finds himself tightly wrapped up in some local crisis, which he gladly takes upon himself to solve. Every one of the locals gives him several opportunities to back out, but Adol is nothing if not an eternal do-gooder for those in need, and assists them enthusiastically.

    Before long he is then chosen to be a hero for the people, which surprises everyone but Dogi; this isn't the first time such a thing has happened. It has to be said that Dogi's writing is excellent and quite funny at times. Really all of the localization is great; XSEED nails it as always. Though one of the women in town is called a 'vulgar woman', and indeed she is; most of the curse words spoken in the game are done by her.

    Ys Seven
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun, standalone Ys adventure of a good length; likable characters; excellent soundtrack; great first Ys game for series newcomers, since it's not as challenging; great boss battles; interesting skill system; sixty frames per second gameplay feels great; nice graphics options; great performance, even on lower end hardware
    Weak Points: No resolutions above 1920x1080; graphics feel dated at times
    Moral Warnings: Action violence; some scenes include blood; alcohol use mentioned; a few female characters wear revealing clothing; some curse words like '*ss', 'd*mn', 'h*ll', 'b*tch', and 'b*st*rd'; magic use; various deities are worshiped, including the tritheism church, as well as other local gods

    In case you are not familiar, Ys is a top down action role playing game (RPG), where you attack various enemies with your sword, or similar melee weapons for non-Adol characters. The action is very swift and fluid, which has always been a highlight of the Ys series. There are up to seven different characters that you can have in your party at any one time, though only three can be active. In each case, two use slash attacks, two strike, and two pierce, while Adol is primarily slash, though later on he can use other kinds as well, so any party can be viable. Pierce is probably my favorite because of how fast you can attack, though some enemies are completely resistant to it, which is a shame. Nothing is completely resistant to slash, though it does a whole lot less damage in resistant cases. It's pretty important to have some representation of each attack type, though bosses are rarely strong or weak to anything, so you can usually bring your favorites.

    Characters can be switched out at the press of a button, which can really come in handy when someone is about to die, or you need another attack type available. Each weapon has a skill embedded in it, and can be leveled up by repeated use. Once you reach level one, you can keep it equipped and use any weapon you like. Skills cost SP, and that meter increases fairly quickly, especially if you use charged regular attacks or special items which make it full up more quickly.

    There are also Extra skills, which are very powerful attacks with an equivalently long charge up time. Typically, I found myself holding off on using them except for on bosses, because it takes several minutes for the skills to recharge. Each character has their own skills and Extra skill, which can make deciding who to choose important to your success or play style. These Extra skills have their own meter, which is charged up by using normal skills.

    The highlight of any Ys game has always been the boss battles, which is no exception here. Falcom seems to be a master at this point of making large, intimidating bosses, with appropriately excellent music to go with them. While I found the bosses a bit easier than some other entries, it was by no means a walk in the park; if you want a real challenge, discipline yourself to not use items. That'll set you straight.

    Having played all of the modern western releases of Ys games at this point, it's become fairly obvious how Seven really changed things up quite a bit. As previously mentioned, it's the first true 3D entry, and it's the first entry where you fight as a team. But it's also the first of the more story heavy entries in the series. With the possible exception of Ys Origin (which is the only game not to star Adol), most Ys games are light on exposition and heavy on gameplay. This is also true here, but there are many more cut scenes and character interactions which makes this a much more story driven experience. It's also much longer, as it took me over forty hours, which is about double what the other PC Ys games took me to beat for the first time. The only bummer is that there is no Boss Rush mode or New Game+, though to be fair, only Celceta has a New Game+ mode, which was released after Seven. Boss Rush is a much more noticeable absence.

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Comparing the PC to the PSP release, I would say that the PC one is noticeably superior. I purchased the PSP version a few years ago on sale, and I had never gotten around to playing it, so I was happy to review this new PC release. And I'm glad I did, as it is objectively the definitive version of the game. Content wise it's identical – there are no new quests or modes. The art is very close as well, though in some cases they had access to higher resolution art, while in others they did not, so it can be a bit inconsistent at times. The frame rate is the real winner here – sixty frames per second is such a huge upgrade over thirty in an action game like this that the game just feels wonderful. While the textures are sometimes a bit lackluster, you do get used to it, and the game is worth the visual fidelity sacrifice.

    I have noticed a few bugs that hopefully get sorted out soon. For the best experience, make sure that your desktop and monitor is set to a supported resolution, like 1080p, and play the game in borderless window mode. Using fullscreen mode, I noticed significant frame rate inconsistencies, and disabling v-sync crashes the game for some reason. Changing the graphical settings in game rather than through the launcher can also cause crashes. The game does not recognize the gamepad if it isn't started with it connected, which is not an uncommon issue, but something to be aware of.

    Outside of those things, it has been an extremely stable and enjoyable experience. As long as you use borderless window mode performance is excellent, even on my vastly underpowered GPD Win with an Atom processor inside. Just be sure to check your settings each time you switch PCs, as Steam Cloud seems to include graphical settings along with the save data. (I reported all of these issues to XSEED Games; hopefully they get resolved, as they are historically very responsive to bug reports.)

    As is often the case with Falcom games, the soundtrack is wonderful. The town theme had me whistling along (much to my wife's dismay), and the battle themes had me moving in my seat. While I am not ready to declare a ranking of the various Ys soundtracks at this point (as they are all so good), this one definitely delivers, and if nothing else, is consistently good. There are no stinkers here.

    Like many action RPGs, there is fantasy violence, where enemies fade away when defeated. There is a scene with blood on the ground after a violent act, and there is a red splash when enemies are defeated, but no blood or gore. Alcohol use is mentioned, but there are no drunk characters. Some females wear fairly skimpy outfits, though most of the time it is not easily discernible because the 3D models have a rather low polygon count. The 2D portraits portray it clearly though. One character, an executioner named Ursa, wears a skimpy leather outfit with exposed parts of her breasts. She also has a strong liking for whips and torture, and some of the male NPCs appreciate that about her. Curse words like '*ss', 'd*mn', 'h*ll', 'b*tch', and 'b*st*rd' are used.

    Magic is used in this game, mostly by the enemies, with some used by player characters as well. There are two sets of gods; the first one is the official church of Altago, which is called Tritheism. They worships gods of the earth, sky, and sea. *spoiler* The other set are the gods that created the region, the five dragons of Altago. These are worshiped by the locals in the rural areas, and are the 'real' gods of the region that Adol receives power from. *end spoiler*

    Ys Seven is another excellent entry is one of my favorite action RPG series. The combat is fun, the music is fantastic, the characters are all likable, and the other systems are very enjoyable also. Even the story is interesting. And of course another adventure, another girl left behind, though she takes it pretty well. I really enjoyed my time with Ys Seven, and as long as the content is age appropriate, is an easy recommendation.

  • Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: NIS America
    Release Date: April 16, 2018 (PC), June 26, 2018 (Switch), September 12, 2017 (PS4, Vita)
    Available On: PS4, PS Vita, Windows, Switch
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol
    MSRP: $59.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    Ever since my first time playing Ys: Memories of Celceta, the Ys series (pronounced like geese without the 'g') has held a special place in my heart. I have since played and reviewed almost every game in the series, and I really enjoy them all. With Ys VIII, Falcom has pulled out all of the stops and made a game that's perhaps not only the best game in the series, but a fantastic game by any measure.

    Adol, the Ys series' hero, has historically had bad luck with boats. This is a running joke in the series, and true to form, our adventure begins on a boat – and then it wrecks shortly thereafter. Everyone onboard, both guests and crew, are cast into the sea. Adol drifts ashore onto a deserted island, and it's not too long before he finds other castaways in a similar situation. He runs into Captain Barbaros and his longtime pal Dogi, who begin to create Castaway Village as a defensible outpost for everyone to live in and work to survive – with the eventual goal of figuring out how to go home.

    Adol starts his time on the island with a rusty sword that he finds near the shore, and it's not too long until he's back in form eliminating local monsters and wildlife at a speed only he can. As the third evolution (and a big one at that) of the Ys Seven engine, he eventually gains friends that help him slash, strike, or pierce their opponents into oblivion. For the first time since Ys: Oath in Felghana (or Origin), they can jump again, which is great and was badly missed in Seven and Memories of Celceta.

    Another big change is that the perspective is slightly shifted; it's still a third-person action game, but rather than being from an overhead perspective, you see Adol and his friends from a behind view most of the time. This makes the action much more personal; despite having to worry about camera positioning more than before, you are closer to what's going on. These two changes put you right into the thick of it, and are a net positive.

    There is a solid loot and crafting system here as well. When you defeat enemies, they often drop various resources. You can also farm some kinds at resource points throughout the map; neither of these have changed much since Ys Seven. Rather than exchanging things for money, you can instead exchange resources for others of equal value. Since this island has a small number of people on it, barter is the most appropriate system for local merchants to engage in, and it makes sense. You can improve your weapons at the blacksmith, have a tailor custom make things for you, or have various accessories made for you.

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adol's longest adventure yet, and incredibly engaging every step of the way; very enjoyable action; fun bosses; fantastic music and voice acting; very memorable characters; fun skill and loot system; PC version stable for most
    Weak Points: Localization is mostly fixed compared to how it was before; PC release is greatly improved, but issues still remain for some players
    Moral Warnings: Action violence, with occasional blood splatter; magic is used by some player characters and lots of enemies; some females wear extremely revealing clothing with lots of cleavage (like the titular Dana); Adol sees a woman with only a towel on, which falls (but he closes his eyes, as he is a gentleman) and he then gets slapped; one character mentions that he has lots of lovers to choose from around the world; alcohol is used on several occasions, with some being visibly drunk (though Adol mentions he doesn't like to get drunk); words like 'd*mn', 'sh*t' used, and some potty humor; undead enemies, and one scene where you talk to ghosts; many references to various gods and goddesses, including the Star Sculpt God and another reference to Tritheism from Ys Seven; hexagrams present

    Also not unlike Memories of Celceta, you can learn skills which require SP (skill points) to use. They seem to spark somewhat randomly in many cases, though there are books and even a trainer for some very powerful skills. There is also an Extra meter that allows you to use a very powerful attack once it's full. Though usually reserved for bosses, I found myself using my Extra skill a couple of times to get out of some really tough situations where I was being overrun by enemies.

    Your characters, skills, and weapons all have a level that can be increased. Weapon leveling is fairly simple – just bring your sword to the blacksmith along with whatever materials are required to make it more powerful. Max level is three. Skills require repetitive use to gain levels; they start at level one, and like your weapons, max out at level three. Characters gain experience and levels like they do in many other games. The maximum in this case is level 99.

    New to Ys VIII is the Interception or Suppression battles. They are two new tower defense style arenas, where Interceptions have you defending the town gate against hordes of monsters, while for Suppressions you go to their turf and capture points on the map to draw out the boss, which must then be defeated. They are fun and have good rewards, but they do interrupt the flow of the rest of the game.

    It's hard to put my finger on exactly what makes this game so special. Thinking more on it, it's probably a combination of the rock solid base game mechanics, as beating up Adol's enemies has probably never been more fun, and the wonderful characters that you meet as you map out this mysterious island together. The sense of openness and exploration is excellent as well; while certainly not as open as Elder Scrolls or Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there are tons of places to explore and lots of loot and lore to find.

    Each of the castaways have unique personalities, and are a joy to get to know as the game progresses. Each of them has at least one side quest and a gift that they can receive, which increases their approval of you. If you max that out, you also have a chance to get to know them even better, where you learn more about their character or back stories. Instilling confidence in a medical student, learning about a mother of six, or watching children grow up into the challenges of being stuck on an island together is a joy.

    What really took me by surprise is how much you come to love the titular character, Dana. Without going too far into spoiler territory, Adol has strange dreams about this woman in a seemingly different place throughout his time on the island. Before long, she becomes central to the plot, and much of the story has you taking control of her, where you get to know her more and more, before finally meeting her. She is a wonderful character, that could have easily had her own series of games. The emotional investment and impact of her and what she brings to the story is hard to overstate.

    Honestly, that may be one of the most challenging aspects of this game to me: how are they possibly going to surpass it when it's time for Ys IX? The story definitely veers into 'save not just us but the world' territory, and without just copying the same formula again and again in the future, I have a hard time imagining how they could possibly top this magnificent game for future episodes. This game is probably my personal game of the year and then some, which is most definitely saying something considering the incredible games that have come out in 2017.

    Despite all of this (deserved) praise, there are a few things that are less than perfect. Thankfully, the initial localization, which was a bit of an inconsistent mess, has been mostly resolved. There is the rare occasional line that seems out of place, but overall the story makes much more sense now, and it's much easier to follow. They did a pretty good job resolving the huge issues that there were before.

    Thankfully, NIS America had acknowledged the issues and spent significant resources to resolve it, even up to and including recording new voice lines. That is fantastic, because this game deserves that and much more. The PS4 version ran quite well for me on my PS4 Pro with a 4k screen; though there were occasional frame rate drops, they were never so bad that it impacted gameplay in any way.

    The PC version took about seven months to release, and was plagued with issues on release day, even after all of that. The issues were many, from text issues, crashes, as well as some serious performance issues. Again, thankfully, they have been working really hard to fix up the issues, and even listened to some mod authors who discovered issues - and they fixed them. I have to say that the new team has done a great job listening to the community and fixing the issues that remained. It is now in a pretty good state, and while I believe they are still working on it, most of the major known issues are solved. I have played for twenty-five hours, and only had one crash on an older patch (the last twenty or so have been recent, in preparation for this review update). Despite my stability, other players still report crashing issues, so not all issues seem to be solved yet, even if they are for me.

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 68%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The PC version's performance is not quite as smooth as on my PS4 Pro, but very close, and certainly good enough. I ran it on ultra settings, with only FXAA off (as that graphical effect makes the game look much worse... just turn it off). There are four resolution options, which are low (720p), medium (1080p), high (1800p), and ultra (2160p/4K). I probably could have easily just ran the game at high rather than ultra and it would have been as smooth as the PS4 Pro (which also uses 1800p as its target rendering resolution), but ultra worked fine and I didn't bother changing it.

    The nice thing is that on low, and with most effects turned off (except for load objects), I was able to play the game quite fluidly on my GPD Win 2 (and it's even playable on the Win 1, but some areas are still unbearably slow). The way the game rendering engine works, you can't apply proper anti-aliasing, so supersampling really is your best bet. But if you do decide to run it at a lower resolution, it does work well - even if the pixels become large and visible in the process. Given my performance of the game at 720p, I would probably prefer the PC version of the game over the Nintendo Switch version, which has been confirmed to run at 720p at 30 frames per second, which is objectively worse than the performance I saw on my GPD Win 2. If they manage to resolve crashing for whoever still experiences it, I think the PC version may end up the best (or at least on par with the PS4 Pro).

    Outside of the issues mentioned above, the graphical fidelity is a rather large step up from every Ys game to date, and has a very nice art style that I appreciate. The soundtrack is of course awesome. I would definitely enjoy the soundtrack CDs if I have the chance to grab them. One complaint is that the music in the game has been confirmed via file analysis to contain lower quality versions of the many great pieces of music in this game. Thankfully there is a mod out there that resolves this issue (though there are some minor track loop issues on a small number of songs). The voice acting is excellent. This is also the first game where Adol actually has some lines; his voice is good most of the time, but I did not like his 'surfer dude' fishing voice lines one bit.

    The only thing that struck me as odd is that even to the end of the game I couldn't quite get the music vs. voices vs. sound effects volume quite right. I prefer voices as loud as they can be, and sound effects and music at a similar, but lower, volume. But no matter what I did, the attack sounds always seemed louder than everything else. Perhaps some of the attack sounds were affected by the wrong slider? I am not sure. I listened to this game in my home theater at fairly high levels, so having those effects be too loud (while wanting to hear the voices well) was an unfortunate frustration. Another thing I noticed is that some characters' voices seemed naturally quieter than others (like Hummel).

    Another bug I noticed is that if I tried to set the Extra skill key combination to anything other than the default, it would not activate. This is especially annoying since the dodge and block buttons are the same as those used to activate Extra, and I triggered it on accident many times as a result. (I did not test this on PC, as I got used to it. One thing I noticed is that pressing L + R did not activate Extra; it had to be R + L. This really reduced stray activations, and what a great change in my opinion.)

    From an appropriateness perspective, it has plenty of animated violence, as you battle creatures around you. There are some blood splatters, but it's not too frequent or noticeable. Enemies include animals, larger beasts like dinosaurs, and magical and undead enemies like dragons and skeletons. Dana uses magic a lot as a character, and her attacks do too. The rest of them use it far less so, though some attacks that are fire, wind, or ice based are probably easiest to explain as a magical attack. Adol dreams about Dana, and Dana has visions about Adol and his friends. She is a skilled energy user, which is like magic, and has an important role as a leader of the local religion which worships a massive tree. There are also discussions about various gods and goddesses, including a nun of the Star Sculpt God.

    Several females, especially Dana herself, wear very skimpy outfits. Her clothes are little more than ribbons around her top half, with a lot of cleavage shown on her and other females. There is a scene with another woman where Adol walks in on her as she finishes bathing. In surprise she drops her towel, and he therefore gets slapped, despite his best attempts to close his eyes. The nun mentioned previously had to tear up her habit a bit, and she exposes far more of her legs than were probably necessary. On the flipside, there is a well-meaning man who says things that will likely draw a laugh, but are not things men would normally say in the presence of a lady. Things like he 'took a satisfying dump' and that his 'body shrivels up especially down there'. It's kind of a running joke, and he has noted how he 'ate and took a sh*t' and was ready to go. There are several moments of celebration where alcohol is consumed, even to drunkenness. Adol points out that he does not like to get drunk.

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is a fantastic entry into the storied Ys series, and perhaps my favorite. It's Adol's longest adventure to date, and there's even post game and new game+ content as well. While there are some appropriateness issues to keep in mind, Ys VIII is now one of my new favorite games. I'm grateful for the hard work NIS America put in to resolve the localization issues, and I hope they keep improving the PC version to finally resolve these issues for all players. I really look forward to when Falcom grants us another Ys game this great!

  • Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA (PS4)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: NIS America
    Release Date: September 12, 2017 (PS4, Vita); Windows coming Winter 2017
    Available On: PS4, PS Vita, Windows (coming soon)
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol
    MSRP: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

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

    Ever since my first time playing Ys: Memories of Celceta, the Ys series (pronounced like geese without the 'g') has held a special place in my heart. I have since played and reviewed almost every game in the series, and I really enjoy them all. With Ys VIII, Falcom has pulled out all of the stops and made a game that's perhaps not only the best game in the series, but a fantastic game by any measure.

    Adol, the Ys series' hero, has historically had bad luck with boats. This is a running joke in the series, and true to form, our adventure begins on a boat – and then it wrecks shortly thereafter. Everyone onboard, both guests and crew, are cast into the sea. Adol drifts ashore onto a deserted island, and it's not too long before he finds other castaways in a similar situation. He runs into Captain Barbaros and his longtime pal Dogi, who begin to create Castaway Village as a defensible outpost for everyone to live in and work to survive – with the eventual goal of figuring out how to go home.

    Adol starts his time on the island with a rusty sword that he finds near the shore, and it's not too long until he's back in form eliminating local monsters and wildlife at a speed only he can. As the third evolution (and a big one at that) of the Ys Seven engine, he eventually gains friends that help him slash, strike, or pierce their opponents into oblivion. For the first time since Ys: Oath in Felghana (or Origin), they can jump again, which is great and was badly missed in Seven and Memories of Celceta.

    Another big change is that the perspective is slightly shifted; it's still a third person action game, but rather than being from an overhead perspective, you see Adol and his friends from a behind view most of the time. This makes the action much more personal; despite having to worry about camera positioning more than before, you are closer to what's going on. These two changes put you right into the thick of it, and are a net positive.

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adol's longest adventure yet, and incredibly engaging every step of the way; very enjoyable action; fun bosses; fantastic music and voice acting; very memorable characters; fun skill and loot system
    Weak Points: Localization is uneven, with some terminology that doesn't match XSEED's previous efforts; delayed PC release
    Moral Warnings: Action violence, with occasional blood splatter; magic is used by some player characters and lots of enemies; some females wear extremely revealing clothing with lots of cleavage (like the titular Dana); Adol sees a woman with only a towel on, which falls (but he closes his eyes, as he is a gentleman) and he then gets slapped; one character mentions that he has lots of lovers to choose from around the world; alcohol is used on several occasions, with some being visibly drunk (though Adol mentions he doesn't like to get drunk); words like 'd*mn', 'sh*t' used, and some potty humor; undead enemies, and one scene where you talk to ghosts; many references to various gods and goddesses, including the Star Sculpt God and another reference to Tritheism from Ys Seven; hexagrams present

    There is a solid loot and crafting system here as well. When you defeat enemies, they often drop various resources. You can also farm some kinds at resource points throughout the map; neither of these have changed much since Ys Seven. Rather than exchanging things for money, you can instead exchange resources for others of equal value. Since this island has a small number of people on it, barter is the most appropriate system for local merchants to engage in, and it makes sense. You can improve your weapons at the blacksmith, have a tailor custom make things for you, or have various accessories made for you.

    Also not unlike Memories of Celceta, you can learn skills which require SP (skill points) to use. They seem to spark somewhat randomly in many cases, though there are books and even a trainer for some very powerful skills. There is also an Extra meter that allows you to use a very powerful attack once it's full. Though usually reserved for bosses, I found myself using my Extra skill a couple of times to get out of some really tough situations where I was being overrun by enemies.

    Your characters, skills, and weapons all have a level that can be increased. Weapon leveling is fairly simple – just bring your sword to the blacksmith along with whatever materials are required to make it more powerful. Max level is three. Skills require repetitive use to gain levels; they start at level one, and like your weapons, max out at level three. Characters gain experience and levels like they do in many other games. The maximum in this case is level 99.

    New to Ys VIII is the Interception or Suppression battles. They are two new tower defense style arenas, where Interceptions have you defending the town gate against hordes of monsters, while for Suppressions you go to their turf and capture points on the map to draw out the boss, which must then be defeated. They are fun and have good rewards, but they do interrupt the flow of the rest of the game.

    It's hard to put my finger on exactly what makes this game so special. Thinking more on it, it's probably a combination of the rock solid base game mechanics, as beating up Adol's enemies has probably never been more fun, and the wonderful characters that you meet as you map out this mysterious island together. The sense of openness and exploration is excellent as well; while certainly not as open as Elder Scrolls or Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there are tons of places to explore and lots of loot and lore to find.

    Each of the castaways have unique personalities, and are a joy to get to know as the game progresses. Each of them has at least one side quest and a gift that they can receive, which increases their approval of you. If you max that out, you also have a chance to get to know them even better, where you learn more about their character or back stories. Instilling confidence in a medical student, learning about a mother of six, or watching children grow up into the challenges of being stuck on an island together is a joy.

    What really took me by surprise is how much you come to love the titular character, Dana. Without going too far into spoiler territory, Adol has strange dreams about this woman in a seemingly different place throughout his time on the island. Before long, she becomes central to the plot, and much of the story has you taking control of her, where you get to know her more and more, before finally meeting her. She is a wonderful character, that could have easily had her own series of games. The emotional investment and impact of her and what she brings to the story is hard to overstate.

    Honestly, that may be one of the most challenging aspects of this game to me: how are they possibly going to surpass it when it's time for Ys IX? The story definitely veers into 'save not just us but the world' territory, and without just copying the same formula again and again in the future, I have a hard time imagining how they could possibly top this magnificent game for future episodes. This game is probably my personal game of the year and then some, which is most definitely saying something considering the incredible games that have come out in 2017.

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 68%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Despite all of this (deserved) praise, there are a few things that are less than perfect. First of all, it has to be said that the localization is nowhere near the quality that Ys' previous publisher's releases have had in the past. There are also terminology inconsistencies between those games and this one, including some real head scratchers like what is clearly a fruit being called a 'Wall Nut'. Also some of the item descriptions were swapped, which can cause significant frustration when you want to use the correct healing item in the midst of battle. I even noticed a line that they forgot to voice over into English – the unexpected Japanese sure was a bit of a shock.

    Thankfully, NIS America has acknowledged the issues and is spending significant resources to solve it, even up to and including recording new voice lines. That is fantastic, because this game deserves that and much more. The PC version has also been delayed by several months because of similar issues, as well as some really bad technical ones. Again, thankfully they are going to make sure that when it is finally released, it will be to everyone's satisfaction. The PS4 version ran quite well for me on my PS4 Pro with a 4k screen; though there were occasional frame rate drops, they were never so bad that it impacted gameplay in any way.

    The graphical fidelity is a rather large step up from every Ys game to date, and has a very nice art style that I appreciate. The soundtrack is of course awesome. I would definitely enjoy the soundtrack CDs if I have the chance to grab them. The voice acting is excellent. This is also the first game where Adol actually has some lines; his voice is good most of the time, but I did not like his 'surfer dude' fishing voice lines one bit.

    The only thing that struck me as odd is that even to the end of the game I couldn't quite get the music vs. voices vs. sound effects volume quite right. I prefer voices as loud as they can be, and sound effects and music at a similar, but lower, volume. But no matter what I did, the attack sounds always seemed louder than everything else. Perhaps some of the attack sounds were affected by the wrong slider? I am not sure. I listened to this game in my home theater at fairly high levels, so having those effects be too loud (while wanting to hear the voices well) was an unfortunate frustration.

    Another bug I noticed is that if I tried to set the Extra skill key combination to anything other than the default, it would not activate. This is especially annoying since the dodge and block buttons are the same as those used to activate Extra, and I triggered it on accident many times as a result.

    From an appropriateness perspective, it has plenty of animated violence, as you battle creatures around you. There are some blood splatters, but it's not too frequent or noticeable. Enemies include animals, larger beasts like dinosaurs, and magical and undead enemies like dragons and skeletons. Dana uses magic a lot as a character, and her attacks do too. The rest of them use it far less so, though some attacks that are fire, wind, or ice based are probably easiest to explain as a magical attack. Adol dreams about Dana, and Dana has visions about Adol and his friends. She is a skilled energy user, which is like magic, and has an important role as a leader of the local religion which worships a massive tree. There are also discussions about various gods and goddesses, including a nun of the Star Sculpt God.

    Several females, especially Dana herself, wear very skimpy outfits. Her clothes are little more than ribbons around her top half, with a lot of cleavage shown on her and other females. There is a scene with another woman where Adol walks in on her as she finishes bathing. In surprise she drops her towel, and he therefore gets slapped, despite his best attempts to close his eyes. The nun mentioned previously had to tear up her habit a bit, and she exposes far more of her legs than were probably necessary. On the flipside, there is a well meaning man who says things that will likely draw a laugh, but are not things men would normally say in the presence of a lady. Things like he 'took a satisfying dump' and that his 'body shrivels up especially down there'. It's kind of a running joke, and he has noted how he 'ate and took a sh*t' and was ready to go. There are several moments of celebration where alcohol is consumed, even to drunkenness. Adol points out that he does not like to get drunk.

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is a fantastic entry into the storied Ys series, and perhaps my favorite. It's Adol's longest adventure to date, and there's even post game and new game+ content as well. While there are some appropriateness issues to keep in mind, Ys VIII is now one of my new favorite games. I sincerely hope that NIS America resolves the localization and PC version issues, and that Falcom grants us another Ys game this great!

  • Ys: Memories of Celceta (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ys: Memories of Celceta
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: July 25, 2018 (Windows), November 26, 2013 (PS Vita)
    Available On: Windows, PlayStation Vita
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: T for Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes
    MSRP: $24.99 
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    Ys: Memories of Celceta on PC is a re-release of 2013’s PS Vita release, now available on Windows PC with quite the graphical upgrade – and not just resolution. This game is a replacement for several others made by different developers called Ys IV. There were two games back from the SNES and TurboGrafx-16 days, titled 'Ys IV: Mask of the Sun' and 'Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys' that claimed that title, and there was a PlayStation 2 era remake called 'Ys IV: Mask of the Sun ~a new theory~'. None of these releases were made by Falcom, and none of them made it out of Japan. Now we are given both a remake and a sequel – Ys: Memories of Celceta. To emphasize that this is really a new game set in the setting of Ys IV, they decided to drop the 'IV' part of the name.

    The main protagonist of the Ys series is a young adventurer named Adol Christin. He stumbles into the frontier city of Casnan, completely devoid of his memories, or even his identity. Duren takes him under his wing to help him get his memories back. Governor General Griselda of the Romun army enlists your help to map out the mysterious Great Forest, and Duren comes along for the ride, along with other friends you pick up along the way.

    What starts out as a simple cartography job becomes much more as you begin to discover not only the source of Adol's forgetfulness, but in somewhat typical JRPG style, become entwined in a plot that ends up balancing the fate of the world on your success. Despite the somewhat commonplace plot these days, what with the fate of the world relying on an amnesiac young adult (Adol is 18 in this game), it is still a fun ride with some interesting twists and turns, which all brings about more of what Ys does best: Combat.

    Ys games all have real-time combat, where the player controls Adol or another character, where you proceed to pound to a pulp all of the bad guys. This game is no exception, and it works really well. You are rarely alone, usually with Duren, and later on, up to four other people in your party, each with a slightly different feel and move set. Three characters can be active on screen at once, with you controlling one of them, and you can switch between them with just one button press. A competent AI controls the other two, but the active character does much more damage than they do, so you can't just expect the AI to win every battle for you.

    Ys: Memories of Celceta
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent, fluid, real-time combat action; fun, likeable characters; solid, lengthy adventure; good replay value; fabulous music; wonderful PC port with tons of customization options
    Weak Points: Skill system feels a little random; leveling up skills seems to take a very long time; doesn’t (yet) work properly on my GPD Win 2’s screen
    Moral Warnings: Lots of slashing mostly fantasy monsters to bits; small amounts of blood wounds for some creatures (ESRB mentions this; I didn't notice); alcohol mentioned in a positive light by several NPCs; some sexually suggestive conversations, with things like 'pervert' and 'Looking for a good time?'; a few female characters wear revealing outfits, showing cleavage and belly buttons; minor curse words like 'a*s', ‘d*mn’, and 'h*ll'

    You control your character's movements with the D-pad or left analog stick, and the right buttons are mashed to perform attacks, quickly dodge opponent's strikes, guard/block enemies, or switch characters. You can also perform skills with a button combo (usually left trigger + a face button) and perform a powerful Extra attack with the ‘Y’ button. All gamepad functions can be customized, or played on keyboard and mouse if you wish.

    Both skills and Extra attacks require filling meters up before executing. Attack combos, and killing blows help fill the SP (skill point) meter, and successful skill attacks and killing blows slowly fill up the Extra meter. Mixing and matching attacks feels remarkably skillful and fluid despite seeming simple at first. And mixing and matching skills can be fun as well, since the right skill can really turn the tide in a battle. The SP meter fills up fairly quickly, making battle a very dynamic affair.

    On top of simple attacks and combos, skills and Extra attacks, each character has a different type of attack that they perform. Adol and Frieda use slash attacks, Duren and Calilica strike enemies, and Karna and Ozma use piercing attacks. Some monsters are weak against certain types of damage, and strong against all others. This encourages you to switch between characters often as a means of dealing with them.

    Another layer of depth in dealing with enemies is your party makeup. If you have one character from each attack type, you get a party bonus: rare item drop rate up. This helps you get those items that you can sell, or craft with (more on that later). If you have two of the same attack type in your party, your bonus is to do increased damage, which can help a lot when trying to compensate for weaknesses, or fighting powerful bosses. This way your party can be filled with whatever characters you like best, despite the tradeoffs.

    While adventuring through the Great Forest, plants, rocks, and enemies drop items which can be sold directly for money, or used for crafting. In each town there are blacksmiths, accessory makers, and others who can use those dropped items in a few different ways. You can exchange lesser items for greater in some cases. In others, you can refine minerals into more potent, useful, and expensive versions. You can also reinforce your weapons and armor to make them more powerful. A fully reinforced item is much more potent than a base item – it has a chance to freeze enemies, poison them, catch them on fire, paralyze them, all while healing you at the same time. If that wasn't enough, you can also do similar reinforcing to your armor, making them quite potent. And, to top it all off, you can apply some upgrades from less powerful armor pieces directly to newer armors, sacrificing the lower armor in the process. While not immediately obvious, this can be quite a money saving measure.

    Your characters also gain experience when defeating enemies, and you gain levels in the usual manner. Anyone not in your active party also gains experience, so they should still be usably powerful if you don't use one of them for a while. The maximum character level is 60. Your skills also gain levels for use, up to a maximum level of 3, though I found the acquisition of skills to be somewhat random, and their leveling to take quite a long time. I am sure the game has a good set of rules on what conditions are necessary to gain new skills, but it did not seem obvious to this player. Skills are leveled by the number of uses, but the required usage counts are quite ridiculous – over three hundred uses to gain a level seems a bit much.

    Ys: Memories of Celceta
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Despite this, I found roaming around the map, exploring new areas, gaining new artifacts, crawling dungeons, and fighting monstrous bosses in the large, 3D rendered, isometric world immensely satisfying. While there were a few times that I wished I could rotate the map despite the fixed camera, at least you can zoom in and out easily enough. The graphics are pretty good, and given that the PS Vita is the source device, the PC version does a great job of making it look as good as possible given the original art assets. Not only is the resolution completely customizable, but the frame rate can be fixed, or set to unlimited, which is fantastic.

    They also added a new ‘HDR’ mode, which is an optional post-processing effect which makes whites whiter and adds a bloom-like effect to various things. It makes the existing lighting effects much more brilliant. I like it a lot when it’s set to the lowest setting. Anything higher is just too much white everywhere. It does seem to have an impact on frame pacing though.

    Since the game is a PS Vita port, some of the 2D elements look a bit low resolution, but overall, most of the art looks fantastic on the big screen, and everything rendered looks as good as it can without new textures, more polygons, and so on. As a port it looks great – they hired a proven team who continues to do a great job with their PC ports. It also scales down very well, though currently there is a bug with the screen on my GPD Win 2, as it won’t render at the screen resolution. Anything else works though, and performs just fine. They are aware of the bug; I hope they fix it soon.

    While the graphics are good, the music is downright fantastic. Falcom and the Ys series is well known for their hard rock musical themes, and this game certainly does not disappoint. I very much enjoyed even the less interesting themes, and the later areas really have rocking soundtracks. The sound effects are just fine, and the voice acting is well done. Not every word is acted, but enough of it is that you know how they would sound. Of course, like many classic heroes born of an older era, Adol is silent, though you do get to hear his grunts and such in combat.

    The game, for the most part, is hack and slash fun, but there is some content to consider. There is the expected violence. Enemies die in a way that did not seem gory to me; they pretty much fall over and disappear. Minor curse words like 'a*s', 'd*mn', and 'h*ll' are present. Exposed belly buttons and cleavage is there as well. It's not a constant barrage, but it's there. Some of the conversation arcs can be a bit risque. For example, a few ladies in the bar speak of giving you a good time. One of them turns out to be a comedic moment (where the end result is not what is implied), and in another case you can choose to imply you have already taken a girl as your bride to her father (embarrassment and backpedaling ensues, it was a joke).

    Several bar characters throughout the game speak of how wonderful it is to be drunk, or have a buzz. One character says that they could not live life without alcohol. Another guy drank too much because he wanted to impress a girl. Considering the many references to alcohol in this game, I am very surprised the ESRB missed that entirely in their warnings. At least the player characters stay clean for the most part. On the plus side, Adol is chided for being almost too helpful – he offers his help even when it would be much easier not to, and Duren gives him a hard time about it.

    For the more mature gamer, I find that there is a whole lot to like about Ys: Memories of Celceta. The graphics are fun, the sound is fantastic, and the story is compelling. And it's just a blast to play. I put in about 50 hours on the Vita, and I look forward to eventually doing a full playthrough again on PC. It was one of my favorite Vita games despite the technical limitations of that version, and now that it’s on PC I’m thrilled to play it again. If you like action RPGs, and if the appropriateness issues are manageable for you, I highly recommend you check this game out. I don’t know how to recommend it more than to say that I have every intention of playing through this game again on PC – in glorious high resolution with unlimited draw distance, HDR lighting, and a perfectly smooth frame rate.

  • Zwei: The Arges Adventure (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Zwei: The Arges Adventure
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: January 24, 2018
    Available On: Windows
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Action Role Playing Game
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    It has to be said that XSEED Games never ceases to amaze me. Several of their employees are true-blue Falcom fans, and they are willing to release games, at substantial effort and investment, that other companies would never even dream of releasing. How many localization companies, that you know of, would release a game originally published in Japan in 2001, and then localize it? I don't mean a remake – I mean the original game. And not only that, but they hired a programmer, who spent a significant amount of time reworking the game engine to work on modern computers. This includes making some of the more quirky features, like standalone desktop apps, integrate into the game itself in a way that makes sense. What they have done here is frankly mind-blowing.

    Zwei: The Arges Adventure, originally called Zwei!!, is one of Falcom's more loved cult-classics. The sequel, Zwei II, was released here last year as Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection. What makes Zwei: AA so special is the absolutely gorgeous hand-drawn artwork, the fantastic soundtrack, and the lovable, joy-filled atmosphere and characters. In many ways the game is a product of its time, and has old-school sensibilities, but the art, music, and characters are absolutely timeless.

    Pokkle and Pipiro are step brother and sister whose parents both passed away. They are fourteen years old, and live together in their inherited home in a backwoods floating island called Arges, in the only town there, Puck. Puck has a very homey feel, with a self-proclaimed archduke, a church, a temple, a doctor, a weaponsmith, a tailor, and of course, a pub. There isn't much to this little place, but the village as a whole, and the local nun especially, have raised Pokkle and Pipiro since their parents' passing and their mutual affection comes through wonderfully in every bit of dialog.

    Pokkle is a hopeless punster, whose goofy lines and constant search for humor is both hilarious and pathetic. He also has a wonderfully optimistic outlook, a kind heart, and a soft spot for attractive older women. Pipiro is an unfiltered, sarcastic fashionista, who also just so happens to be incredibly gifted with magic. He tends to want to help out of the goodness of his heart, whereas she leans towards looking out for number one.

    Zwei: The Arges Adventure
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Absolutely fantastic hand-drawn art style; incredible soundtrack; really likable characters; tons of humorous dialog; lots of player freedom; best version of this classic game; quite challenging
    Weak Points: Resolution fixed at 854x480; game has very little player direction; simplistic game mechanics; occasional bugs and quirky controls; 3D rendered bosses that look out of place; quite challenging
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence; lots of magic use, by both the player and enemies; idols of the six elements present; enemies include demons; references to the dark and light goddesses; curse words used, including 'h*ll', 'd*mn', '*ss', 'b*st*rd', and the portmanteau 'fugly'; alcohol used by non-player characters, including drunkenness; a main character has the hots for older women; one character asks you if you like your stepsister romantically

    One of my favorite aspects of Falcom games has been their treatment of NPCs, and Zwei!! is no exception. Each character's dialog changes every time a major event happens, and you should always speak to each person at least twice, and sometimes even more times than that, as there will often be different reactions depending on who is talking. Even more than just the people, this game is filled with random items, trees, and more to examine, and some of the best puns in the game are there, just waiting to be discovered.

    Those familiar with the German language may notice something about the title: zwei is the German word for the number 'two'. One of the things that makes the Zwei series unique is that both entries (starting with this one, obviously) always have your team in a group of two. So both Pokkle and Pipiro (as Ragna and Alwen are in Zwei II) can be switched back and forth with the press of a button, and they are always together. In story sequences, the banter between them is one of the many ways that you get to know them and other characters better.

    Zwei: The Arges Adventure is a top-down 2D action RPG where Pokkle attacks through a jutting out motion, and Pipiro attacks through her ranged magic attacks. The mechanics are fairly simple – almost too simple, as there really isn't much to combat, but small upgrades are eventually added, like charge attacks, various armor pieces, and different kinds of magic. Zwei really makes the most of this simple combat, with various enemies and bosses that are quite challenging, as well as dungeon puzzles throughout that will keep you thinking.

    Despite the relative simplicity of the combat, the amazing art, the fantastic music, and the fun of stuffing yourself silly to gain levels is more than enough to drive you to keep going. There is actually quite a bit to do, as there are dozens of dungeons, and several hidden items and areas, and even a few things you have to go back later to get. There are also several secret and optional bosses, which are quite difficult – I eventually gave up on a few of them, because I had this review to write! It took me around 33 hours (and I didn't see everything), while Steam recorded closer to 44 hours, because it's difficult, and I died a lot.

    Speaking of which, there is a somewhat unique death mechanic here.  When you die, you have the choice of either going back to the title screen, going back to the last save, or going home.  The first one is the only one where you really lose progress (though that is sometimes still preferable).  The other two, you go back to the choice you made, but you keep what you picked up, while also losing whatever money and items you dropped upon death.  Depending on what you lost, it may be worth it – but any item – literally anything – can be lost; if you lose something important, you can buy it again from a merchant, for sometimes a hefty price.  On the plus side, if you saved in that dungeon, when you return to the level, what was dead before stays that way.

    I hinted at it before, but the art is nothing short of gorgeous. The screen resolution is actually really small, at 854x480 (which was an XSEED created enhancement; I believe the original was 640x480) but the watercolor-like art style, along with some simple blending, makes it all look great, so the resolution doesn't matter. The text suffers a bit, but it's really no big deal. The characters also look really nice, with a hand-drawn chibi art style that's pretty neat. The enemies are a bit of a mixed bag though; many of them are (poorly) 3D rendered with hideously bad looking polygons at a very low resolution. They really don't fit the art style at all, but I guess Falcom went that route because making larger enemies move about and attack in less predictable ways must have been difficult for them at the time using hand-drawn art.

    Zwei: The Arges Adventure
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The music soundtrack is also equally excellent. Both the original PC music tracks, as well as the PSP arranged soundtrack, are available to choose from the settings menu screen. Both are pretty good, but I have to give a strong nod to the original soundtrack, as I feel that it's consistently better, though the arranged tracks do have a few standout ones also. It's hard to overstate how fantastic the soundtrack is, though. I cranked it many times, to the chagrin of my wife (the kids loved it too!). The sound effects do the job pretty well, though getting the volume balance right from the menu screen is a bit tricky.

    As far as the game itself goes, it's a lot of fun, though it definitely does not hold your hand. I didn't have too much trouble with it; after all, I've played through and beaten much worse back in the NES and SNES days, but you are definitely expected to explore much on your own, as there are only very occasional hints from townspeople on where to go next. Much of the time, it's a case of if you see an open dungeon, that's probably where you're supposed to go; though even that might not be enough, as there are a bunch of dungeons open at a time, so paying attention to the level requirements is probably your best bet. There are also a couple of secrets, or hidden dungeons, that are not easy to figure out at all. Knowing to right-click on (or activate) the sandbag at just the right place was far from obvious.

    The controls and interface, from what I understand, are massively improved from the Japanese version that this release was based on. The original PC version had very poor gamepad controls, where this one is almost completely playable without a keyboard or mouse, though there are still a few cases where it's much easier to have one. In one case, you have to drag an item from your hot bar to drop it in a lake. It's possible with a gamepad, but the mouse is much easier. And it's really easy to accidentally eat something, as the button to eat is also sometimes used to cancel, but you do eventually figure it out.

    From a moral perspective, this game looks like it should be squeaky clean, but it's not quite there. For one, several curse words are used, including 'h*ll', 'd*mn', '*ss', 'b*st*rd', and the portmanteau 'fugly'. Alcohol is used by non-player characters to drunkenness, and Pokkle finds himself wishing he could have some on more than one occasion. Fantasy violence is a given, though no blood or gore. Magic is used by both enemies and the player. The world was created by two goddesses, the goddess of light and the goddess of dark. There are six idols that you are tasked with finding, each representing one element. Enemies include demons, as well as your more typical fare. The church that the nun is in resembles Catholicism; there are also Bibles there.

    From a sexual content perspective it's mostly clean, though there is a womanizer wayward husband (who only talks and looks, but never acts), and others who consistently appraise some of the women in town. Pokkle has the hots for older women, and one character encourages the two of them to become a couple, which they thankfully respond 'eww gross, we're siblings!'

    Zwei: The Arges Adventure is clearly a labor of love from XSEED Games to Falcom and lovers of classic games everywhere. It's not without its rough edges, but the lengths that XSEED's developer went through to make the game work, including massive stability improvements from the original, incorporating mini-games into the base adventure, and so much more, it's simply incredible. If you love classic pixel art, challenging gameplay, and hilarious dialog, there is a lot to like in Zwei!!

  • Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: October 31, 2017
    Available On: Windows
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Action Role Playing Game
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    Falcom is one of Japan's oldest game developers. They go all the way back to the early 1980s, and have released some incredibly influential games in the ensuing decades. These include Dragon Slayer, The Legend of Heroes, Xanadu, and Ys. In the early 2000s, they released a new series called Zwei!! that did well enough for a sequel, which is this one here. As Falcom's last PC exclusive title, Zwei II (which we now know here as Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection) was originally released in 2008, just as their PSP era had moved into full swing. (For those not aware, all Falcom titles since then have been developed for PlayStation platforms.)

    Not content to just leave great games (especially Falcom ones) to wilt away alone in Japan, XSEED Games chose to localize this gem into English, while tweaking the game to work better on modern PCs. XSEED actually has committed to porting over both Zwei games, but they chose to do this one first, since Zwei!! is based on a much older game engine that was full of challenges of its own; this game was much quicker and more straightforward to localize. Not only that, but they explain that this game is also more friendly to modern gamer expectations. Thankfully, while there are references to the first Zwei!!, the games are basically otherwise standalone, and can be enjoyed in any order.

    Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Incredibly charming characters, world and atmosphere; wonderful soundtrack; great voice acting; fun action
    Weak Points: New Game+ makes you get almost everything again
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence; lots of magic use, by both the player and enemies; vampires, demons, and other dark creatures are not shown as inherently evil; goddesses referred to, in particular the dark and light goddesses; curse words used include 'sh*t', '*ss', 'd*mn', 'b*st*rd', 'hell'; some suggestive language (though received obliviously); some visible cleavage (though low detail enough that it's hardly noticeable); one female character is mistaken for a male; bathhouse scenes played for laughs, where you see a girl in a bikini

    Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection (Zwei II for short, and yes that was intentional) is an action RPG with some similarities to the Ys series, though also different enough to be its own thing. It is an overhead view, 3D rendered action game where you attack with your Anchor Gear as Ragna, or with magic spells as Alwen. Each character can be switched to with the press of a button, and what I really like is that you can even set it up to auto switch with the press of the ranged or melee attack buttons, rather than using a character switch button; I find this much faster. The battle system here inspired the transition to a party system for Ys Seven, and in some ways, I like the Zwei II implementation better.

    Ragna decides to go on a journey to Ilvard, where he has a package to deliver. Being an aeroplane junky, he flies in confidently, and with style. As he approaches, he is shot down by some rather unexpected foes riding on what appear to be dragons. After his crash, Alwen, a local vampire, chooses to save his life, and asks for his help in recovering her castle, as she needs a warrior to aid her. Ragna, ever one to pay his debts, agrees, and there the dynamic duo sets off to recover her powers and free her castle from its unexpected visitors.

    Both the game world and characters ooze personality. Each non-player character (NPC), like in many Falcom games, has their own life stories that you learn about over time. Everyone, from the local shopkeeper, to mysterious faeries, has something to say that changes after each story event. The most characters exude unique traits, from Ragna's swagger, to Alwen's reserved dignity, to Gallandeau's awesome muscles – there is far more than enough fun and bluster to go around. If Zwei succeeds at anything, it's the characters and fun world.

    The action is also quite entertaining, as battles are an interesting mix between Ragna's powerful juggling combos, and Alwen's very strong ranged attacks. Alwen tends to do much better than Ragna against most bosses until very late in the game – where Ragna just chews through everything, if you get his very difficult to find final weapon. (Hint: Do NOT feed the odd food to an animal!) Battles are very fast paced, with a decent but rarely overwhelming number of enemies on screen. Things can and do get pretty tense, but thankfully there is always a snack nearby. But do be careful, as food management is a major focus of this game.

    The reason food is so important is that it plays a double role – both as healing items, as well as your only means to earn experience, which helps you gain levels. You see, as you eat, you gain both HP and a certain amount of experience. But, if you collect ten of a certain kind of food, you can trade them in for their next level version. You can actually do this four times – so that the final level of food can give you hundreds of thousands of experience in one very hearty meal, rather than the tens from a base version.

    Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

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

    As you can imagine, levels have a pretty big impact on how much damage you give and receive. So juggling your health, trade-in bonuses, and a rather constant risk-reward of holding back on chowing down is a constant consideration as you go through the game. Thankfully, each area, as well as many bosses, have suggested level plates in front of them so that you know about what level you should be before giving that area a shot. You can ignore it to a point if you have the skill to compensate, but I wouldn't expect to beat a level 1 run anytime soon (though it may or may not be possible).

    Graphics have never been Falcom's primary focus, even now, but it gets the job done well enough. The music is awesome as usual, and deserves a spot on the playlist for dedicated game music fans. The English voice acting has far more voiced lines than the Japanese version ever did, and they did a fantastic job in both casting and getting the characters to feel right. I have really enjoyed the obvious love that the folks at XSEED have had for this game, as they went well above and beyond even what Falcom did with voice acting.

    From an appropriateness perspective, Zwei II is overall very lighthearted, and comes across that way, but there is still some content to note. For one, there is the obvious fantasy violence that you find in most action RPGs. Various creatures, from animals to goblins to forms of demons and undead, are all defeated in large quantities in Zwei II. Alwen is a vampire, and some of her friends are faeries and witches. Demon Lords are generally considered bad or evil, but that is not always the case. There is quite a bit of ambiguity on what is considered evil. There is also mention of two goddesses, one of light, and the other dark. There is a nun to the light goddess that is incredibly disrespectful and even smokes in church.

    There are curse words used, like 'sh*t', '*ss', 'd*mn', 'b*st*rd', and 'hell'. There is no outright sexual content, though there are some situations where others think there might be – though Ragna is always a gentleman. There are a couple of scenes where girls join him in a hot spring; he is shocked and does nothing, but the player sees them in a bikini. He confused a girl for a boy, and much embarrassment ensues. A few characters show a lot of cleavage, but the graphics are generally low detail enough where much is left to the imagination.

    Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is an absolute gem and a joy to play. I wouldn't say it's my favorite RPG release of 2017 or anything, but it also doesn't have to be. It's a very enjoyable, lighthearted game that continuously brings a smile to your face with its fun setting, dungeons, and characters. Though not without flaws or appropriateness issues, I enjoyed it a whole lot, and I highly recommend action RPG fans to take a closer look at it.

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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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