enfrdeitptrues

RPG

  • Final Fantasy VIII (PS1)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Final Fantasy VIII
    Developed by: Square
    Published by: Square
    Release Date: September 9, 1999
    Available on: PC, PlayStation (reviewed)
    Genre: RPG
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for violence, language, suggestive themes
    Price: $10 on LeapTrade

    Having played the Final fantasy games in sequential order, I'm familiar with some of the game mechanic changes made throughout the series.  Final Fantasy VIII breaks the mold by revamping the magic, money and leveling systems.  There are no classes, but each character has a weapon specialty that can be upgraded throughout the game. 

    The main character, Squall Lionheart, wields a gunblade which is a sword that can shoot bullets.  His fellow classmate and nemesis Seifer, uses a gunblade as well.  The game begins with them brawling and Squall ends up in the infirmary with a fresh scar on his face.  Squall soon gets retrieved by his teacher who reminds him to study and practice for his SeeD exam.  SeeDs  are soldiers for hire that were established to defeat sorceresses that prove to be a threat to mankind.      

    Squall's exam involves going to a nearby cave and defeating the boss (Ifrit) within.  His teacher, Quistis, teaches him the basics of combat and using Guardian Forces for magic and abilities.  Without a Guardian Force equipped, a character can only attack, use an item, or run.  Guardian Forces can attack and take damage for you while their ability is charging up.  If they run out of hit points, you'll have to revive them before you can use them again.  You cannot use magic unless you have a Guardian Force junctioned to your character.  

    Magic in Final Fantasy VIII is not permanently learned, in fact; it has to be drawn from enemies, items or draw points.   Magic is pretty much treated like an inventory item in this game.  Unfortunately, there are restrictions on how many spells you can carry on each character at a time.  Thankfully, you can exchange spells between party members to make room for more.

    Final Fantasy VIII
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great character development, story, and music.
    Weak Points: Drawn out Guardian Force attacks that cannot be skipped.
    Moral Warnings: Some language, skimpy outfits and awkward advances from a teacher.

    Many enemies and bosses have vulnerabilities to particular elements, so it pays to have a wide variety of spells and Guardian Forces at your disposal.  While some Guardian Forces are given to you, many have to be drawn out from bosses or earned through side quests.  It's easy to miss an opportunity to draw one from a boss, but in the final castle you get a second chance.  

    Guardian Forces have unique attacks and grant their owner special abilities like increasing various stats, adding new command abilities like mug and revive, or extracting magic from items.  If you know that you missed an opportunity, I would recommend reloading your save to try again.  There are many great walkthroughs out there and I would recommend following one to make sure you get all of the not so obvious items available.  Even ignoring some of the side quests, I still put in over seventy hours into this game.  A good majority of my time was spent playing the Triple Triad mini card game.  You can challenge most NPC's to a game and can win or lose valuable cards that can be converted into items later in the game.  

    While leveling is beneficial to the guardian forces who also gain experience per battle, it's not doing your party any favors since the enemies level up with you.  That's right.  The enemies get more hit points depending on the party's average level.  Like many Final Fantasy games, the last area has you splitting into two parties, so make sure you have adequately leveled everyone in your party.

    The party members each have a unique personality and some of them are outgoing or obnoxious while others are shy and introverted.  There are moments in this game where you go back in time and play the roles of other characters and learn about their quirks as well.  The battle music is awesome when you're in this alternate world. 

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

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Final Fantasy VIII has some great music composed by Nobuo Uematsu.  The title song Liberi Fatali has earned its inclusion in several Final Fantasy and video game soundtrack compilation CDs.  The battle music in the main world is pretty good as well.  The main ending/love song has lyrics which was a first for the series.  

    The pre-rendered movies look great with the CGI animation and detail.  The movies are so frequent and big that the PlayStation game has four discs! The in-game graphics have not aged well, but were pretty good for its time.  While the Guardian Force battle movies look cool the first time you see them, I wish there was a way to skip them for subsequent battles.  I wonder how many hours of the seventy were spent watching these battle sequences.  

    Shiva's battle sequence reveals her tightly fitting clothing and womanly figure.  One of the sorceresses you battle in this game is referred to as female but she definitely had some testosterone flowing through her to give her a manly (and shirtless!) chest.    While we're on the subject of sorceresses, magic is pretty much a given in this game.  Sadly, the language trend from Final Fantasy VII carries over to this title as well.  Thankfully there is no blaspheming, but d*mn is used a couple of times. 

    Despite its flaws, Final Fantasy VIII is still a fun and worthy edition to the series.   It's been recently re-released with better graphics on Steam and the price is a reasonable $12.  While it's not my favorite Final Fantasy game, I still enjoyed it and recommend it for mature gamers. 

     

  • Final Fantasy X (PS2)

     

    Platform: PS2 ESRB: Teen (Blood, Violence) Publisher: Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) Developer: Squaresoft Genre: Role Playing Game (RPG)

    Final Fantasy X begins in the city of Zanarkand where a blitzball (basically a game of underwater soccer) game is taking place, and you are Tidus, the star player of the Zanarkand Abes. The crowd cheers as your team takes the first point, suddenly a giant monster comes up out of the ocean and starts destroying Zanarkand! The blitzball game comes to an abrupt stop as the sphere containing the water is destroyed. You end up surviving the ordeal, and meet a man named Auron who gives you a sword and together you begin to fight waves of creatures that came off the giant monster. After you vanquish the fiends (as Auron calls the monsters in the game) Auron takes you to the massive swirling cloud of evil, the giant monster called Sin. Any fears you might have had of facing the thing are immediately quenched as Auron lifts you up and thrusts you right into Sin! Sin instantly absorbs you and you find yourself in a very strange place, your story begins here.

    Graphics

    Unless you live a ways into the future, it is safe for me to tell you that the graphics in this game are quite good, and still hold up to some of the best the PS2 has to offer. The graphics have a few different levels of detail, the lower level of detail is used when you\'re in battle, or just walking around. The medium level of detail is used in the less important rendered cutscenes, and the higher is used in the more important rendered cutscenes, also there are some CG cutscenes that look as good as or better than Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The past Final Fantasy games have used alot of pre-rendered backgrounds, this time around they have cut back quite a bit on those, in fact most of the environments you see are in full 3D (and that\'s a good thing)! Also, battles are very cinematic, and include some awesome visual effects.

    Sound

    The other Final Fantasy games had so much content they had no room for voiceovers and still had to be put on multiple discs. This time there are voiceovers, and its not because of a lack of content, it\'s because of the dvd drive built in to the PS2, now they can fit about 6 cd\'s on one DVD! The sound effects, and music are better than ever. Thats about all there is to say about the sound.

    Gameplay

    Recent Final Fantasy games have used a time based battle system, this time they have decided to go for the turn based approach. You can also switch characters in the middle of a battle. The way you level up has also changed, instead of a pre-set path of abilities, you get to choose your own path through a nifty new interface called the sphere-grid. While you should probably keep your characters in their own areas of the spere-grid, you can branch off into the other character's areas. So your power hitter could learn to use white magic, or you could teach your long range guy to use items against enemies. You can also summon massive creatures called aeons to do huge amounts of damage to your enemies. Every character, and aeon has an overdrive meter which can be set to go up when they take damage, when they do damage to monsters, and various other things, when the meter reaches the top that character gets to do an extremely powerful move, cast spells multiple times, do damage to multiple enemies, and a few other usefull things. Also every character\'s overdrives are unique, and are earned as you go throughout the game. During the course of the game you will encounter quite a few side quests and extra things you can do, these include capturing monsters, learning another language, and of course chocobo riding!

    Appropriateness

    This game suffers from the usual RPG problems, you can use magic, and there is a god called yevon in the game. While this can be looked at in a symbolic sense throughout most of the game, near the end you find out that if it was symbolic, it was so in a bad way. Also, some of the female characters, one of the bosses, and one of the summons, could do with a bit more clothing. There are a few swear words in the game as well, but nothing too major.

    Overall

    This is an awesome game, and it has just become a greatest hit! So if you've got no other RPG's to spend 60 hours of your life on, head out to your local Wal-mart and pick this one up! In conclusion, Final Fantasy X is an epic RPG that should not be missed (with some shortcomings in the appropriateness aspect)! There is one problem however, once you beat this game, you will be a slave to the Final Fantasy RPG series for a while. I'm still trying to force myself to play another RPG!

    Final Ratings

    Graphics: A+ Sound: A- Gameplay: A+ Appropriateness: C+

    Overall: 92%

  • Final Fantasy XI: Online (PS2)

     

    Gameplay

    The gameplay for FFXI is a bit different then what I?m used to. This is my first real experience with a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) and I find many of the elements to particular o say the least. It is a bit daunting at first, but the gameplay boils down to this: At all times you can view your character from a third or first person POV. There is never a time where you have a full party to control, although depending on which class you get you can have monsters and summoned creatures by your side. You walk around the spacious land of Vana?diel in cities and outer areas, talking to Nonpayer Characters (NPCs), Player Characters (PCs), doing missions, solving quests, and fighting monsters. You also have a choice of various jobs and guilds to join. Your job is what you do in the game, Warrior, Mage, (White, Black, or Red), Thief, and many others. One good thing about FFXI is that you can change jobs whenever you want; don?t like being a warrior? Change and start leveling up a thief. This is an option that have been cribbed by other MMORPGs since the inception of FFXI. (but then again, FFXI cribbed much off of earlier MMORPGs.) To level up, as in any good RPG, you have to fight monsters. You can level up playing by yourself, but you can maximize your Experience point (XP) gathering by grouping in parties. This is something to get used to early on, as many of the later quests involve at least one party of people, if not more the one party in an alliance. The actual fighting itself isn?t quite real-time, but it isn?t exactly turn based either. It?s based on the stats you have, combined with your weapons ability and damage. You attack and wait for the animations to go through. You have options, of course, which you can cycle through. It?s not an action game by any means, but neither is it purely watch and wait turn based strategy. Of course as you advance you can do more with what you have, both on the magic and weapon side of things. If your familiar with Final Fantasy of the past, present, or future, fighting should be second nature. If not, ask around. People are more then happy to help a newbie.

    Single/Multiplayer

    This game is created from the ground up to be a Multiplayer game. It works well at that, forcing people to have to party at some point in the game, if only to solve certain quests and missions. You gain XP faster in parties and the much coveted items drop in more abundance in them as well. This is a Massively Multiplayer game and it shows, from top to bottom. However you can go it solo. Fighting, living, loving, and dying can all be accomplished by your self. Some jobs are better at this then others; yet even I soloed for many levels as a Black Mage, the hardest job to solo in the game. So it can be done and it can be enjoyable. However a bit part of the attraction of this game is the interacting with other players while online. Even if you?re not in a party, it is nice to be able to talk to your Link Shell (LS) mates when you?re halfway across the world on a boat headed to nowhere. It helps pass the more monotonous times that creep up during game time.

    Graphics

    Honestly the graphics can be at the same time awe inspiring and then down right lackluster. In places your jaw just drops at the supreme grandeur of it all, especially if you?ve come across an unexpected place through hard fought battles and exploration. However many places begin to blur into one another; a mountain in one canyon pretty much looks like a canyon in another. Yet I realize this is the same problem many places have in real life; no matter where you are in the world some terrain is the same. Yet, in real life as in FFXI, if you look around an area long enough you will find something that is both inspirational and beautiful. As for the character models? There isn?t much variation in the actual creation process of the character. However through acquiring different items and clothing you can differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack. I would?ve liked more variety in the character models even so. One area I must commend the creators of this game is the variety of cities and towns in this game. You know which city your in just by looking around. You?ll never confuse the subtle earthy and naturalistic delights of Windhurst with the depressing and industrial mecca of Bastok for example. It is a delight to discover new places that you?ve only just heard about, exploring every nook and cranny just to see what things look like. This does not reflect the PC version of the game. At High Resolution everything is beautiful on that version.

    Sound

    The sound is your typical Final Fantasy fare. (Ah, alliteration!) You?ll probably love this or hate this, as the sounds and music in the Final Fantasy games take on a life of their own. Swords clan, magic explodes, characters feet hit the ground when they walk or run. The music is often like and peppy, mixed with melancholy tunes that contain more then a hint of sadness and loss. Each city sports its own theme, yet the wondering the stretches in-between you can only here the sound of your footsteps. Fighting has its own, distinct, military theme influenced music, as all Final Fantasy?s in the past have had. As for character sounds? There are really no voices to be heard. You have the roaring, battle, and dying sounds of the monsters. You the happy squeaks of the taru and the sour grunts of the Galka. The humes, mithra, and Elvaan each of their own grunt, but voices are pretty much none existent out side the excellent introduction.

    Fun Factor

    Ah, how fun is this game? This game is as fun as you want it to be. There are times when I think this is the best game ever made, but there are also times where monotony sets in, as you travel to yet another far off destination (by walking) or sit to level up, yet again. However partying with people you know is very fun, seeing your character grows from a mere stripling to a full fledged, take no prisoner warrior is rewarding. The interaction with other people is what sets this game apart from single player and multiplayer death match games. You are all working to achieve a goal; and although there is Player versus Player combat, it isn?t something that you can do right off. Also be aware that this game is addicting, although that isn?t often the same as fun. Don?t let it overtake your personal life; real people are better then virtual ones. So there is fun to be had here; but your mileage may vary. Get with a good group of people when starting and you may not even notice the monotonous times of leveling up.

    Appropriateness

    This will depend on your tolerance of fantasy related material. If you?re not easily offended by magic use or the other Fantasy related staples, there is nothing in the content of the actual game to find offensive. It isn?t a Christian game by any means, but as we exist in this world that isn?t Christian, so can we exist in the world of Vana?diel. The magic use is very abstract and you can choose a nonmagic using character if you wish, they are many and of great use Even so you will come across and need the services of White, Black, and Red mages as you go through this game. Let your conscious be your guide on this issue. Outside of the actual game content, most of the real people online seem to be aware that this is a social situation. You have your malcontents, to be sure, but I have crossed nothing harsher then a few mild expletives. Harsher words then that can be filtered out with an automatic language filter. However, as we all know, any place humans gather can lead to trouble. If you feel deeply offended, you can always call on a Game Master (GM) to settle disputes or keep a character from being to vulgar.

    Overall

    I really enjoy this game. I played it for two or three months as my only game and even now I play it once or twice a week. I feel that the money I put into it is worth every penny; it?s not often I get this kind of life out of any game. I like that this game does have an overarching story, although the characters don?t really start to get into that until their teen levels. The world is huge; I have the game and the expansion pack and haven?t covered near all of it. I love interacting with real people in a noncombative environment. I can take only so much of fragging someone before I want something else. However this isn?t a Christian game. Some of the concepts and ideas presented in are very oriental in nature; the mythos presented isn?t from a Christian perspective. I view this as I view all things in the world: They just don?t know better. There is a greater force in Vana?diel, just like earth, that controls everything. Even if the Players don?t recognize it. And that, my friends, is all I have to say about that.

    Final Ratings

    Gameplay: A Graphics: B - Sound: B Fun Factor: A to C (varies) Appropriateness: 13 and older

    Overall: B

  • Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (GC)


    Reviewer's Note: I did not play this game to completion. So there may be some inaccuracies. Nevertheless, this will help inform those who want information. Some people doubted that Square and Nintendo would ever cooperate again after their 'break-up' around the release of the Nintendo 64. But after a multi-year sabbatical, Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) games are back on Nintendo consoles.

    Story

    A dreaded force/energy/fog called Miasma has fallen over the lands. The Miasma kills any who come in contact with it. Not all is lost though, for there are crystals that emit a protective barrier. These crystals are kept in the center of the villages so they may survive. Unfortunately, the crystals need to be reenergized every year with the help of a substance called myrrh. Myrrh is very rare, and thus, villages send out small caravans of youth to retrieve it. This is where you come in. After creating your character you are sent on your quest. That is the basic back-story, as for in-game story, there isn't a lot of one, and what there is has little effect on gameplay. This almost seems to be a let down from a company renowned for its story telling.

    Gameplay - 8/10

    Gameplay, the factor that makes or breaks game. And FF:CC fares well here. Just how does the game flow? Something like this. From the world map select the area you wish to enter (village, dungeon, or Miasma stream), then continue to fulfill that area's purpose. In the villages you can wander around, get (usually) random information from villagers, visit shops to buy/sell items, or go to the blacksmith to forge new gear. The Miasma streams exist only to hinder you. To pass, your crystal chalice must have the same element as the Miasma stream you wish to get through. Finally, on to the levels (or dungeons if you prefer), the meat of the game; here your purpose is to: bash hoards of enemies, collect various items and artifacts, bash more enemies, defeat the boss, and finally, collect the tree's myrrh (which is your actual goal). Now that you know what you can do in FF:CC, here's how you'll do it. All battle runs off of your 'command list', what it is, is the series of items/spells/etc. you want to use in battle. At first your command list has only four slots, and two of them are permanently taken up by 'attack' and 'defend'. Over time, you can expand your command list, which will make things a lot nicer for you. Now, how the game system works. Due to the miasma, you must remain in the small sphere of influence put off by your crystal chalice. In single player, you have a Moogle to take care of this for you, in multiplayer though one of the players must carry it, thus meaning he/she can't fight, or must otherwise put down the chalice. The control layout was designed for the GBA, so things feel a little odd on the Gamecube controller. After setting up the command list, you?ll select the action you want to take with L or R, and then use it with A. Often you?ll have to charge up the action before it will work. It sounds really simplistic, and it pretty much is. Nevertheless, it is fun, which is always what is most important. However, I did find the menus and the need to constantly alter the command list a bit cumbersome for an action RPG. As for multiplayer, I didn't have a chance to try it out, but it's said to be every bit as good, and often better, then the single player, so, one can imagine it is worthwhile. However, to play it, everyone will need their own GBA and GBA/GCN Cable. This can become quite costly, and it's not an option, it's a requirement.

    Graphics -9/10

    Here is where FF:CC shines the brightest. Without doubt, SquareEnix has great talent in the graphics department. Everything in the external worlds have an astounding graphical quality and beauty; whereas the cave worlds are very dim, but the lighting effects are great. The characters are well animated. And everything moves smoothly. And of special note is the graphical effect shown in when walking through any of the 'Miasma Streams', very cool.

    Sound -6/10

    I quite looked forward to the music of FF:CC due to the acclaim Square has achieved over the years for their music. Sadly though, the sound department came up short of my expectations. First, voice acting, voice acting isn't key to a game, and personally I'd rather have text then poorly done voices so I didn't mind. Nevertheless, there is a small amount of voice acting in the game, namely, during the intro to every level, some female voice will tell an odd story/poem concerning the level. The quality of it is alright, just bizarre. As for sound effects, they work, but there isn't much that will make you say, 'oh my, that's the greatest sound effect ever'. Then the music, I just wasn't stunned by it, especially after playing the Square classic Chrono Trigger. All in all, it's not too bad, just not what SquareEnix is capable of and known for.

    Longevity

    For one player, this game will take a good while to complete, and you can continue playing after you beat it. But if you get into the multiplayer, it may very well last a long time. I don't see much point in a rerun through the single player however.

    Appropriateness

    -Violence -6/10

    FF:CC's core essence is in its hack-and-slash gameplay. The violence isn't graphic, and you don't kill people. Nonetheless, you do dispose of countless hoards of monsters throughout the game.

    -Language -10/10

    I don't believe that there is any profanity in this game. Which is almost surprising considering the language in previous FF games.

    -Adult Themes -7/10

    The females of the Selkie race could use more clothing. And when selecting such a character (this is the only instance that this occurs to my knowledge) there is a distasteful animation effect. Other then these things I haven't found anything problematic in this area.

    -Occult -5/10

    This is where game falters most. As with all other FF games, magic runs rampant. However, it is not in a witchcraft/incantation format. In FF:CC magic is gained by acquiring 'magicite stones', which allow you to 'cast' the related 'spell' (there six basic spells, they are as follows: Fire, Blizzard, Thunder, Cure, Clear, and Life. There are also 'fused spells' which are used by combining two or more basic spells, these are as follows: Fira, Firaga, Blizara, Blizaga, Thundara, Thundaga, Gravity, Holy, Haste, Slow, Stop). There is also the support for the New Age powers of crystals (as it is the focal point of the plot). There are also the monsters you fight, creatures such as orcs, goblins, etc., and in some levels you'll also fight undead. Furthermore, every evil race has its magic users. On a positive note, unlike other FF games there are no summons, which I consider a very good thing.

    Overall -7/10

    While the overall morality in FF:CC isn't pleasing, you probably won't even notice it. Which can be dangerous, but I don't feel that it warrants a 'do not play' warning. And the gameplay is quite nice, especially with the multiplayer feature. All in all, I give a 7/10 to SquareEnix' Gamecube debut.

  • Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light (DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light
    Developed by: Matrix Software
    Published by: Square Enix
    Release Date: October 5, 2010
    Available on: Nintendo DS
    Genre: RPG
    Number of Players: Single-Player, four player Multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: E 10+
    Price: $15.00 on LeapTrade

    Final Fantasy games tend to change their gameplay mechanics often. Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light takes the character development of Final Fantasy IV and combines it with the job systems of Final Fantasy III and V.  A new attack point battle system is thrown into the mix as well.  Each battle round a character is given one point which can be used to attack or use an item.  Many spells require multiple points which can be earned by randomly psyching up or by boosting/defending and forfeiting your turn. By equipping crowns/jobs you gain unique moves and can cast spells or use items for fewer attack points.

    New jobs are unlocked as the story progresses. In the beginning of the game you are introduced to a young boy (who you get to name) that turns fourteen and must complete his ritual of adulthood by having a meeting with the king. Upon meeting the king, he finds that the princess (you get to name her too) is kidnapped by a witch and needs rescuing. On the way to the witch’s mansion, the young man encounters his friend (another character you can name) who joins the party. This friend gives a few tips on how to battle with magic and as a team they are able to defeat the first boss together. When the princess is rescued, both her and her bodyguard (the last nameable character!) join the party.

    Upon returning to their hometown, Horne, they find all of the townspeople transformed into statues.  They must get to the bottom of this curse and save their town. Not surprisingly each town they visit seeking aid needs an issue of theirs resolved before reciprocating.  As the story unfolds, the situation proves to be very dire and this group of four individuals must save the world from certain doom.  To add an additional challenge, the party often separates and there are many times where you are fighting solo or with the help of an NPC ally.  These separations build up the characters and main storyline nicely.  

    Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good character development, music, job and battle system
    Weak Points: Some consider this game too hard
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy magic and violence; language

    Throughout the game there are many random battles and boss fights.  These are always easier with a full party, but with proper gear and jobs equipped, the challenge should be minimal.  Many bosses and enemies have an elemental affinity and if you have the opposing elemental weapon and shield that blocks their attack, you’ll be in good shape. 

    There are many jobs available including the standard fare white and black mage, fighter, and alchemist. Other jobs including Bandit, Bard, Dancer, and Elementalist are useful at various points in the game.  Switching jobs can be done on the fly and there is no penalty other than losing gems if you die.  The default job of the Freelancer offers the benefit of not losing gems when the party gets knocked out.   

    Gems are often dropped in battle and they are vital for upgrading your crowns to unlock new job abilities and making your weapons and armor more powerful.  If you need money you can sell excess gems.  Like many RPGs, I had to spend a good amount of time farming gems to max out my weapons, armor, and job classes.  

    Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I put over thirty-seven hours into the single player campaign.  Towards the end of the game and after beating the main story, there are towers of various difficulties that offer random levels, battles, and loot to extend the game play further.  Using the DS wireless interface, you can join a friend’s party or have them fight alongside of you.  

    Like many games in the Final Fantasy series, The 4 Heroes of Light comes with an excellent sound track composed by Naoshi Mizuta.  The music has a retro feel with the chip tune influences.  The battle music and boss songs are catchy and often got stuck in my head.  

    RPG lovers should definitely consider adding Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light to their library if they don’t mind the standard fare magic and turn based battle violence.  To my disappointment the D word was used a couple of times in this game.  If those issues don’t bother you, I would recommend picking up this game before it becomes harder to find.  You can get it on Square-Enix’s website for $20 plus shipping or at Gamestop for $15 if you can find it in the store (It’s no longer available on their site). Amazon lists the game for over $50 new.   I look forward to playing the sequel Bravely Default on my 3DS.

     

  • Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (DS)

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    Game Info:

    Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
    Developed by: Intelligent Systems
    Published by: Nintendo
    Release Date: February 16, 2009
    Available on: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Famicom
    Number of Players: 1-player local, 2-player Wireless/Online
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for ages 10 and older: Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
    MSRP: $29.99

    In 1990, Intelligent Systems released Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryū to Hikari no Ken for the Japanese Famicom system. The tale of Prince Marth and his quest to rid his homeland of a horrid dragon quickly inspired a cult following and a sequel in Japan, but never expanded overseas. The third Fire Emblem game eventually found its way to rest of the world, but it seemed like the original would never reach foreign shores.

    Nineteen years later, the classic came back to life as Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. By keeping most of the old traits of the original, updating the graphics, and spicing up the gameplay, Intelligent Systems attempted to give everyone the chance to relive its first crowning achievement. Did they succeed?

    For the most part, yes. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is an incredibly good game. It follows the standard turn-based strategy formula: you control a small army of soldiers, move each one once per turn across a top-down map, attack, and allow your opponent to do the same. When you attack, the game switches to a side-view for the turn-based battle animations. The Fire Emblem series adds a separate twist to it, however: each character has its own personality, its own abilities, its own back story, and its own life. Meaning when a character dies, that character is gone forever: you lose one, and that character, along with any side story or extra characters that could be unlocked with it, disappear. This adds an emotional tie to the characters, and gives you the extra incentive to keep everyone alive. 

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Solid strategy, excellent character design
    Weak Points: Slow pacing, dated story
    Moral Warnings: Minor Occult references, fantasy violence

    Generally speaking, the game plays well. The button-based controls work well, though the stylus-driven controls can be cumbersome. Battles are fun, if you can get past the somewhat slow pacing that naturally comes with the genre. Success relies on using your units together: sending one unit off alone, no matter how strong, will find it promptly surrounded and slaughtered. Those that can utilize teamwork reap the rewards: a fitting message found throughout the series, and is, for the most part, a good mechanic to build a game on. It is frustrating, however, when you lose a unit, because if you want it back, you have to restart the entire level. And when an hour has already been invested in the fight, the game can become down-right unbearable; I often had to put the game down and walk away for a day after losing some climactic battles.

    Fire Emblem spins a stereotypical tale: Marth, prince of Altea, has his home invaded by the armies of a resurrecting dragon, who kills his father and kidnaps his sister. Fleeing from his homeland when it needs him most, Marth is filled with regret and the desire for revenge. Flashing forward a few years, Marth builds a small army and sets out to rid the continent of the dragon. Over time, he grows from a youth bent on revenge to an adult fighting for the good of the poor and defenseless. The story is one place in the game where it shows its age: it's basic, it's predictable, and it's quite forgettable.

    While the original game's graphics were acceptable for its time, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon takes advantage of the Nintendo DS's drastically improved hardware to produce excellent images. The maps are spectacularly detailed and varied, and while the characters' movement animations are nothing to brag about, the battle animations are gorgeous. The anime art-style works well with the game's overall Japanese feel. I was personally disappointed with the lack of cut-scenes and videos, as the last two console-based games included stunning ones.

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

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

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As far as sound goes, the game does a decent job: its melodies are pleasant, but not memorable. The background music fits the battles and scenes, though I doubt you will find yourself humming the tunes when you put the game down. The sound effects fit well, and while they never get annoying, they are not memorable, either.

    Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon also includes a multiplayer option, which allows you to pit your best troops against another army via local connection or online. This is Intelligent System's first crack at online functionality with the Fire Emblem series, and it works fairly well. It suffers from its own mechanics, however, as it takes a well-groomed and carefully trained team with the highest stats possible to even hope to do well at it. Still, it is a fun distraction for those with the time and willpower.

    Nintendo is known for creating morally-acceptable games, and this one is no exception. There is no profanity that I could find, although the boss characters are highly insulting. There is fantasy violence, but no blood, and bodies simply fade away after death. Minor occult references are made throughout the game, but always on the villain's side, and at no point in time must the player take part in them. There are no sexual references, and characters' clothing properly covers themselves.

    Overall, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is a great game for anyone with patience. I can not stress how much patience is needed to progress through the game, especially for completionists who try to finish with all of the characters. Beyond that, it is fun, moral, and satisfying in its presentation.

  • Five: Champions of Canaan (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Five: Champions of Canaan
    Developed by: Kingdom Games
    Published by: Kingdom Games
    Release date: September 27, 2016
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Hack n’ slash
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for mild blood and violence
    Price: $4.99

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

    Under King David’s rule, the Ammonites have been forbidden from doing human sacrifices.  To get around this restriction, they have implemented arena battles to serve the same purpose.  As a descendant of one of King David’s mighty warriors, you have been tasked with infiltrating the Ammonites' operations by becoming an arena champion.  There are many arenas to do battles in and all but the first one requires an admission fee to participate.  It’s time to sharpen your battle skills and make your king proud!

    Each of the arenas have objectives that will reward you if completed.  Some examples include surviving several rounds without being defeated or leveling up a certain number of times.  Before a round begins you’ll see what types of enemies await you.  You’ll be fighting against archers, spear wielders, sword fighters, and various forms of wildlife.  You’ll be fending off wolves, lions, and crazy chickens.

    While there is a decent variety in enemies, the formula remains the same for the arena battles.  After dispatching a set number of enemies, a boss battle ensues.  When the boss is defeated a reward chest will spring up from the ground and it usually contains money, weapons, and armor upgrades.  You’ll also be awarded experience at the end of the round.  I’m not sure why it’s not awarded for each opponent slain, but leveling up after every other round isn’t uncommon.  

    Five: Champions of Canaan
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Biblical setting where you get to fight against Israel’s enemies; low price
    Weak Points: The combat is too repetitive; mediocre graphics; mismatched voice overs
    Moral Warnings: Arena combat and violence

    Sometimes the rounds have a little variety with some mini-bosses appearing with the normal soldiers and then fighting a stronger boss at the end.  The crazy chicken rounds are memorable and story sequences break up the repetition a little bit, but despite these efforts, this game is still very repetitive and requires a lot of grinding to progress the story.  

    The developers have been very active in patching the game and making improvements to it.  Since its release they have added better quality texture packs to it.  Maybe they can spice up the gameplay in the near future too.   

    Even after the graphics patch, I was still unimpressed with the visuals as the bosses and warriors are recycled a lot throughout the game.    Another issue is that the character’s faces in the dialog box are very blurry and low quality.  I still love the comic book style art used in the Bible stories that the old man in town tells. Some of the enemies from Five Guardians of David make an appearance as well.  I still dislike the alchemists with their fire bomb attacks.  

    Five: Champions of Canaan
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 56%
    Gameplay - 9/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The audio is a mixed bag with the narration and background music being well done.  I like the fact that you can play as a male or female champion, but a far as I can tell, most the enemies are male.  Granted there could be females underneath the more armored combatants.  However, some of the male fighters don’t have shirts on and the female shrieks and screams are used on these models.  While humorous, it’s still a glitch worth addressing.  

    I did encounter some graphical flickering around my champion’s hands and my AMD drivers are current.  Other issue worth mentioning is that this game has crashed to my desktop once.  It happened in the middle of a boss battle, too. 

    Despite the combat violence, there isn’t much bloodshed.  The defeated opponents do remain on the ground for a while though.  The violence is pretty mild compared to other Teen rated games out there.

    In the end, I’m not impressed with Five Champions of Canaan.  I enjoyed Five Guardians of David and highly recommend that game over this one.  It’s a bit more expensive at $15, but it offers better storytelling and more variety in gameplay. On the other hand, Five Champions of Canaan is only $5 and may entertain someone for a little while.

     

  • Flood: The Prequel (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Flood: The Prequel
    Developed by: God Inspired Games, Alkain Studios
    Published by: God Inspired Games
    Release date: June 8, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: RPG
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Number of players: Single player
    Price: $5.99

    Thank you God Inspired Games for sending us this game to review!

    Flood: The Prequel claims combat, crafting, and story. True as this may be, Flood contains the barest form of each element. The combat is untuned and uninteresting; the crafting involves interacting with trees and bushes until they randomly grant the drop you need; and the story is poorly written. Broken quest triggers keep me from seeing the full extent of the game, so I don't know what might change later.

    The title “Flood: The Prequel” evokes more mystery than the game indicated thereby. The main character, whose name and gender are picked by the player, is transported by an angel into the time just before the great Flood of Noah’s day. No purpose is given at first, but lip service is paid to the providence and wisdom of God. The past’s inhabitants treat the main character as a known villager and expect him or her to perform fetch quests. To wit, the player will collect flowers, rocks, and wood. A few fetch quests later, you might kill a mutated evil rat. The angel then pops up to announce that you were sent to deal with the malignant animal population. And there the story ends or, possibly, breaks (more on that below).

    Flood: The Prequel
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Short
    Weak Points: Rote, luck-based gathering and crafting; Battles which are nearly impossible to lose, slowed down by a poorly-implemented Active Time Battle system; Stilted dialog; Broken or severely limited quest line
    Moral Warnings: Animals are fought, either in self-defense or to level up

    Rat and woodland animal slaying is accomplished by the old RPG method of entering a static battle screen and selecting the “Attack” command until something is dead. There are limited-use power attacks, special abilities, and recovery items, but there is no need for them. In the first battle of the flower-picking quest, I ran into a wolf, narrowly killed it, and promptly leveled past the point where any hostile creature could do any damage to me. Even the mutant rat went down in one hit after that.

    In fairness to Flood, I should point out that these one-note battles are not turn-based. They’re worse. Turn-based battle systems are sometimes criticized for feeling too slow. Sometimes the slowness is offset by an Active Time Battle system. In ATB, every combatant has a bar that fills up over time and is depleted by taking actions. Faster entities might be able to act twice before the enemy can react. Decisions might have to be made on the fly, because the enemy could attack you as soon as their action bar fills. Implemented properly, ATB forces thinking on one’s feet while encouraging strategy. Otherwise, an ATB system can bore the player by forcing him to wait to perform the same action he performed ten seconds ago and ten seconds before that, essentially creating a turn-based system with forced delays. Such is Flood’s combat.

    Item foraging and crafting is at least faster than combat. The player character interacts with trees, bushes, and rocks to pick up a randomized item. After several seconds, the tree or whatnot will be ripe for the picking of a different random item. Some items can be crafted into quest-essential collectibles or recovery items. This process is not fun, but it goes by quickly enough.

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

    Game Score - 38%
    Gameplay - 4/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 3/5

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

    Graphically, the game is nothing special. The sound and music are forgettable. The art style is wholly uninspired pixels. Were it not for the dialog and name of the game, one might think that the ancient village is a frontier forest town from 1202 or 1708. I’ve avoided mentioning RPG Maker because that game development tool has produced incredible work in the past and it’s unfair to judge a game entirely by its development method. That said, Flood is built by RPG Maker with no flair, and it shows.

    RPG Maker has not prevented stability problems. Flood has broken quest lines. Twice I’ve gotten stuck at the same point in the story, unable to interact with any quest-relevant characters. (I’m a bit disappointed, because I think one of them is Noah.) This end point came after 70 minutes on my first run and about 25 minutes on my second run. No amount of poking around the game world freed up a new line of dialog or a new fetch quest.

    Out there is someone who has done something I never did and which you, probably, never did. That person put together a game and released it on Steam. Think of this like writing your novel—you know, the one you’ve had an idea about for years but have never sat down to actually write. The best and worst thing about Flood is that it is on Steam as a testament to someone’s determination to write their novel and as a testament to the shortcomings of that novel. I earnestly respect the person who has more drive than me regarding RPG Maker; with the same earnestness I advise you against playing Flood: The Prequel.

  • Fort Triumph (Preview) (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Fort Triumph
    Game Title: Fort Triumph
    Developed By: CookieByte Entertainment
    Published By: CookieByte Entertainment
    Released: April 26, 2018
    Available On: Linux, MacOS, Windows
    Genre: RPG, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: Not yet rated.
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $19.99 

    Since writing this preview, a new update for this game has came out adding in new features.

    Have you ever been playing a turn-based strategy (TBS) game and just really wanted to Spartan kick an enemy into a pit? Have you just wanted to be able to kick a spider all across the map? Well Fort Triumph has the sweet foot action you are looking fun. Fort Triumph is an early access TBS game with a physics system that allows you to move everything with the kick of a foot. Seriously, you’ll be kicking a lot.

    Fort Triumph is set in a fantasy world where you have magic just seeping up out of the ground. The game also does not take itself seriously at all. For instance, the skeletons have a business like structure with monthly goals and different positions and identify as unloving instead of undead. The spiders, which can talk to you, have a money jar for whenever they make spider puns and have a weekly, democratic election to decide who will lead them each week. Within the world, you take the role as a band of budget heroes.

    This game presents the story in chapters. Each chapter consists of a world map and a couple of different main, story quests. Currently, there is only the prologue, which is basically a tutorial that has three missions and no world map, and the first chapter which is currently not fully complete and is lacking the last few story missions. Overall, I really like the content presented so far. The main story bits are a little sparse, but the world map allows for you to make some of your own little stories. One thing I really like about the world map is you actually have all of the different factions on there and you are able to gain favor with them. Also, when I say it has all the factions, it has all the factions. The skeletons are even on there so you can befriend them. Now, this befriending and gaining favor could still use some more work, but it looks like a fun way to make each run different. If you are not hostile to a faction, you can recruit some units from them and the better your relation is with them, they will offer you some better units.

    Fort Triumph
    Highlights:

    Strong Points:  Solid and simple combat; funny story; a worldmap that allows for play between battles; interesting integration of physics.
    Weak Points: Humor is subjective and the humor has more jokes aimed at adult audiences; the bigger story missions are limited; content is limited so the game can’t really increase in difficulty; maps are repeated pretty frequently.
    Moral Warnings: There is a lot of killing in this game including civilians being executed; magic and the undead.

    While the world map is fun to travel around, the main part of this game is the TBS combat. This game operates on a two action system which allows you to do two actions per turn per unit. This is a lot more simplified than some traditional TBS games, but it really fits with the setting and your group of characters. Currently, your group consists of four units, one each from the four different classes. The devs have said that in the future, they’d like to allow for you to do more to set up your squad so you can mix and match classes, but currently you are locked to one of each plus one bonus slot for the faction unit I mentioned earlier. Currently, your squad consists of two ranged units, the ranger and the mage, and two melee units, the paladin and the warrior. While the melee units are pretty good, I think it really helps to have the two action system with how much of your team is melee focused.

    Each of your units is pretty good, but I do think that, as of right now, the warrior and mage are the best while the paladin is a bit lacking. This could be due to the skill system. In this game, when a unit levels, they will be allowed to choose between two abilities to learn. These abilities are chosen randomly from all of the abilities that the unit can learn. While this is nice, it can lead to you not learning the abilities you really like until much later which can make the unit a little lacking early on. Currently, I’d say the best abilities are ones that are physics based. Anything that can move objects are really important. If you can knock a unit into something, it will be damaged and stunned which will make it not be able to attack on its next turn. Also, if you can knock something into a pit or water, it will instantly die. It is all of this which makes kick, in my opinion, the best ability in the game since it is a starting ability and is very versatile. That, and it is super fun and satisfying to kick a tree on top of an enemy.

    As mentioned previously, the story is not very serious and is pretty comical. I was fairly surprised at how much I laughed at the story. I’m also glad that it only had a few pop culture references since a decent bit of those types of jokes from other things tend to not be as funny years later, although I do feel like the few ones this game did make will probably last. Also, even though I did find the story very funny and engaging, I get humor is very subjective so it might not be for everybody.

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    The controls for this game are pretty good. It can sometimes be a little tricky to aim at certain things, but you can always rotate the camera to be able to better target what you want. It was really nice that they included a slider to change how fast enemies and player units act. Some people might want the turns to go super quick and can follow all the stuff that happens while people like myself need it a tad bit slowed down so I can keep track of who everybody is and what they are doing. I have not had many issues with the game while playing it. I think it only crashed once, although there was a time where I somehow had a file deleted and the game went into dev mode. Luckily, the devs are quite active on the Steam forums and they helped me fix my issue real quick.

    The art is a little cartoony and pretty colorful. It to all look good except for on the snowy maps it was a bit hard to see the outlines for the movement ranges. The animations are sometimes goofy, but I believe this is supposed to be that way due to the amount of humor. This is also effected by what you have your combat speed set on so if you do have problems, you can change it. One nice touch when it came to the animation is that when a character goes to fire from around a corner, they actually properly step out of it to shot. If there is a block next to them, they will actually climb up onto it before firing. This isn’t much, but it is not a feature I’ve seen too much in other TBS games.

    The maps were also nice, but they did repeat quite often. For instance, each settlement you attack has the same map. The main missions do have a randomized map, but some of the layouts can be more difficult than others. I do hope to see more get added in the future. I also found the audio to be quite nice. The music to be fairly lighthearted and I never got tired of listening to it. Sounds are a bit comical, but as above I chalk this up to direction they are going with the humorous nature of the game. I do hope they add in more as production continues.

    Fort Triumph
    Combat in this game is very cartoony in nature, but it does have a lot of killing. Not only are you killing goblins, skeletons, and spiders, you can also attack other human settlements where you will fight some of the same units you have in your party. There is a point in the prologue where the enemy executes some civilians held hostage and certain maps will have some random dead civilians on it. Enemy corpses also seem to persist and not go away. The game also has some different corpses depending on what you killed it with. For instance, there is a burned variant, but it isn’t really graphic and it's only a charred decal over the regular dead body. I will say that when I was playing it, it didn’t feel too violent for younger players, but I’ll leave that up for the purchaser to decide. Luckily, there is a free demo of the game which allows you to play the prologue so you can decide for yourself.

    I didn’t find much vulgarity in the writing. I don’t remember any curse words nor do I remember any gross out jokes, but they could just be slipping my mind. I’ll also admit that I haven’t yet played all of the story missions, but I believe I read the campaign stops after you do so, so instead I decided to keep messing about and doing random battles. I will say though, and this is not for the morality of the game, that some of the jokes might not be for kids. They might not find it funny that the skeletons talk office politics or that the mage is trying to do enough stuff to get her tenure at a wizarding school. That might be funnier for the adults. So far, the magic seems to be very standard fantasy stuff, but there was some people being killed and revived as skeletons. The savage does also dress in a manner similar to the women in the Flintstones so it is a tad bit revealing.

    Fort Triumph is a game I happened to find by chance a while ago and I am really happy that I did so. I have enjoyed my time with the game. I was also highly impressed with the amount of content it had with its first public release. Granted, it still needs some more work and some added content, but I was not displeased with my purchase of it. The game can be a bit violent, but it doesn’t do it in a particularly graphic way which might make it more suitable for kids depending on the buyer. The game is also simple enough that a kid will probably have more fun from it than they might would some of the other more complicated TBS games out on the market, but with the direction of the writing I believe an older person will find more enjoyment of it. I also have to say that I like how active the devs are with the community and how much they accept feedback. I truly think they’ll be able to finish fleshing this out to be a really good game in the end.

    - Paul Barnard (Betuor)

  • Galaxy of Pen & Paper (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Galaxy of Pen & Paper
    Developed by: Behold Studios
    Published by: Behold Studios
    Available on: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows
    Release date: July 27, 2017
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Cartoon Violence, Suggestive Themes, and Crude Humor
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    Having played a few table top RPGs with friends, I was thoroughly impressed by the funny and computer based versions in Knights of Pen and Paper 1 & 2. The latest creation from Behold Studios is just as silly as its predecessors and takes place in 1999 with the fear of the Y2K/millennial bug. You take control of the Galactic Master (GM) and get to customize their appearance along with the props in this sci-fi based game.

    At first, you’ll start off with two players in your party but that will expand to four later on in the game. Occasionally, you’ll have a fifth AI party member that you will not be able to customize like the rest. When creating your party members, you can adjust their starting attributes and personality types. By having different personalities, you’ll get a variety of response options when dealing with hostile aliens.

    As you battle enemies, your party will earn money and experience. When your party members level up, you can assign skill points to different abilities to unlock them. Healing, status removers, and attacks that bypass shields come in handy. Unfortunately, each party member can only equip a few skills and accessories.

    Galaxy of Pen & Paper
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Silly humor and fun gameplay
    Weak Points: Some repetitive dialogue/battles
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence; skill/magic use; language (bad*ss, d*mn)

    In the beginning, your crew won’t have a ship, but it doesn’t take them too long to acquire one. When exploring planets you can talk to the locals, mine for minerals, or pick fights with hostile aliens. When traveling across the map you may get ambushed by enemies depending on how the twenty-sided dice lands. It should also come as no surprise that the number of enemies you fight determines the difficulty of the battle. The more enemies you fight, the more gold, experience, and loot you’ll get.

    Many planets have shops for buying accessories as well as items to restore your health and special power (SP). Some shops also have ship-related accessories like battery charges and dice re-rolling. Be sure to stock up on those for ship-to-ship battles.

    The ship battles are based on dice rolls and the higher your roll, the more damage you’ll do per turn. If you get a low roll, you may want to use the re-roll ability. You also only get to attack if you have enough battery power. If you have a really high roll, you may want to consider using a battery recharge for an extra attack on your turn.

    Ground combat works a bit differently as dice rolling is not seen in them. The attack timeline is shown on top and the attack order may change if a slow status is applied to a character. Most combatants have a shield as well as their health bar. The health won’t be depleted until the shield is gone. At the beginning of each turn, the shield is regenerated slightly unless they have the "dead short" status that prevents that from happening. Other status aliments include burn (fire), poison, confusion, and stun. Make sure you have a party member or two who can remove status aliments or keep items on hand that can cure them. As long as they’re not stunned, during each turn a character can use one item and attack.

    Galaxy of Pen & Paper
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 75%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    If a player gets knocked out in combat you can revive them with a Dragon Ball from the popular anime series. Another anime referenced in this game is Cowboy Bebop. Star Trek and Star Wars references are a given in this sci-fi adventure. I also caught some remarks from Rocky Horror Picture Show, Back to the Future, and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. If there were any from Guardians of the Galaxy, I missed them.

    The humor in this game is pretty good and I enjoyed the gameplay just as much. It took me roughly ten hours to complete the main campaign which is broken down into five episodes. There is plenty more to do if you choose to take on side quests of your choosing. Besides progressing the story, you can accept side quests that involve escort, hunting, and mining missions. There are also character class missions that unlock new player types upon completion. For every mission completed, you’ll earn reputation points which will help you gain recognition throughout the galaxy. Prizes are awarded for reaching various reputation milestones.

    Visually this game still has pixel artwork, but some of the planets and spaceships are higher detail. There’s a wide variety of enemies to fight and some of them are poop themed. Other than the potty humor and RPG combat, you’ll encounter some language.

    There is no voice acting, but the background music is decent. I especially like the rock themed boss battle music. The other sound effects are good too.

    Overall, Galaxy of Pen & Paper is a funny tribute to many popular sci-fi movies and anime out there. The PC version is three times the amount of its mobile counterparts. With plenty of gameplay in this title, any version is worth looking into.

  • Girls Frontline (Android)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Girls Frontline
    Developed By: MicaTeam
    Published By: Digital Sky
    Released: May 8, 2018 (English version, multiple territories)
    Available On: Android/iOS (Google Play and Apple App Store)
    Genre: Strategy RPG
    ESRB Rating: Teen (Mild Sexual Content, Cartoon Violence, Mild Profanity/Crude Humor, Mild Suggestive Themes, and occasional scenes of mild horror)
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: Free-to-Play (in-game transactions)

    Note: All content in this review is generally based on the English client, though covers the basic gameplay and most content of the others. It was played on a Windows PC via the Bluestacks emulator; any specific control or technical issues concerning that will be noted as appropriate.

    Ever since "Kantai Collection" popularized making ships into cute girls and making a gacha game based on the premise, a flood of "follow the leader" games have been made, and this review will cover one of the better ones, which make actual military and civilian firearms into cute girl android soldiers in a gacha game.

    Gacha games are games based on the "gacha" model, based on a term referring to type of capsule toy vending machine in Japan. Games of this nature adapt the mechanics of these chance-based toy machines to a digital format, in a manner similar to loot boxes since they encourage spending real money, but it's usually possible (if somewhat more tedious) to acquire all collectible items in-game through dedicated play.

    The story of Girls Frontline is set in an alternate universe post-apocalyptic WWIII, where over 90% of humanity perished. Now, androids called "Tactical Dolls" have been refurbished from civilian uses for military applications in various organizations, especially by the one you are a new commander in, the private military corporation Griffon and Kruyger. Your rivals and the chief antagonists are Sangvis Ferri, a rival PMC gone rogue whose T-Dolls threw off their moral restraints against killing innocents and others in general without orders, murdered their human overseers, and now will threaten a large if vaguely defined part of Eurasia if it wasn't for Griffon and Kruyger working to contain the threat.

    While the story starts off simple, it snowballs into an emotional tale of war and explores themes of freedom and free will in artificial beings, for good or ill, at least if you follow the story.

    Outside of the main story plot, it is a rather charming and quite silly android girl raising simulator. It's also loaded with all sorts of obscure and interesting trivia concerning military history, to the point many T-Doll weapons can be identified as certain real-world designs (Lee-Enfield's gun is based on the No.4 Mk.1 Enfield used in WWII, hers being a sniper specific derivative variant). Even their uniforms contain a lot of references to military history (MP40 looks like a WWII German tank officer, though her red armband has the Nazi swastika absent), among other neat little references to the firearms industry. It even has shoutouts to other military games and franchises, with a large portion of the fun being if you can identify all the shoutouts and firearm lore.

    Girls Frontline
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Easy to learn and play gacha-style strategy RPG that can be quite fun to play if you are dedicated to long term play
    Weak Points: Occasional stability issues regarding controls; can be tedious for those who don't want to master its metagame aspects
    Moral Warnings: Very minor references to alcohol consumption (most are in the context of historical references); some quite revealing female outfits (especially if the game decensoring code is applied); some cutscenes can be rather violent looking; mild occasional swearing; the romance aspect of the game has a potential for polygamous relationships even though it's in the context of traditional marriage otherwise

    The gameplay of Girls Frontline can be divided into three parts: a strategy RPG game, a raising simulation, and a metagame that optimizes T-Dolls for long term usefulness.

    The S-RPG part is much like any other turn-based strategy game, in which units need to be optimized for optimal performance in order to fulfill objectives, and their success is largely dependent on how well they have been equipped and how well you move them to capture nodes on battle maps to complete objectives, which often include taking down bosses, holding certain nodes for several turns, and hostage rescue missions.

    The raising simulation aspect takes place outside the combat sections. When not in combat, T-Dolls live in dorms that can be accessorized with different looks and furniture bought with tokens or acquired as special rewards. Additional costumes and gifts to raise the affection the T-Dolls have for you can also be obtained and high affection ratings can increase combat performance, and well-decorated dormitories can boost affection gain as well as provide for special scenes. Certain facilities to boost abilities can be leveled up alongside the dorms to provide further boosts to combat abilities as well.

    The metagame aspect is the long-term customization of combat echelons to be able to do all sorts of missions efficiently in the long term. Certain unit formations are quite effective for certain situations, some units specialize night over day missions, and some have niche abilities that are only useful in certain situations. Overall, while any player can pick up Girls Frontline and enjoy themselves, career players will certainly want to master the metagame, especially if they wish to win unique rewards for occasionally hosted special events on the server offering unique challenges and rewards, such as T-Dolls that cannot be manufactured or obtained in regular play.

    The game itself is free but does have in-game transactions to purchase gems to acquire resources and expand certain T-Doll and equipment limits. The game is quite generous handing out resources for completing daily and weekly missions, though, and the developers are quite generous with compensation bonuses for maintenance periods. While drop rates for certain T-Dolls and equipment can be rare, the drop rates are rather fair compared to many other games using the gacha model, with occasional boosted chance events provided by the developers on occasion to make things easier.

    Graphically, the game is a medley of contrasts. All cutscenes and story events use a slightly rough, darkened anime style with realistically proportioned characters. The gameplay sections, by contrast, use a super deformed, cutesy anime style with bright colors, while character portraits use the colors and shading of the latter while maintaining the realism of the former. Overall, it helps with the mood whiplash the rather serious plot can generate while most of the rest of the game has an adorable "chibi" look in most gameplay scenes. Aside from a few animation goofs (some were purposely retained by the developers because they were funny), all art looks smooth and well drawn, though gun enthusiasts may be irked to see occasional minor rendering errors for guns in both portraits and gameplay mode if they have a sharp eye for details.

    The sound is again a whipsaw of charming, gentle music, like the idyllic and peaceful theme that plays in the Dorms where your T-Dolls stay in-between missions, and the intense, techno styled battle themes, like the boss battle theme "Black Out." These contrasting themes again help enhance the mood whiplash between the laid-back, non-combat sections, and the gritty, serious story sections. Sound effects are quite good, with many being very accurate to the guns (the M1 Garand even has the distinctive clip "ping" it became famous for), and if one chooses to use the voice-overs (Japanese by default on the English server), most are pleasing on the ear, though some like IDW's can be pretty grating (to the point it's something of an official meme acknowledged by the developers).

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 75%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 5.5/10
    Sexual Content - 5.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10
    (+3 points for promoting loyalty to family and fellow soldiers as important)

    Control is accomplished by touchscreen styled control on Android/iOS devices, while the mouse is used as a substitute for desktop PC emulation. In both cases, controls are generally responsive, but the server load delay can be tedious when switching frequently between different gameplay screens. There are also some game engine stability issues tied to input, elucidated below in more detail.

    On a technical level, this game is quite well put together, for the most part; menus are generally responsive, and crashes are quite rare. The only concern that can be a problem for users of actual Android/iOS systems and those who emulate them on PC is the "Illegal action detected" bug, where it will display an error if it believes input is faster than human speed. Almost all of these occur between turns and disappear if the player does nothing, generally being an annoying but harmless false positive, but in severe cases can force the game back to the title screen, though a save is made where you left off prior, so data loss is not an issue.

    On a more serious front, any macros (automated key movements pre-programmed to simplify certain tasks) should be disabled while in-game, no matter their purpose, or the player's account could be banned permanently as a cheater by the game server, which checks for repeated input much faster than humans could interact with the game.

    Girls Frontline is a game about war, so it's going to have some moral issues, and its "weapons as cute girls" hook introduces some more that deserve some in-depth analysis before anyone commits, as the content is certain to be offensive on several grounds for moral reasons.

    Violence is strictly limited to robotic beings destroying one another lethally. Despite the humanoid appearance of the T-Dolls, they and all opponents are very much mechanical, and the violence takes place in the context of your characters fighting against rogue androids who, unlike your characters, are unfortunately ethically free to fight humans and innocent targets. There is no blood display in-game. Cutscenes show similar damage as a real human would incur, but blood is generally absent, as the T-Dolls do not bleed actual blood. Gore is also absent for the same reasons. In-game, defeated units simply fall to the ground and disappear without leaving remains.

    Some minor PG-13 level profanity is used throughout the game, generally in cut-scenes or certain character quotes. (d*mn, b*st**d, etc.)

    Sexual Content for this game needs to be discussed in detail because the game offers it in two forms: Censored (by default in all countries, legally so in mainland China due to gaming regulations), and Uncensored (unlockable via a special production code in-game in all other territories).

    The censored versions of the game feature some revealing outfits, like midriff bearing outfits and those that show some cleavage, but still cover all the essentials, with little to no display of undergarments. The dialogue contains some suggestive comments and innuendo (as the characters are female and can be romanced by the player, who is male despite the developers intending to leave the commander character as gender neutral as possible), but it stays no worse than teen level. If female characters are "oathed" (in-game version of marriage), some lines are added for oathed characters indicating you had sex with them, which is only available after what amounts to marriage, though if you click on the characters on the main menu screen prior to oathing them, they will either scold you for being inappropriate or ask you to wait until you tied the knot before attempting anything intimate with them. You can oath multiple female characters (similar to how men could have multiple wives in ancient history), but oathing is required before you can be intimate with any female character. The characters are all androids who have forms ranging from childlike to quite mature looking, and thankfully all the lines indicating post-oath sexual encounters are nigh exclusively reserved for the characters who look legally aged enough to engage in intimate relations, with oathing otherwise regarded as a more intimate form of friendship with the more childlike characters.

    Girls Frontline

    The uncensored version, however, is far more risque and borders on the pornographic at times, with damaged character artwork showing dangerously revealing amounts of skin and undergarments not shown in the censored artwork, and some outfits are much more fetish-like and impractical (like PTRD, who wears an impractical tank top that shows the underside of her breasts, while the censored version opts for a more sensible, fully covering uniform shirt that matches her Russian styled military coat). Both versions do have some risque alternative outfits, and in an inversion, some of the alternate outfits for some characters can be far more conservative and sensible than their default versions (T-Doll AS Val's Mod3 outfit is much less risque than her regular one, the former being a full outfit, the latter having an exposed midriff), though all animated outfits (aka, Live2D skins) default to their censored versions even if the de-censorship code is applied, since they have actual physics animation for the characters. The walking around sprites are based on the uncensored, non-damaged character artwork, but are generally drawn in a cutesy, super-deformed style, and the very low detail of the outfits as drawn in this style means they contain barely any offensive or sexually noticeable features compared to their portrait versions.

    The game is set in a strict sci-fi alternative universe Earth setting, there is absolutely no occult or supernatural references in game-play or plot. Authority is clearly respected throughout, as the characters under your command are bound to military protocol, your superiors are experienced military officers, and disobeying orders is portrayed as a consistent negative. The sci-fi prejudices against artificial beings are present to some extent, though generally with good reason, as T-Dolls with guns going rogue is the impetus of the plot, though in at least one side story some prejudices that are based on sheer ignorance are displayed, though the game does not portray this as being correct or justified in any way. There is some cultural stereotyping depending on the nationality of the T-Doll origins, but this is generally affectionate or based on historical information. Finally, while there are a few comedic or recreational mentions of drinking alcohol (M16A1 mentions enjoying Jack Daniel's in a character comment for example), most are references to historical facts, such as the Russian WWII-based characters referencing alcohol consumption since actual Russian soldiers were given an official alcohol ration.

    There are no instances of crude humor (being a game largely oriented around cute girl characters) I could discern, and themes of family and sacrifice are key parts of the main and side story plots, as many T-Dolls regard one another as family members and allies, and both the story and gameplay reinforce the moral that it's important to regard your forces as individuals worthy of your respect and protection as their commanding officer.

    In conclusion, it's certainly a mixed bag both for secular and moral reasons. It's an "easy to learn, difficult to master" game fun for casual play but not recommended for long term play save for dedicated fans of gacha games. From a moral standpoint, it's got several very big red flags in the sexual content department, especially if the game is uncensored. While its rated Teen, I would not in good conscience recommend this to any but older teens in it's censored form, and I would definitely discourage any attempt at decensoring it.

    If you can accept the moral red flags and want a cute yet surprisingly deep gacha-styled strategy RPG, Girls Frontline can be quite fun, especially if you stick with it as a dedicated player.

  • Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (DS)

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    Game Info:

    Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
    Developed by Camelot Software Planning
    Published by Nintendo
    Released November 2010 
    Available for the Nintendo DS
    Genre: RPG
    ESRB Rating E10+ for fantasy violence.
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $14.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Dark Dawn was the 2010 follow-up to the well beloved duo of Gameboy Advance games Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age. Dark Dawn had a lot to live up to, as both of the previous games had in 2006 placed in IGN’s Readers Choice Top 100 games ever. With their solid reputation looming over them, publisher Camelot Software Planning again reprised their tale of psynergy-wielding adepts who need to save the world from the threat of alchemy once again.

    Set 30 years after the GBA games, Dark Dawn sees you following the adventures of the original heroes’ children. Crucial to these adventures is the understanding of alchemy, which is both a force of creation and destruction in the world of Weyard. The player’s understanding of alchemy can be confusing at first, as its history and importance is something that comes in bits and pieces through dialogue with the GBA-era characters, but it is nicely expanded upon in the Sun Saga books that you can get throughout the game.

    The Sun Saga books basically tell you the story of the GBA games in expedited and stylized fashion, so you can have a better understanding of alchemy and how important it is to the world of Weyard. The really nice thing about the books is that it covers what happened in the GBA games well enough so that even if you haven’t played the original GBA games (which by the way, I hadn’t) you still have a firm understanding of where Dark Dawn fits into the greater narrative of the Golden Sun series. Fortunately, Dark Dawn stands firmly enough upon its own two legs that you can enjoy the narrative of the game without having played the first two entries.

    This does bring me to a point of contention, however, as knowing the history of the Golden Sun series doesn’t necessarily play into the overall narrative of Dark Dawn. The adventure starts out with a slightly innocuous fetch mission: you have to get a Roc feather to fix a glider that the brash Tyrell (one of the protagonists) broke. The adventure then evolves into something much larger as Tyrell and the other “Children of the Vale” (as they are soon to be known as) leave their home.

    It is during the first few hours of gameplay that the player gets familiar with all of the game’s systems. If you have ever played a Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG), you know exactly what the battle system is like: random battles with monsters, turn based attacking, limit break-esque attacks; but Dark Dawn does have a few tweaks that keeps the formula interesting. First is the elemental magic system referred to as “psynergy."

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Varied gameplay; Emphasis on friendship and sacrifice
    Weak Points: Unresolved plot point; Grind-fest to defeat final boss
    Moral Warnings: Classical elements based “magic” system; some skeletons and spirit monsters

    Psynergy is never referred to as magic, but that is basically what it is. It is based upon the classical elements but it is given a unique spin by being called Venus (earth and plants), Mars (fire and heat), Jupiter (wind and electricity), and Mercury (water and ice). Only a select few, known as “adepts", can wield this power; it just so happens that Tyrell, Matthew, Karis, and all of your other party members happen to be adepts, so that is nice and convenient. Also expanding upon psynergy are the Djinn, cute little creatures that can help you in battle with buffs/debuffs and attacks. Get enough Djinn ready to use during a battle and you can summon creatures named/based upon ancient mythologies to put the beat-down on your enemies.

    Dark Dawn does enough in the battle department to keep things interesting, but where the game truly grabs your attention is the puzzles. Now I haven’t played a ton of JRPGs, but they have not incorporated puzzles into their games to the crucial extent that Dark Dawn does. And I do mean crucial, as in, you won’t progress through the game without solving puzzles. You have to use psynergy to solve these puzzles and unlock areas, so it makes psynergy powers important beyond just being useful in battle. These puzzles are a welcome addition to the potential random battle after random battle that JRPGs can devolve into. Most of the puzzles are rather simplistic, and only one gave me trouble. Once you include the distance and height limitations of using psynergy to solve puzzles, you can see how someone could easily be annoyed by the whole thing; for myself, however, I found it to be a nice break from battling random monsters.

    All in all the game is pretty fun. It is fairly easy to jump into as this title was made for anyone from children on up. There is a nice and steady climb in difficulty, but unfortunately there is also a massive end boss difficulty spike. I didn’t have to grind for experience at any time during the game except to beat the final boss, so that completely broke the flow of my experience. The spike was so ridiculous that I had to grind for six hours until I could beat the boss. I realize that I may have not pushed all of the battling systems to the limit like the game wants me to. But if I’m able to get through the entire rest of the game without having to grind for one second, what sense does it make to have a final boss be so powerful that all of the momentum of the story has to stop just so I can have a chance to beat it? Not the best way to make a game.

    Regardless of my experience with the final boss, Dark Dawn is a well-written story that twists tropes well enough to deliver a unique and fun game. There is no dialogue as everyone speaks in speech bubbles (or in Matthew’s case, smiles or frowns), but the writing makes every character you come across seem distinct and personable, even if some of the later characters are given very little chance to develop. Dark Dawn is a bright and colorful game with varied environments that are done quite well but even for the DS, the 3D models of characters are pretty bad. The models are a little better during battle mode, so at least it shows that Camelot tried. 

    The soundtrack, while not the best I’ve ever heard in a video game, sets the tone of the varying regions very well and brings the world to life. More than anything else in the game, it is the music that creates the distinctions of the world of Weyard and gives it the appropriate feel to a quest to save all of known existence. The sound effects mostly enhance the battles and bring a heft to them worthy of any of the greats.

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

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10
    Bonus: +3 for the game displays the consequences of evil, +3 story delivers good moral lesson.

    I didn’t come across any stability issues, as is the case with most DS games. The controls are very easy to learn but the battle menus can become a little lengthy and cumbersome once you start accruing items and learning more psynergy moves.

    Morally-wise, there isn’t a whole bunch to object to in this game. While there is the familiar select and action violence of a turn-based RPG, there is no blood or gore. There may have been some unique euphemisms the game used, but I don’t recall anything in particular. There are times when the heroes are at odds with authority figures, but this is because said authority figures are afraid to do the right thing. There is also some very slight prejudices shown, mainly in the form of different people groups not trusting each other, but it never gets anywhere beyond a “we just don’t like those people” explanation or extrapolation. There are also some enemies towards the end of the game that some would not like as you find yourself fighting skeletons and shadows.

    Probably the biggest issue for most people would be the psynergy system that is based upon the classical elements. The game never goes any deeper into why some people are adepts and most are not, so any similarities to real-world pagan beliefs end there. Only one character mentions “gods” in the world of Weyard, and there seems to be a certain amount of sun and moon revering, which is interesting because a “creator god” is also mentioned by a few characters but never shown. While the mythological creatures you summon to help you in battle do have names from ancient gods and goddesses, they share little resemblance to any of their real-world portrayals (e.g. one is the rocket-launching mummy, Ramses, bursting out of a pyramid); still it is worth mentioning.

    Like a lot of role-playing games, Dark Dawn is a single-player game with extremely little replay value; some would consider this a minus, though I would not. I was very slightly disappointed with the ending as it revealed an unresolved plot line that was primed for the next game (which at the time of this writing, still does not exist). For those concerned with the handful of moral flaws in the game, I will tell you that Dark Dawn’s protagonists exude the importance of friendship and trust. Dark Dawn also takes the time to touch upon the consequences of pride, as it is this pride that brings about the dark calamity to Weyard that our heroes have to fix.

    Evil is shown to have a great cost as many flee for their lives and even one town is intentionally burned to keep the forces of darkness away. Much of the world becomes dark and cold as our heroes race to save it, and it is only by their heroic sacrifices (and the sacrifices of a few non-playable characters) that the world is able to be made right again. Sacrifice and friendship carry the day and it is these two themes that subtly weave their way throughout Dark Dawn. If Camelot Software Planning ever intends to continue the series, my sincere hope is that these two themes are made ever more prevalent; for when Dark Dawn focuses upon friendship and sacrifice is when the game glows most brightly.

    Written by: OutcastWriter, Aaron A. Schlegel

  • Grand Kingdom (Vita)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Grand Kingdom
    Developed by: Monochrome Corporation
    Published by: NIS America
    Release date: June 21, 2016
    Available on: PS4, Vita
    Genre: Tactical RPG
    Number of players: Single-player with multiplayer battles
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Fantasy violence, Mild blood, Suggestive themes, Use of alcohol
    Price: $34.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you NIS America for sending us a review code for this game!

    A group of fighters were doing well in battle and bested some mercenary soldiers.  Before they could deliver the final blow, their army had surrendered and the battle was over.  Discouraged that they would not get paid for their valiant effort, the mercenaries they spared suggested they join their guild. 

    Before being admitted to the guild, this group of fighters must prove their worth and impress the guild leader.  It is during this scenario that the player becomes familiar with the basics of fighting in this turn-based tactical RPG.  There are seventeen unit types and you can fully customize their appearance and voices.  You can command up to six troops and it’s beneficial to have a combination of melee and long range fighters in each group.  Each troop can have four soldiers in it and mounted units take up two slots. 

    When hiring mercenaries you have to take into consideration their stats.  They are assigned letter grades for their constitution, strength, agility, magic, spirit, technique, stamina, and vitality.  Don’t be too discouraged with the low letter grades as they typically come with bonus points to tweak them a bit further.  

    Once your first troop is formed, it’s a good idea to head to the shop to equip them with better weapons, armor, and accessories.  Throughout your adventure you come across various enchanted gems that you can insert into your weapons and accessories to grant you special powers and abilities.  Some of the enhancements can be stats related or as simple as increased physical or magical abilities.   

    Grand Kingdom
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great turn-based combat and lots of variety and options in units available; humorous dialogue
    Weak Points: Overworld controls are a bit confusing; online connectivity required to send out and retrieve units dispatched to fight in the war
    Moral Warnings: Combat violence; language; alcohol and drunkenness; accentuating clothing for female characters; magic use

    After your party is assembled and equipped, it’s time to venture out and rack up some experience and prestige.  There are various quests to take part in; the exploration ones are great for beginners, since there are no turn limits to worry about and there are plenty of treasure chests to unlock and resources to gather.  Resources can be used for upgrading and creating new weapons at the blacksmith.

    The offline campaign quests tell the story of how your troop rises up the ranks within the guild.  The remainder of the quests require an internet connection to partake in.  The versus quests have you compete with other online players to achieve the same objective.  The single quests require you to have an active contact with one of the four nations before you’re able to partake in them.  Before embarking on a quest make sure you read the objectives and have your squad at the recommended level.  

    By signing a contract with a nation, you are welcome to visit their capital and purchase from their vendors.  You can also cast your vote on war strategies and listen to the local gossip.  If you do well in battle, you’ll be granted an audience with the ruler and rewarded handsomely.  The local bards may sing songs in your honor as well.  One of the more well to do troops has a naughty name that warranted being starred out.  Despite the language filtering there is still some cussing in this game (b*stards, *ss, d*mn).

    Other moral issues to note include battlefield violence which looks pretty painful as units are tossed about like rag dolls, but no blood is shown.  Magic is used as there are various magical units like shamans and sorcerers.  Some of the female characters are not nearly as covered and well armored as their male counterparts.  Last but not least is the drinking which improves the troops' morale on and off the battlefield.

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6.5/10

    The 2D graphics are well detailed, especially in the towns during battle.  The overworld is a bit more complex with the various armies running around the game pieces and various obstacles and weather conditions to avoid.  Maneuvering around the battlefield takes some getting used to in regards to the controls and a wrong turn/move costs you precious turn points which are needed to complete the objective in time. 

    The voice acting is well done and the dialogue is rather humorous at times.  Because of the language and alcohol references, I do agree with the ESRB’s Teen rating for this title.

    To best enjoy Grand Kingdom you’ll need to have reliable internet access to partake in the real time online wars.  I like how you can send your troops out and let the AI control them for you in your absence.  When they arrive you’ll be able to watch their battles or just a get a quick summary of their win/loss ratio and a reward.  I learned the hard way to remember to recall my troop before I leave my house if I want to play this game on the go.  If you call them back without internet connectivity, you’ll lose out on any experience and rewards they have earned.

    If you like turn-based tactical RPGs then I highly recommend looking into Grand Kingdom.  I love the real time and offline battles and it’s fun creating and experimenting with various troop combinations.  There’s plenty to do offline, but the meat of this game requires an internet connection to enjoy it.  If you don’t mind the fantasy violence, magic, and language this is a fun title to add to your Vita/PS4 library.

  • Gurumin 3D: A Monstrous Adventure (3DS)

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    Game Info:

    Gurumin 3D: A Monstrous Adventure
    eveloped By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: Mastiff
    Release Date: October 13, 2016 (3DS), March 30, 2015 (PC), February 13, 2007 (PSP)
    Available On: 3DS, PC, PSP
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, Tobacco Reference
    MRSP: $14.99 (3DS), $9.99 (PC)

    Thank you Mastiff for sending us these games to review!

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure was originally a PC game, only available in Japan back in 2004.  It was later ported to PSP, and Mastiff brought it to the US in 2007.  In 2015, Mastiff has updated the PC release with modern controls, graphics settings and widescreen support, and reused the PSP translation and voice overs to bring the definitive Gurumin experience to computers.  In 2016, Mastiff showed us how much they love Gurumin by funding and porting this game over to 3DS themselves as Gurumin 3D: A Monstrous Adventure.

    Gurumin falls somewhat outside of Falcom's typical fare; both Ys and Trails in the Sky follow the more typical teenager/young adult who saves the world (or their slice in it).  Here, Parin is a sassy twelve year old girl who, being the daughter of adventurers, comes to live with her grandpa in an old mining town.  She quickly finds herself rather alone – there are no other children in town for her to play with.  After exploring a bit, she quickly discovers a little girl who needs rescue from a barking dog.  After using her Super Pretty Missile Kick to keep the dog away, she quickly discovers that she's not a girl, but a monster!  Nearby, there is a connection to Monster Village, and only kids can see monsters.  Parin quickly finds that her life isn't so boring anymore, as playing with her monster friends makes the days go by much more quickly.  Not long after, the phantoms appear and soon bring harm to the monsters.  It is up to Parin to save them with the Legendary Drill.

    Rather than the more typical sword, a drill allows for some interesting game mechanics.  This is a 3D third person action RPG, not unlike a 3D Zelda game.  While she can attack enemies with various combinations of stabs and slashes, she can also charge up her drill and affect the environment.  She can destroy rocks, trees, and various weak walls, which gives each level an exploration component, further enhanced by deftly placed secrets spread throughout.  The game rates you based on how well you did, so if you managed to leave a jar unbroken or monster unbusted, that S rank (rather than a more pedestrian A-C rank) will likely elude you.  As you bust up enemies, they poof away, and leave behind Pockles (money) and sometimes junk.  Pockles are needed to buy new headgear, and junk can upgrade them to make them much more useful.  Depending on that rank, you also earn medals.  While silver or bronze just translate to Pockles, gold ones can be traded in for rare and more powerful headgear.

    Gurumin 3D: A Monstrous Adventure
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adorable characters and art style; awesome Falcom music; great voice acting; very fun 3D action platforming; good replay value; So Cute!
    Weak Points: Minor technical glitches and text bugs
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; one brief tobacco reference; one monster cross-dresses and is clearly attracted to the same sex; some of Parin's outfits aren't suggestive graphically, but play into stereotypes (and voice overs reinforce this)

    Headgear turns out to be one of the main elements of strategy, since it's the only practical piece of equipment you get, other than some elemental attacks you also get later.  Each of them has some special ability, like protecting you from water or gas, and gets much more powerful when leveled up with junk.  Collecting headgear and other items is half of the fun of this game; there is always something to yearn for if you are completionist.

    In many ways, this game plays like a classic 3D platformer, and that's a good thing.  It has a certain feel to it that is just right.  I have undoubtedly missed jumps, but the controls themselves always felt right – it was my fault that I messed up.  Beating up the phantoms is enjoyable, and rhythmic – indeed, there is a metronome on the top of the screen (PC version only), and if your hits land along with the beat, they strike as criticals.  Also, you can combo jumps, dashes, and attacks in satisfying ways.  Dashes can also be handy in avoiding attacks or other obstacles.

    It has to be said and with emphasis on one important fact: this game is cute. Really, really cute.  Everything from the cell shaded graphics, to the anime-like expressions (with huge eyes and all of that), to the character and monster proportions – it oozes cuteness.  It is further accentuated by the game itself, rather intentionally, by Parin's outfits and headgear.  Outfits are rather rare and difficult to unlock; for example, the first one most people will get is a reward for beating the game, or another can be purchased for 99,999 Pockles (the maximum money you can get in this game) in a rather obscure shop.  But headgear is much more common.  Even the first one you get, goggles, makes her look even more cute than she does already.  

    Some of the outfit combinations, while quite cute, are a bit of a humorous nudge to any adult gamers playing.  While I have not unlocked them all, I did go through the substantial effort required to unlock both the maid outfit and the maid hat.  With only one of them equipped, she may look cute, but nothing else.  With them both, Parin's voice transforms into a more alluring one, saying maid-like things.  Things like 'Let's clean this place up!' and 'Time to take out the trash!' are said in a rather 900 number-ish way.  (I wouldn't know this from experience!)  I have to admit the first time I heard it I laughed out loud.  It's likely to go over most kid's heads... nevertheless, it's clearly worth pointing out.  From what I understand, some of her other outfits reflect other similar stereotypes, but none of them are sexual in nature graphically, with the worst one showing off a belly button (and requires a serious time commitment to unlock).

    Gurumin 3D: A Monstrous Adventure
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 4/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    While the game as a whole is definitely safe for most, one of the enemy phantoms is clearly a male character who cross-dresses and is attracted to a certain other male phantom.  He speaks with a lisp, and competes with a female for this monster's attention.  He never seems to give either of them the time of day, and there is no sign of reciprocation whatsoever.  In an otherwise mostly clean game, it kind of sticks out as odd.  I noticed no language issues, one small mention of tobacco (it lit a fire that had negative consequences in the story), and otherwise typical cartoon violence.  No humans (other than Parin) are hit at all in the game.  

    Like many Falcom games, the music is really great.  Now, it's not your typical Ys fare – while a few songs have a more hard rock presentation, most are happy-go-lucky, as you might expect in a game aimed at children.  Nevertheless, the quality is top notch, and some of the songs, especially near the end, are truly great.  I am always pleased by any Falcom soundtrack, and this is no exception.  The voice acting is also really well done.  The only bummer is not audio related, but I saw some minor glitches.  For example, on PC, the screen resolution doesn't go above 1080p, and on the very top and far left of the screen, there are some graphical artifacts.  After being leveled up a few times, some of the item descriptions are cut off or scroll in strange ways.  I also saw a few typos; not common, but enough to notice for a detail freak like me.  (Or maybe that's monster?)

    Gurumin 3D, the 3DS version, has its own unique quirks.  Perhaps the most obvious is that it has fully stereoscopic 3D utilizing the 3DS' screen.  This does look very good, though there are resolution trade-offs compared to the PC platform.  Also, some 2D interface elements, like targeting reticules and exclamation points, can sometimes be on the wrong 3D layer and be somewhat disorienting.  Despite this, I did get used to it.  Between level or cut scene transitions, the music can stick or stutter.  But probably the worst glitch, though not game breaking, is that sometimes the cut scenes and enemy animations during a level seems to run at a very low frame rate.  It's not the whole game, as Parin animates perfectly fine; it is just the affected opponents.  Despite this, I was still able to enjoy the game and don't consider it a deal breaker in any way.  There are no other add-ons of any kind in Gurumin 3D that are not present in the PC release.

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure (and Gurumin 3D) is a very enjoyable and memorable game for me.  My children, daughters especially, have quickly taken to it and love it to death.  My ten year old, who rarely plays platformers, has played this far more than I ever expected.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Gurumin, and highly recommend it to anyone who loves these kinds of games.  I consider the PC version the definitive version, though the 3DS one is no slouch, and both are more than worth their bargain price (and PC is cheaper!).  A single playthrough can easily take anywhere between 15-30 hours depending on how thorough you are.  My only caution is that if you let your kids play it, you may have to have a good explanation for that weird guy that Parin calls a lady (and gets scolded for it).

     

  • Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: Mastiff
    Release Date: March 30, 2015 (PC), February 13, 2007 (PSP)
    Available On: PC, PSP
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, Tobacco Reference
    MRSP: $7.50 on LeapTrade

    Thank you Mastiff for sending us this game to review!

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure was originally a PC game, only available in Japan back in 2004.  It was later ported to PSP, and Mastiff brought it to the US in 2007.  Now, Mastiff has updated the PC release with modern controls, graphics settings and widescreen support, and reused the PSP translation and voice overs to bring the definitive Gurumin experience to PC.  

    Gurumin falls somewhat outside of Falcom's typical fare; both Ys and Trails in the Sky follow the more typical teenager/young adult who saves the world (or their slice in it).  Here, Parin is a sassy twelve year old girl who, being the daughter of adventurers, comes to live with her grandpa in an old mining town.  She quickly finds herself rather alone – there are no other children in town for her to play with.  After exploring a bit, she quickly discovers a little girl who needs rescue from a barking dog.  After using her Super Pretty Missile Kick to keep the dog away, she quickly discovers that she's not a girl, but a monster!  Nearby, there is a connection to Monster Village, and only kids can see monsters.  Parin quickly finds that her life isn't so boring anymore, as playing with her monster friends makes the days go by much more quickly.  Soon after, the phantoms appear and soon bring harm to the monsters.  It is up to Parin to save them with the Legendary Drill.

    Rather than the more typical sword, a drill allows for some interesting game mechanics.  This is a 3D third person action RPG, not unlike a 3D Zelda game.  While she can attack enemies with various combinations of stabs and slashes, she can also charge up her drill and affect the environment.  She can destroy rocks, trees, and various weak walls, which gives each level an exploration component, further enhanced by deftly placed secrets spread throughout.  The game rates you based on how well you did, so if you managed to leave a jar unbroken or monster unbusted, that S rank (rather than a more pedestrian A-C rank) will likely elude you.  As you bust up enemies, they poof away, and leave behind Pockles (money) and sometimes junk.  Pockles are needed to buy new headgear, and junk can upgrade them to make them much more useful.  Depending on that rank, you also earn medals.  While silver or bronze just translate to Pockles, gold ones can be traded in for rare and more powerful headgear.

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure
    Highlights:

    Strong Points:  Adorable characters and art style; awesome Falcom music; great voice acting; very fun 3D action platforming; good replay value; So Cute!
    Weak Points: Minor technical glitches and text bugs; limited resolution support
    Moral Warnings:  Cartoon violence; one brief tobacco reference; one monster cross-dresses and is clearly attracted to the same sex; some of Parin's outfits aren't suggestive graphically, but play into stereotypes (and voice overs reinforce this)

    Headgear turns out to be one of the main elements of strategy, since it's the only practical piece of equipment you get, other than some elemental attacks you also get later.  Each of them has some special ability, like protecting you from water or gas, and gets much more powerful when leveled up with junk.  Collecting headgear and other items is half of the fun of this game; there is always something to yearn for if you are completionist.

    In many ways, this game plays like a classic 3D platformer, and that's a good thing.  It has a certain feel to it that is just right.  I have undoubtedly missed jumps, but the controls themselves always felt right – it was my fault that I messed up.  Beating up the phantoms is enjoyable, and rhythmic – indeed, there is a metronome on the top of the screen, and if your hits land along with the beat, they strike as criticals.  Also, you can combo jumps, dashes, and attacks in satisfying ways.  Dashes can also be handy in avoiding attacks or other obstacles.

    It has to be said and with emphasis on one important fact: this game is cute. Really, really cute.  Everything from the cell shaded graphics, to the anime-like expressions (with huge eyes and all of that), to the character and monster proportions – it oozes cuteness.  It is further accentuated by the game itself, rather intentionally, by Parin's outfits and headgear.  Outfits are rather rare and difficult to unlock; for example, the first one most people will get is a reward for beating the game, or another can be purchased for 99,999 Pockles (the maximum money you can get in this game) in a rather obscure shop.  But headgear is much more common.  Even the first one you get, goggles, makes her look even more cute than she does already.  

    Some of the outfit combinations, while quite cute, are a bit of a humorous nudge to any adult gamers playing.  While I have not unlocked them all, I did go through the substantial effort required to unlock both the maid outfit and the maid hat.  With only one of them equipped, she may look cute, but nothing else.  With them both, Parin's voice transforms into a more alluring one, saying maid-like things.  Things like 'Let's clean this place up!' and 'Time to take out the trash!' are said in a rather 900 number-ish way.  (I wouldn't know this from experience!)  I have to admit the first time I heard it I laughed out loud.  It's likely to go over most kid's heads... nevertheless, it's clearly worth pointing out.  From what I understand, some of her other outfits reflect other similar stereotypes, but none of them are sexual in nature graphically, with the worst one showing off a belly button (and requires a serious time commitment to unlock).

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 4/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    While the game as a whole is definitely safe for most, one of the enemy phantoms is clearly a male character who cross-dresses and is attracted to a certain other male phantom.  He speaks with a lisp, and competes with a female for this monster's attention.  He never seems to give either of them the time of day, and there is no sign of reciprocation whatsoever.  In an otherwise mostly clean game, it kind of sticks out as odd.  I noticed no language issues, one small mention of tobacco (it lit a fire that had negative consequences in the story), and otherwise typical cartoon violence.  No humans (other than Parin) are hit at all in the game.  

    Like many Falcom games, the music is really great.  Now, it's not your typical Ys fare – while a few songs have a more hard rock presentation, most are happy-go-lucky, as you might expect in a game aimed at children.  Nevertheless, the quality is top notch, and some of the songs, especially near the end, are truly great.  I am always pleased by any Falcom soundtrack, and this is no exception.  The voice acting is also really well done.  The only bummer is not audio related, but I saw some minor glitches.  For example, the screen resolution doesn't go above 1080p, and on the very top and far left of the screen, there are some graphical artifacts.  After being leveled up a few times, some of the item descriptions are cut off or scroll in strange ways.  I also saw a few typos; not common, but enough to notice for a detail freak like me.  (Or maybe that's monster?)

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure is a very enjoyable and memorable game for me.  My children, daughters especially, have quickly taken to it and love it to death.  My ten year old, who rarely plays platformers, has played this far more than I ever expected.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Gurumin, and highly recommend it to anyone who loves these kinds of games.  Especially for the bargain price.  A single playthrough can easily take anywhere between 15-30 hours depending on how thorough you are.  My only caution is that if you let your kids play it, you may have to have a good explanation for that weird guy that Parin calls a lady (and gets scolded for it).

     

  • HammerHelm (PC) (Preview)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    HammerHelm
    Developed By: SuperSixStudios
    Published By: SOEDESCO
    Released: July 27, 2017
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Action RPG, City Simulation
    ESRB Rating: None specified
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $14.99

    Note: All gameplay evaluation is based on the Beta 11.x builds of this game, as that is the latest build of this Early Access game at the time of this writing.

    I would like to thank SOEDESCO for the preview code for this game.

    Building games have, ever since the genre's explosion of popularity with the release of Minecraft, been more known for their building potential than their story. However, HammerHelm attempts to blend in some story to the sandbox building game genre in hopes of hanging a plot around your building game.

    You start the game as a dwarf (who's character design is up to you) who decided to go against the grain of your clan and wants to try living above ground. Attracting other like-minded dwarves who desire to make a living in the light of the sun the norm instead of the exception, you try to forge a life for yourself above-ground building a viable town and fending off various things trying to make your life there miserable.

    The story is a bit basic, but it works and mixing a combination of sandbox gameplay and town management mechanics, HammerHelm puts you in a third-person perspective as a combination town mayor/adventurer. The adventurer part is handled like in most RPGs, with findable and equippable upgrades to equipment and items to craft. The town mayor aspect involves assigning various dwarves jobs to the various buildings so your developing town can become a self-sustaining community.

    HammerHelm
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good mix of sandbox, open-world RPG, and town management simulation
    Weak Points: Music is quite generic and forgettable; unoptimized and uses a lot of processing power
    Moral Warnings: Action RPG violence against generic fantasy creatures

    Graphically, the game utilizes a somewhat cartoony fantasy RPG style, and while not full-on cel-shaded, it has a similar appearance that makes the world vibrant looking, even in the underground areas. Character design is similarly cartoony, and overall the game has a relaxing color scheme I found easy on the eyes. The only downside is some character models look stiff, but this doesn't hurt the presentation too badly.

    Controls are accomplished via a PC gamepad or classic keyboard and mouse. While the former is fully supported, I preferred the latter since the town mayor aspect has a bunch of menus I found easier to navigate via the keyboard and mouse. The tutorials do a good job of easing you into figuring out the controls and they are quite responsive, so I can't knock them on those grounds.

    Sound is nothing overly remarkable, nothing stood out, but at the same time, none of it is overly offensive to the ears. Sound effects are also undistinguished but get the job done, though at least the "hit" effect for mining or chopping trees sounds pretty nice.

    Stability is hard to judge in anything but the most general terms, as this game updated several times while I was playing. Overall I would say it's good in terms of turning on and load times are not too excessive. All the basics appear to work with no obvious crashes. Scene transition is a tad slow and there is some graphics pop-in with distant terrain, but I expect this will improve as the game is further updated, neither of these cripple gameplay. The game does seem to use quite a bit of power despite not being half as technically demanding as the specs say it should be, but again, this is likely to smooth out as the game is further developed. As is, the developers continue to be active in honing this game three years on as of the time of this writing, so further improvement is likely. Updates tend to vary in size but the developers still actively work on this game, so be advised if you have a poor internet connection or tight bandwidth limits.

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

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    On the moral front, this game is pretty clean in most regards. Violence is generally limited to action RPG style combat against cartoony generic fantasy stuff like goblins. Bodies disappear after death and no blood and gore are evident.

    Language and sexual content remain practically nonexistent. All humanoid characters look downright conservative in dress and the cartoony style has nothing I'd be scared to show a child in general. This is a somewhat grounded fantasy game, meaning it only has some very basic stock fantasy elements but otherwise focuses on realistic topics like survival, and there is no evidence of anything occult or supernatural you couldn't find outside of stock low fantasy cliches.

    Ethically speaking, it's mentioned your character is estranged from their dwarven clan for wanting to live above ground, and it's portrayed more as an ideological disagreement than a grave ethical sin. Further, you are mentioned as moving a respectful distance away from the said clan and are willing to work to build a life for yourself with other like-minded dwarves who would like to give living above-ground a try. All activity you and the other characters under your control can do revolves around basic survival topics like gathering wood and stone, running stores, and otherwise making a settlement viable.

    For an early access game, it's pretty playable and fun for a town management/sandbox game even this early on, and it's worth the current asking price thus far. Morally, there is nothing any older child or young teenager shouldn't be able to handle, and if it continues to improve anyone who is a fan of the two genres this game appeals to is sure to have fun.

  • Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle (PS4)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle
    Developed By: Asakusa Studios
    Published By: Happinet
    Release Date: August 30, 2018 (PS4, Switch); November 15, 2017 (Windows)
    Available On: PlayStation 4, Switch, Windows
    Genre: Dungeon Crawler, Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: T for Violence, Blood
    MSRP: $13.99 (PS4, Switch); $14.99 (Windows)

    Thank you Happinet for sending us this game to review!

    I have played dungeon crawler style games for decades now. I remember playing some of the SSI (Strategic Simulations, Inc.) classics for DOS when I was much younger, including gems like Eye of the Beholder and Menzoberranzan. I have enjoyed the more recent turn-based entries, like Etrian Odyssey, Stranger of Sword City, and several others. So when this game came around, I wondered if it truly brought something new to the table. Unfortunately, the results are mixed.

    When I first launched the game on PS4, I could tell immediately that it was originally a PC game. (Not that there is anything wrong with a PC-style interface – on PC. I love PC games!) The interface was not controller friendly, and the text, especially the map, had tiny squares and fonts that are difficult to see from far away on a normal-sized screen. The game looks and feels clunky, and the tutorial is basic, though thankfully present.

    Like the other games, this is a 3D first-person dungeon crawler, though this has the distinction of being real-time. So when enemies come for you, sometimes you have to dodge attacks and move in to strike back if you don’t want to die. This game is quite difficult, which makes the chances of that happening quite high.

    Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting idea with party splitting; dark, brooding, and somewhat unique atmosphere; neat classic Japanese-style title screen art and enemies
    Weak Points: More frustrating than fun at times; very basic graphics and presentation, with a non-intuitive interface
    Moral Warnings: Blood splatters in some cases; fantasy violence; lots of dark enemies, including skeletons, ghouls, and other undead; magic used by enemies and the player

    With save spots being so far apart, you may end up doing a lot of backtracking. Walking costs food, which is a limited resource drop, and constantly has to be maintained. You can heal hit points and magic points fairly easily, but food quickly becomes the largest obstacle to your survival if you aren’t willing to risk large swaths of playtime without saving. Even if you are, an unexpected death may drive you to the nearest save spot anyway since bringing party members back is quite expensive or impossible without the rest areas. Visiting them is free except for the food spent going there.

    When you are low on food, you do far less damage. And since enemies rarely require less of you than your best, it can be quite fatal. This cycle of healing, eating, dying, and healing again can be quite draining and frustrating. One wrong set of moves can cause you to be circling the drain – and it’s very frustrating when that happens, as there is seemingly no way out.

    The combat is in real time, which works, but when enemies can kill you so quickly, my patience grew thin. I have played far more turn-based than real-time dungeon crawlers, so I may be biased. It’s not bad as is, and I could see how some might prefer it, but I am not one of those.

    As you succeed in killing enemies, you gain levels, and get a skill point for each one. There are four character slots, four races, and four classes, with a clear race/class relationship. If you follow the defaults, you will likely have a well-balanced team out of the gate. What I found strange is that you can choose not to name your characters – then they just don’t have one; there are no suggestions, and the game accepts no names as perfectly fine.

    Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 60%
    Gameplay - 10/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The real ‘gimmick’ of this game is the unique party splitting feature. By pressing a button, you can split your party into two groups and switch back and forth between them, either attacking or solving puzzles this way. Given the danger in the castle, I never found myself wanting to take the hit to offense or defense unless I absolutely had to in order to solve a puzzle.

    As you level, you choose what you want to specialize in, as quite a lot of the tree is locked behind something else. Some of the descriptions of what appear to be passive boosts are often unclear. Do you have to have the skill equipped to one of the precious four skill button mappings, or not? In order to use other kinds of skills, you consume MP by pressing the corresponding face button, and the skill triggers.

    The art and atmosphere are dark and brooding, and very classic-Japanese. If you have played other games set during the Edo era, like Nioh, then you will recognize a lot of the names and enemies. Nevertheless, outside of the art on the title screen and some of the enemies, the graphics are very basic and boring. This could have easily been produced in the early 2000s.

    The intro music is actually kinda cool, and what music there is, is interesting. It’s very traditional Japanese folk singing of some sort. But most of what you hear are the sounds of you hitting something, and some ambient noises to set the mood around you. It does do a great job of keeping things spooky.

    In my time with the game, I noted quite a bit of magic use, and lots of strange and spooky enemies, including undead of various kinds. There is some blood and violence as well.

    Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle is an interesting but very flawed game that could be much better with a little polish and rebalancing. But at the end of the day, it failed to hold my interest. Given the many higher-quality dungeon crawlers out there, I find it quite hard to recommend this one.

  • He-Man Tappers of Grayskull (Android)

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    Game Info:

    He-Man Tappers of Grayskull
    Developed by: Animoca Brands
    Published by: Animoca Brands
    Release date: August 31, 2016
    Available on: Android, iOS
    Genre: Clicker
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: Free to play with in-app purchases ranging from $1-50

    Thank you PowerCore for sending us PowerCore tokens for this game!

    Since I was too busy playing Barbies, My Little Ponies, and Strawberry Shortcake toys, I didn’t pay too much attention to the He-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures that my brother played with.  I do remember seeing the show and am familiar enough with several of the characters present in the rebooted franchise’s mobile game.   Of course, there’s He-Man the main character, but by his side you may see other notables characters including She-Ra, Teela, and Man-At-Arms. If you remember the original show, you’ll be happy to hear that many of the original voice actors reprised their roles for this app.

    This is a rather simple game and the story reflects that.  Skeletor has harnessed the power of the primordial crystals to supersize his army.  By the power of Grayskull and with the help of his friends, He-Man must save Eternia from Skeletor’s minions.   

    Taking out the oversized monsters involves tapping on them while He-Man’s friends will engage the enemies automatically.  He-Man doesn’t start off with friends though.  They’re unlockable after you have enough money to recruit them.  Money is also needed to level them up and to unlock their skills.  For each level gained their damage per second will increase.  It’s fun watching the damage go from single digits to hundreds, thousands, millions, billions, trillions, and beyond!  Instead of quadrillion, the abbreviation "aa" is used.  

    He-Man Tappers of Grayskull
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: It’s nice to see this classic franchise rebooted
    Weak Points: Repetitive gameplay; ads and in-app purchases
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence

    There are several stages per level with a final boss that must be defeated before advancing onto the next area.  While you can take your time whittling down the standard enemies, the bosses are timed.  If you see that you won’t be able to take them down in time, you have the option of retreating and grinding on the lesser foes until you’re ready for a re-match.    He-Man has several power-ups at his disposal, though they are often timed and have an even longer cool-off period.  For the tougher bosses I would summon Battle Cat (remember him?) who would help for thirty seconds or so.  

    More powers and abilities can be unlocked by collecting all thirty-seven of Eternia’s most powerful artifacts.  Artifacts can be summoned with keys that are earned by time traveling/resetting your stats.  Fortunately, it doesn’t take too long to become powerful again.   In fact, money is automatically accrued for you when you’re not even playing the game!

    The last way to power-up your characters is by using Power-Core tokens which give your characters a permanent boost plus a maximum of five gems a day per token.   I don’t know how much these tokens sell for, but they’re available at Super7 stores.  

    He-Man Tappers of Grayskull
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

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

    Like many free to play games, He-Man Tappers of Grayskull offers perks if you’re willing to spend real money on them.  You can spend $5 apiece on permanent damage per second boosts and increased gold drops.  Through your battles you’ll spot Orko flying around and if you tap on him you’ll either get a free power-up or the option to watch a short video for gold or gems.   The videos consist of ads for other mobile games and sometimes they’ll conveniently take you to the store page to buy or download it.  

    Parents should lock down their devices or better yet, monitor their children while they play this game so they don’t purchase any of the add-ons without permission.  It is possible to trigger an ad unintentionally; thankfully the ones I have seen have been family friendly thus far.

    This game ran fine for the most part but I did run into a glitch or two worth noting.  One issue I experienced was that sometimes the tapping would cause He-Man Tappers of Grayskull to lose focus and bring me back to my mobile desktop.  Thankfully my progress wasn’t lost when I resumed the game.    Another nitpick I have is that you have to rely on the Android menu icons to exit the game instead of an exit option within the game. 

    He-Man Tappers of Grayskull can be fun in short spurts, but it will get repetitive after a while.  To mix things up a bit there are tournaments to participate in, though they require resetting your party to enter them.  It’s fun to do boatloads of damage and watching your damage per second soar adds some thrills to this otherwise simple game. Fans of the series may want to look into this app if they don’t mind the ads and can resist the temptation to buy unnecessary power-ups.

     

  • Herolike (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Herolike
    Developed By: Games Hut
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: February 19, 2016
    Available On: Windows 
    Genre: Action, RPG
    ESRB Rating: none
    Number of Players: Single player only
    Version reviewed: 1.5.0
    Price: $7.99 on Steam

    *Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media is an advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

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

    Games Hut's Herolike is a fantasy RPG that promises an experience similar to juggernauts like Diablo yet wants to add a customizable spin to it. It says you'll travel through a fantasy world, create the hero you've always wanted to be, and to save the land. First released in 2016 on Steam's Early Access, Herolike seeks to give an adventure that's defined by you. At least, that's what it advertises.

    Herolike's structure is segmented into choosable missions: Friendly, Hostile, Defense, and Gamble. Friendly missions involve aimless story snippets with random either/or questions tacked on. Hostile missions involve battling in one of six designated arenas. Defense missions are specialized fight or flight sequences, and Gamble will randomly send you into one of the previous three. Your accomplishments are rewarded with money, skill points, and 'renown.' Before you ask, no. I'm not sure what function 'renown' really serves. It didn't seem to do harm or favors, so unless I missed something, they're pointless. Anyway, to go further on some details, Hostile's battlegrounds range from caves to deserts to graveyards, and each comes with its own inherent hazards like darkness, windstorms, or poisonous fog. What goals you'll get and what kind of enemies you're fighting will also be a tossup. I admire Games Hut's attempt to preserve their gameplay's novelty, but I'm afraid the available conditions aren't unique or drastic enough to be game changers. Nothing really prompts you to change your strategy. Defense missions are just as if not more repetitive. Either you're in a tunnel to protect a relic or running from lava. Otherwise, you're lighting watchfires on a fort. That's it. It's a shame really. They tried to keep the experience fresh, but just switching out minor inconveniences don't quite cut it.

    Of course, all adventurers need a pick-me-up once in a while, and a small town acts the part. This rustic village is your main hub. You can buy battle gear and potions whenever you visit, but there's one catch: You must build and upgrade the market yourself, which costs supplies. You earn your supplies like a daily allowance for completing missions. I hope you're good at stewardship skills, because knowing how and what to invest in will determine whether you thrive or nosedive. That's all well and good by me. However, there's one aspect here that soured my experience. You must erect an altar in case you die mid-mission. Otherwise, your progress, skills, weapons, town upgrades and all go bye-bye. Now, besides its ritualistic existence, the altar mechanic wouldn't be so bad if it only had to be constructed once. Unfortunately, its warranty is limited to once per death, so if you're prone to failure, prepare to reconstruct this thing over and over again. But the real kicker is that you can't revisit earlier missions to level up. Why is that the kicker? Because, assuming you're penniless, come the next unbeatable mission that altar mechanic will suck your supplies dry until your inevitable, permanent demise. Trust me. Games cease to be fun when you know you're toast, and it's just spreading the butter.

    Herolike
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good music; Has potential
    Weak Points: Glitchy; Repetitive; Unforgiving; Pitiful payoff
    Moral Warnings: Fairytale magic; Runes; A scant clothed shaman; Alcoholic references

    Gameplay is tricky, and I say that in a very mixed way. Your basic attacks can be used willy-nilly. Special attacks require manna (not related to the Biblical food), and your manna and health levels are gauged by the blue and red meters on the bottom of the screen respectively. Your attack style is determined by which character you chose. The hunter and shaman focus on ranged combat while the barbarian, guardian, and trickster center around melee. Everything I described so far is well executed. The special attacks are probably the best parts, but unfortunately, my experiences using each character only unveiled to me how unbalanced Herolike's gameplay is. Notice that there is no defensive option. Granted, each character has their armor/healing special and can buy gear to lessen damage, but that's a poor replacement for good 'ol dodging and blocking. Why am I saying this? Those teaming monsters may take damage, but they don't flinch to your attacks. They'll kill you unless you keep running away. I don't know about you, but that's not very heroic to me. The lack of defensive options also means melee characters must sacrifice survival in order to land their hits. Worst of all is the trickster class, because for some sick reason, they're denied armor and are as death prone as lemmings! Herolike also gives you little time to know your mission goal before the event starts. Simply reading what I was supposed to do got me killed on my first lava run. Lastly, the item menu doesn't pause the battle, so good luck trying to avoid enemies with an obstructed view while sifting through your inventory. Have fun.

    Herolike has two control schemes: the top-down view and the hack'n slash view. Unlike what their names imply, they have nothing to do with camera angles. Now, both styles have some commands in common. You aim and click your mouse for basic attacks and numbered keys one through four are for your specials. For top down view, you move around with the A,W,S, and D keys, and in hack'n slash you move by clicking and holding your mouse in the direction you want to go. For ranged characters, I recommend the top down view, and melee users should probably use hack'n slash. The learning curve is confusing at first. However, my biggest complaint is the horrid reaction time. My avatar would react a second after my initial command. That's abysmal. I'm trying to survive charging goonies, but I can't when 'Mr. Sleepyhead' is too slow. This might be passable if you're constantly upgrading weapons, but then you'd have to be  King Midas with money coming out of your ears. Do you recall that all important altar mechanic? Yeah, that's just the salt in the wound. I tell you, if I didn't abuse the quit button before looming defeat, I never would have made it to Herolike's ending.

    So what is your quest really about? The usual. An evil overlord corrupted a sacred artifact. Beasties were unleashed, and you're the hero. Typically, I prefer a meatier plot than this, but given how Herolike claimed to tailor to the player's tastes, I see the reason behind a barebones narrative. The only problem is Herolike doesn't give you much story to work with. You do get plot bits from Friendly missions, but they're about as interconnected as untied shoe laces. There's no arching conflict. It doesn't help that this quest gets wrapped up by quite possibly the laziest ending I've ever seen. For all your struggle, there's no pay off. I'm serious. They congratulate you via cue card then throw you back to the beginning without the weapons or skill levels you strived for. It feels like a punishment. You don't even get to fight the evil overlord. You're delegated to his right hand mooks and are simply told he slunk off - The End. You know, that reminds me of a certain mushroom headed twerp who informed players their princess was in another castle - except this time there's no 'other castle' to get to. Not cool Games Hut. Not cool.

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

    Game Score - 58%
    Gameplay - 10/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 1/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 7.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Visually, Herolike has its good points. I'm not a fan for ugly monsters (especially zombies *blech*), but I can certainly appreciate their designs. The loading screen artwork was especially neat to look at for style alone. You can see the labor of love painted into them. The six Hostile arenas look nice too but aren't that impressive. I do praise the Games Hut for their fluid animation and special effects, though. Unfortunately, there are some flaws. Narrow corridors leave the sky mapping edges exposed, and I wouldn't recommend messing with the graphics controls. It really messed up the color swatches and textures. However, the best thing in Herolike is the music. I've gotta say, for all the missed potential, Games Hut didn't skimp out on the score. The soundtracks fit the world's theming well yet possesses enough individual flare to be memorable in their crisp, rich tones. I'll thumbs up for that.

    Okay. I've had a few complaints earlier, but now comes my grudge. Herolike is glitchy. So much so, I don't think quality control even glanced at it. That may sound harsh and unfair from me, but let me put it into perspective for you. Herolike crashed on me no less than nine times. Enemies failed to spawn three times. The music dropped out in the middle of the final boss fight. Those aforementioned graphic screwups produced rainbow trees, blinking objects, and blocky leaves and wouldn't let me fix it for a while. One Friendly mission had their choices missing. The in-game Options button refused to work. Screen display for a time wasn't consistent. I could go on and on and on and on and on! I once considered I was the only one with these problems but nope. Several other customers reported these tech issues and then some. At first, I wanted to call these bugs mere accidents. However, Games Hut came out and admitted their product wasn't finished. Shortsighted mistakes I can understand, but this blatant negligence just infuriates me.

    For moral ethics, fantasy settings like this have their usual pitfalls. I'm sure you've predicted most of them, but I'll give you the rundown. Many special attacks involve spirit summoning, and the shaman in particular specializes in these mystical crafts . . . and lingerie attire apparently. Runes and charms can be bought for protection, and I've already chatted about the altars and sacred relics. One mission goal also involves cleansing an altar. Your foes gallery includes silly looking orcs, demons, zombies, and skeletons. Violence is pretty tame, but bodies do linger post mortem. Some demons bleed lava pools, and bright red squirts or spills out of you upon death too. I guess I should also mention that Friendly missions do include immoral choices, but that's no different than basic life anyway. 

    Ho boy. Repetitive tasks, unbalanced battles, sluggish avatars, unforgiving mechanics, and game breaking bugs. Herolike really set itself up for disappointment didn't it? Not only is its system unfair and unrewarding, but this game touts customizable features without lending you the freedom to do so. You get to choose, sure, but they're choices between pre-made characters, position locked buildings, and determined paths. It's a controlled environment. However, does that mean Herolike is junk? There were times I did have fun, which means Herolike could be so much more if Games Hut would fix those bugs and push it further. The potential exists, but the sheer fact that they willfully released their glitchy game doomed it from the start. I've gotten completed, unbroken games for cheaper than their asking price, so why is their defunct project more expensive? I'm sorry, but if they're using their paying customers as guinea pigs, that shows such utter disrespect for people's time and money. I know you've got something here, Games Hut. Please, please, please, finish Herolike. Make it blossom into the adventure it's meant to be. Then we can talk playtime.

     

  • Hope For Village (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Hope For Village
    Developed By: Cloaz Studio
    Published By: Cloaz Studio
    Released: Apr 4, 2019
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Farming Simulator/Role-Playing Game
    ESRB Rating: None specified
    Number of Players: SIngleplayer
    Price: $1.99

    First, my thanks to Cloaz Studios for the review key.

    When it comes to role-playing, some people like to be a brave hero, and some just want to do something less violent, like being a farmer. Hope for VIllage attempts to do both, something of a cross between Stardew Valley's artistic style and farming gameplay, as well as the side battle system from some of the older Final Fantasy games.

    The result is a 2D, top-down game that basically asks you to do a bunch of farming, fishing, and other tasks associated with the professions of farming and husbandry on one hand, and also asks you to go adventuring like a JRPG hero on the other, with the tasks you do for both aspects of the gameplay opening up new options for the other half.

    In terms of story, it doesn't really have one. It's an open-world styled game where you just explore, do various things to help villagers like fish and growing plants. When it comes to items you can't obtain in these ways, you have to go and hunt monsters for things like hides and animal parts. It clearly was designed to be a budget title, hence the lack of elaborate story. While that's not necessarily bad, the game drops you right into the gameplay, and most of the time, you have very little idea of what you need to do.

    Hope For Village
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good conceptual crossing of the farming and role-playing game genres
    Weak Points: Horrible design decisions for graphics and gameplay
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy magic/violence; mentions of alcohol

    It has a day-night cycle and keeps track of in-game time, much like Natsume's Harvest Moon games did, and time is important for events like growing food, though I noticed some of the places you can do this don't seem to work as they should. There is a quest-based system, but there is no way to check quests, save talking, and they can be hard to locate.

    The combat system is a pretty basic side-view, turn-based combat action and you generally have to take out enemies before they take you out, with healing done with healing items and/or abilities in the wild. If this isn't enough, you need to return to the starting town map to fully heal automatically. It's a simple system, but it's not very well-explained.

    The graphics are even worse than the general gameplay, being a mix of stock assets and the Time Fantasy DLC RPG Maker assets, and while that would not be a bad idea given the retro style the developer was going for, the zoomed-out resolution makes these graphics incredibly pixelated and the user interface is nigh-unreadable thanks to the laser lemon colors and white text.

    Hope For Village
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 34%
    Gameplay - 4/20
    Graphics - 3/10
    Sound - 3/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 89%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    Sounds are generally limited to some ambient tracks, the rest is again stock assets, but there are at least enough of those former sounds. Controls and stability are not all that bad, but the fact they were not altered in the slightest regard from the stock engine to make this game more fun to play is not good, especially since there are no options for changing the resolution or dialogue box backgrounds. There is no map that can be toggled on or off, as the game is bereft of giving you directions for anything.

    Morally, this game isn't bad off, really. It's got some mild fantasy violence/magic against stock RPG monsters and animals you can hunt, and some mentions of alcohol, but it's otherwise no worse than the family-friendly Nintendo RPGs of the early nineties.

    Overall, this is not a game I could recommend. It's poorly constructed, has a lot of bizarre design decisions, feels like an unfinished beta build of something needing a lot more polish, and it's not very fun or engaging. The real Stardew Valley and Final Fantasy games would be much more worth spending money on.

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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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