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RPG

  • 7th Dragon III Code: VFD (3DS)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    7th Dragon III Code: VFD
    Developed by: Sega
    Published by: Sega
    Release date: July 12, 2016 
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: JRPG
    Number of Players: Single-Player
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen (Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes)
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Sega for sending us this game to review.

    7th Dragon is a Japanese exclusive series that has enjoyed success on the original DS, and later with sequels on the PSP. For those of us in the West, we never got to experience these games. This is most likely due to the large amount of translation work required. Now, the rest of the world will be able to experience the last game in the series.

    7th Dragon III Code: VFD takes place 80 years after the first two games. In 2020 and 2021, Tokyo was attacked by two powerful dragons - known as True Dragons - and since those events humanity has strived to rebuild itself. This new age was called the United Era, with dragons thought to be extinct. However, the dragons left behind a deadly miasma on the Earth's surface. This quickly spread and became known as Dragon Sickness. Even though the dragons are gone, humanity still suffers, continuing to try to find a cure. In these difficult times, a game company called Nodens has created a virtual reality simulation of the dragon invasion of 2020. This game would be known as 7th Encount. It quickly attracted many young gamers to Tokyo to take part in such a  transcendental experience. Ominous events loom ahead though, and the past is about to become the future.

    From the start, we're tasked with choosing a main character from one of four classes. The Samurai are skilled swordsman that can choose between swords and dual blades. Swords can be sheathed and unsheathed, allowing the samurai to gain access to different skills. Dual blades focus on quick attacks and multiple strikes. Agents are special ops units that use guns and possess high-level hacking skills, perfect for confusing enemies. God Hands are martial art fighters that excel in one-on-one combat. They inflict God Depth on enemies which allows strong skills to be used in battles. They also have access to healing techniques. The last of the starting classes to choose from is the Duelist. These characters use a special playing card deck to summon monsters and play traps. Traps activate when the Duelist is hit physically or with magic, and can cause damage as well as inflict statuses. Each class can be a male or a female, and there are over 40 different voice actors to choose from to voice your character. This was unexpected, and even though I don't know who they are, it was a nice option to choose between so many voices.

    The story follows the struggles of the Dragon Hunters, and the impending arrival of the 7th True Dragon. Hunters are extremely rare and powerful humans with the power to kill dragons. Julietta, an incredibly intelligent researcher, has strived to gather samples of all the True Dragons in an attempt to complete the Dragon Chronicles. With it, it is said that the dragon sickness can be completed eradicated. This sets up the motives of the player to defeat every dragon and save humanity once again. Through the use of Julietta's time machine, the Hunters will travel to three distinct eras. The first being the mythical kingdom of Atlantis, the next being the futuristic capital of the land of Eden, and finally the ability to return to present-day Tokyo.

    7th Dragon III Code: VFD
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Wonderful storyline; Graphics and animations are fantastic; Music is phenomenal; The battle system is a refreshing take on the turn-based system; You can build a cat café.
    Weak Points: 3D was not used at all; Unnecessary sexualized character dialogue; Battles can become repetitious.
    Moral Warnings: Some of the female artwork for main characters shows a lot of cleavage; An incredible amount of sexual innuendo forced onto the player; Alcohol consumption; There's an excessive amount of cursing (everything but the F word.)

    7th Dragon III has one of the more interesting turn-based battle systems I've seen in a long time. There's a huge focus on combining attacks and skills with each of the team members to increase damage output. Statuses and attacks that rely on other skills from fellow party members are extremely satisfying to pull off one turn kills on the lower dragons. Setting up a defensive approach that suddenly becomes an offensive onslaught due to underlying effects is something I'd never seen implemented in an RPG before. It is also critical that one masters the combo attacks and status effects as True Dragons will not be easy prey, and often will wipe a party out in one turn. 

    There are three types of dragons to deal with. Normal dragons will wander around the dungeon just like you do. When they see you they will run after you to initiate a battle. These guys aren't too difficult to handle, but if you take too long to defeat one and there are other dragons around, they will jump into the current fight you're in. Alway be sure to deal with each dragon as quickly and as efficiently as possible to avoid getting overwhelmed. High Dragons are considerably more powerful, and will require more planning to take down than a normal dragon. Lastly are True Dragons. These are the most powerful creatures in the game. Defeating one will bring the Dragon Chronicles closer to completion.

    In total, there are 256 dragons that need to be slain. This number is ever present, and each location that can be traveled to will have a set number of dragons inhabiting it. Once they're all cleared, the Dragonsbane will lift. Dragonsbane are flowers that contain the deadly miasma. These flowers bloom only where dragons are found. Clearing it is essential in saving humanity. Defeating dragons will reward the player with 'DZ'. This is a type of currency that allows new facilities to be added to the Nodens building. Some of these areas will be needed to progress the story, but some serve as a place to relax, like the cat café. Although, even once every facility is built and NPCs inhabit them, Nodens can still feel slightly empty. A part of me wished that areas could be explored more, as every area is extremely confined and linear. Coupled with the fact that areas of the map are extremely small, meant that exploring was relegated to dungeons. 

    At two certain points in the game more characters can be registered, and Buddy Skills will become available. Every turn that passes in battle, one of three bars will fill underneath the characters not in the main party. These characters are referred to as rear team members. Pressing their icon when they have at least one bar filled will allow them to attack before you and inflict a guaranteed debuff on the enemy. When all three characters have at least two bars filled, sliding the stylus across them will activate Support Skills. These usually gives the main team buffs, a small amount of healing, or the revival of fallen teammates. When at least two bars are filled on all six of the rear team members, Unison can be activated. Sliding the stylus across each member will allow all nine characters to perform one attack each. This can result in huge amounts of damage or inflicting multiple debuffs on an enemy.

    Another useful mechanic in the game is the Exhaust Gauge. Every time you attack and are attacked, the gauge gradually fills. Once filled, Exhaust can be activated which will increase damage output as well as give attacking priority to that character. The gauge will have another use about half way through the game. Using Exhaust will allow a character to perform their ultimate attack. These are powerful skills that can either deal large amounts of damage, or produce a powerful healing spell. There's an abundance of random encounters, so maintaining a filled gauge is never an issue.

    7th Dragon III Code: VFD
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 65%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 3.5/10
    Sexual Content - 4.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Visually, this title is a real eye pleaser. Monsters are beautifully designed. The normal dragons could have been more unique, as the same few dragons are repeated throughout the game, albeit with a palette swap. Although, some of these dragons are vicious and well programmed, which made it slightly forgiveable. The True Dragons and High Dragons are all unique and look beyond ferocious. World environments get the job done and do well to bring the eras of time the characters are in to life. I do wish that 3D could have been used in the cutscenes or at least the intro. Overall, the environments look great and are actually quite stunning. I often found myself amazed at what was on my screen.

    The music is fantastic. Every track fits perfectly with the areas they play in. This should come as no surprise since Yuzo Koshiro is the composer. Often regarded as the most influential composer in the industry, his tracks for the 7th Dragon series are memorable and masterfully arranged. Voice acting is left to small phrases spoken in Japanese which is a slight letdown. With all the talent on board, it seemed strange not to take more advantage of that in the game.

    Morally, this is really pushing the T rating. Nagamimi, the strange rabbit-like alien, curses in nearly every scene he appears in. This could have been toned down as it doesn't add anything to his conversations. As there's a bar on the roof of Nodens, alcohol is mentioned as being consumed. Violence is an obvious warning as this is an RPG. Some cutscenes are quite graphic though. My biggest moral issue is how some of the female characters are designed. Character models in-game all have a chibi appearance. So why are the females revealing unnecessary amounts of cleavage on the menu screens? You'd never even guess the character you're playing is the same one depicted on the menu, as the art styles are so different. 7th Dragon also encourages the main character to go on dates with other characters in the game. These end in very suggestive scenes with no concern for the genders of either character. So male characters can go on a date with other male characters, and vice versa. Unfortunately, all the dates will pretty much end the same way.

    At the end of the day, this is an amazing RPG. There's a surprising amount of character customization, and replaying after you beat the game is encouraged. I spent 40+ hours on my first run through, completely mesmerized by the story. I haven't felt compelled to finish a game in a long time, and 7th Dragon III was worth every second it took to complete. If you are fine with the moral choices this game makes I highly recommend picking it up. We'll never see the Dragon Hunters again after this one.

    -Kyuremu

     

  • Adventure Labyrinth Story (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Adventure Labyrinth Story
    Developed By: FlyHigh Works, RideOn Japan
    Published By: Circle Entertainment
    Released: September 1, 2016
    Available On: 3DS
    Genre: Dungeon Crawler, RPG
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone (Mild Fantasy Violence)
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $5.00

    Thank you Circle Entertainment for sending us a code for the game to review!

    A few years back 3DS owners got to experience a unique twist to the RPG genre through the game Adventure Bar Story. In it, we ran a bar, cooked food, and adventured across the land searching for new ingredients to cook with. Now we're treated to its sequel, Adventure Labyrinth Story, which switches out the usual RPG gameplay for a rogue-like approach.

    The game starts off with a few familiar faces discussing a labyrinth that has recently opened up outside of the town. A legendary weapon is said to be within it, and that pretty much sums up the story. The main character for this one is Lidia, and she has to clear a training dungeon before gaining access to the real labyrinth. This serves as a tutorial, but it shouldn't be taken lightly as one mistake could send you right back to the first floor.

    Every time the labyrinth is entered it will be completely randomized. Item locations, enemies, and the stairs to progress lower will always be different. This isn't a new feature for a rogue-like by any means, but it helps to keep things feeling new. The top-down perspective allows for Lidia to see what's in the current room, but corridors will reduce her vision to a small circle. This only displays what's directly in front and behind her. Monsters will usually find you in these hallways and ambush you. 

    Adventure Labyrinth Story
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging dungeon crawler; Hours of content makes for a decent value; Randomized map layouts.
    Weak Points: Difficulty may be too high for some; No 3D; Managing inventory space is a chore.
    Moral Warnings: RPG-like fantasy violence and magic usage.

    Scattered around are weapons, potions, and various books. Books can be used to identify items that are unknown, reveal the map layout on the bottom screen, and some cast magic on enemies. Defeating the creatures encountered will gain Lidia experience points and she'll eventually level up. This increases her attack and defense as well as her maximum health. Combat consists of facing an enemy and pressing 'A' to attack. A separate screen appears and displays the turn-based action. There's no inputs or actions to choose from, you just attack until either you or the enemy dies. Ranged combat is the way to go though as you'll get a hit on an enemy before they can initiate combat. 

    Lidia can only carry 24 items total, and multiples of an item do not stack. Initially I found this to be a flaw as I quickly ran out of room to hold things. I eventually discovered I could throw excess items at enemies to inflict damage. There are also special potions that can be thrown at enemies that will inflict statuses. There is also an item that lets you "tune" weapons and shields. By combining two of the same pieces of equipment a slightly more powerful version is created. This can also help to alleviate inventory space.

    Once inside the labyrinth there's only two ways to return to town. By using a book called "Book of Escape" or dying. As the penalty for dying is being returned to town with no gold, it's not too big of an issue. The main reason as to why you'll come back is to cook up dishes to eat. Regardless of how you get back to town, you'll always start from the first floor when returning to the labyrinth. You also do not retain any levels gained; instead the items and equipment found are the only ways of starting off a new attempt with better stats. 

    Adventure Labyrinth Story
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    A small feature that returns from Adventure Bar Story is finding ingredients to cook with in the labyrinth. Cooking up dishes can yield bonuses to Lidia's stats. Hunger also plays a part in the game. It's not enough to just drink health potions. You'll have to eat real food to keep your hunger away. If your hunger meter falls to zero, you'll begin taking damage from movement. Hunger is rarely seen as an actual detriment to progress in RPGs, and it's a welcomed feature here.

    Visually, the labyrinth is a little on the bland side, though enemy designs are well done. Equipping different weapons is actually noticeable and I enjoy that attention to detail in RPGs. There's no 3D which was a shame. The music is serviceable and so are the sound effects. Nothing mind blowing, but it gets the job done all the same.

    If you're ok with a little bit of fantasy violence and magic usage in your dungeon crawler, Adventure Labyrinth Story might be up your alley. It's a fairly vanilla dungeon crawler and most likely won't exceed your expectations of what the genre can produce. Though with that being said, it's still an enjoyable experience that you can sink a dozen hours into.

    -Kyuremu

  • Ambition of the Slimes (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ambition of the Slimes
    Developed By: Altairworks, Flyhigh Works
    Published By: Circle Entertainment
    Released: August 11, 2016 (3DS)
    Available On: 3DS, Android, iOS, Vita
    Genre: Strategy RPG
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Up (Fantasy Violence and Suggestive Themes)
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $5.00

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

    In most RPGs there are creatures known as slimes. These enemies normally pose little, to no threat, and are only considered good for grinding levels early on. Ambition of the Slimes aims to change all that by putting the player in control of an army of slimes.

    At the start of the game there is a nice and simple  tutorial that teaches some of the basics to this strategy RPG. First off, battles take place on grid-based battlefields. Enemies and slimes can move a certain distance before performing an action, like attacking, or waiting and ending their turn. Secondly, slimes are very weak in battle, and though they can fight back they all have the unique ability to "claim" a human target. This happens when a slime comes into contact with said target. Selecting claim from the battle menu plays out a disturbing cutscene in which the enemy's head tilts back, and the slime attempts to slide down their throat. This is pretty terrifying the first few times it happens, but you'll quickly wish you could just skip it. Slimes may also have other abilities like warping anywhere on the map, while some may have higher success rates of claiming. Battles are won when either no humans remain, or only possessed humans and slimes are on the battlefield. 

    Ambition of the Slimes
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Surprisingly challenging; Cutesy graphics and well implemented 3D; Great twist on the SRPG genre.
    Weak Points: Frustratingly difficult at times; Enemies crowd each other; Grammatical errors.
    Moral Warnings: As with any RPG, there's a moderate level of fantasy violence; Slimes possess humans in a disturbing fashion; Some overly sexualized enemy sprites.

    Before each stage is played you can choose which slimes to bring into battle. Each enemy and slime has an elemental affinity being water, fire, and earth. Water is strong against fire, but weak against earth, much like rock-paper-scissors. If your slime has the same element as a human you want to claim, and the claim is successful, that human will have increased attributes which is imperative to complete most stages. Most humans will have a 100% claim rate, but most maps will have at least one enemy with an incredibly low claim rate. When successfully claimed, these humans can completely turn a battle around for the slimes. 

    The biggest issue with claiming a human is that they are usually surrounded by other humans, and cannot move after being claimed. This results in that human being attacked upwards of four times, should they survive that long. The height of the battlefield will also come into play when maneuvering your characters. Should your character be on higher ground than its target while attacking, more damage will be inflicted to them and you take less damage. Unlike in other SRPGs, attacking an enemy with its back to you won't result in bonus damage.

    Ambition of the Slimes
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The retro graphics are very reminiscent of other games localized by Flyhigh Works, such as Witch & Hero and its sequel. They are very cute and the spritework for enemies and the slimes are detailed nicely. The battlefield itself can be rotated during battles and the 3D has been implemented very well. The music is nothing spectacular, and for the most part sounds like it's from Witch & Hero. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it instilled a sense of nostalgia in me hearing these simple chiptunes again. 

    As for moral warnings, it would be expected that there is a moderate amount of fantasy violence. That's not really the case for Ambition of the Slimes though, as battles are merely a static screen with sprites crashing into each other. I'm sure most players will be more terrified by the way the slimes possess their targets rather than the way battles unfold. Even after seeing the claiming process for 15 hours it's still disturbing to see them slide down enemy throats. Also worth mentioning are the rather sexually designed females enemies. Some are posed rather peculiarly, while others are more "top-heavy."

    This is an excellent game for fans of the SRPG genre, though one shouldn't expect an exact ripoff of Final Fantasy Tactics. Aside from some grammatical inconsistencies and the high difficulty, there is a deep strategy game here. With patience and endurance, this title is sure to satisfy those that are seeking a challenge from their video games.

    -Kyuremu

     

  • B*stard Bonds (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Bastard Bonds
    Developed By: BigFingers
    Published By: BigFingers
    Released: April 29, 2016
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Tactical RPG
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Single player
    MSRP: $19.99

    Thank you BigFingers for sending a copy of this game to review!

    B*stard Bonds is a tactical RPG with turn based combat. You start the game by creating a character that is being sentenced for a crime they may or may not have committed. Regardless, the punishment handed out is exile to a prisoner island. Once on the island a fellow prisoner springs you from your cell and the two of you escape to the countryside.  You move from location to location on the vast map fighting monsters, gaining allies and uncovering the mysteries of the island. Once you've gained enough allies you can create a Stronghold to further advance your party and equip them to explore the entire map. 

    The first word B*stard Bonds uses to describe itself on its Steam store page is "mature." The game certainly earns a Mature rating but I found a lot of its content to be rather immature. A perfect example of this is the title screen. It's a picture of a smirking judge looking down on a man and a woman with chains around their necks. I thought the image was fitting for the premise of the game. Then in the Options menu is a setting that removes everyone's clothes on the title screen. It has no effect on the rest of the game, it's just there to show some skin. It's an option that reeks of immaturity and unfortunately there are similar examples in the actual game. 

    I have to compliment the pixel artist on this game. A lot of indie games that try for this pixelated art style have lazy and blocky graphics, but this game has great looking art. I'm especially impressed by the amount of detail put into the character sprites. The character creator has a good amount of body types for both humans and orcs. There's also a massive amount of clothing options to mix and match for your sprite. The enemies also come in every shape and size; from small rodents to massive demons, all with great detail put into their appearance. The game is skimpy on the animations though, limiting each sprite to a handful of idle animations. All attacks are done with spell effects and characters seemingly hop between tiles on the map; they won't even turn to face enemies while attacking. Despite the plethora of options available in the game many of the NPCs are very hulking and very naked individuals. It get's old by the fifth or sixth time you find a big, bulky guy alone in a cabin in his loin cloth. You could argue this is due to many of the citizens on the island being prisoners but there are many example of NPCs who did manage to find clothes. 

    Bastard Bonds
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Huge cast of characters, deep customization, expansive map full of unique locations, non-linear progression, very little hand holding
    Weak Points: Unintuitive user interface, gameplay can get repetitive, very little handholding
    Moral Warnings: Gratuitous nudity, sexual scenes, homosexuality, occult magic, satanic images, demons and undead

    The art for the world is equally impressive, although the sheer size of the map causes there to be a lot of repeat use of assets. The world map is dotted with over a hundred hand-crafted locations such as castles, temples, forests, caves, towns, swamps and more. Each location not only looks good but is well designed from a tactical point of view. There are corners and choke points flawless integrated into the maps, such that you never really know where monsters could appear. There are numerous books to be read and people to talk to in order to learn about the island. The story of the island is told in a very hands off way that I really enjoyed. The stories of the various allies you meet, on the other hand, are less well done. Nearly everyone you recruit will talk you in your Stronghold, and as you adventure with them, they will gain your trust and eventually you will get a special scene where they share their backstory. There's no way to know how close you are to attaining these scenes, and you have to constantly go back to your Stronghold and check their chat options. The game certainly doesn't hold your hand; there is no correct path to progress through the map. Some locations require you to level up or visit other areas first but that's rare. 

    The combat in B*stard Bonds is standard turn based tactical combat with a bit of a twist. Each action (moving or attacking) can be made as a "risky" action. Risky actions contribute to that character's risk meter. The higher the risk meter, the higher the chance for a risky action to fail, which skips the character's turn and leaves them vulnerable. The reward for a successful risky action is that the character gets an additional action at the end of the current turn. You can keep performing risky actions until either you fill up your risk meter or you fail.  Both player characters and enemies can perform risky actions. This is a really nice system that both speeds up combat and adds more depth. You can chain attacks together with the possibility of failing and leaving yourself open for enemies to chain attacks. I really enjoyed the combat and the overall challenge of the encounters. I enjoyed having to find the right band of four characters in order to defeat certain enemies. Due to the sheer size of the map, I felt like there were a lot of mundane combat encounters that started to feel repetitive as time went on. 

    One of my main complaints is the behavior of your party while exploring a location. You control one character at a time and can move them a certain number of tiles in any direction based on speed. The other three characters follow behind. The AI for the following characters is downright bad. I cannot count the number of times I'd stumble into a group of enemies, only to discover one of my party members is six rooms back because he got stuck. As much as I love the design of so many of the locations, the ones that twist and turn can be a nightmare. Also, you need your entire party together to exit an area, so I've had three characters standing at an exit, and then I'll have to take control of the missing one to find where he went; then the other three start moving back again and get stuck. It can be a mess. 

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

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 21%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 1.5/10
    Sexual Content - 1.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 3.5/10

    There are a lot of RPG elements in B*stard Bonds. Each character has nine stats they can put points into upon leveling up. The three main stats Force, Guile, and Magic (Strength, Dexterity, and Intellect) each has an offense, defense and utility component. No character is locked into any one role, and you can advance your characters any way you want to. In addition to managing each of the characters you recruit along the way you have to manage your Stronghold. The game tells you next-to-nothing about what a Stronghold is, how important it is, and how to manage it. There's just an ever present red text on the top of world map that says, "Your Band has no Stronghold!" Eventually I figured out that there's a system by where you gain manpower from yourself and your allies based on their stats and alignment. Once you have enough manpower you can claim a completed area as a Stronghold. There is only a barebones help screen to guide you in building up your Stronghold. Really the entire user interface of this game leaves much to be desired, but the Stronghold UI is especially bad. Which is unfortunate because Strongholds are where you store items, craft items, buy items, sell items, converse with your party and much more. There is essentially a city-building game inside this tactical RPG. As much I appreciate the overall hands-off approach to progressing through the game, I really wish there was something to ease the player into Strongholds. 

    As I mentioned earlier there is a huge variety in enemies, and many of these are large, barely clothed demons of both sexes. There are all manor of devils and undead enemies as well. The occult and magic are prevalent throughout the entire game; there are pentagrams and ritual sacrifice. There are a lot of overt religious references, there is some satanic imagery and there are good and bad religious characters. As for language it really runs the gambit; there's profanity, crude jokes, and sexual dialogue. Some of the conversations are interesting discussions centered around the brutal reality of the world the island the characters find themselves on. Other conversations consist mostly of boorish humor and feels included in an attempt to make the game more "mature." There are some actual sex scenes however you don't see anything, it just fades to black. Homosexual relationships are possible as well. The game is very violent in nature but due to the lack of animations it doesn't appear as violent as it actually is. 

    Hiding under B*stard Bonds dark and vulgar physique is a very well made tactical RPG. I loved all the effort put into the graphics and into designing the the locations. I loved how the combat worked; it was familiar but also mixed things up just enough. I didn't love the controls and AI though. I loved all the RPG elements, even if they were frustrating to figure out. I loved exploring the island and figuring out it's secrets. I could have done without trying to get to know the characters better, and truthfully I stopped trying after a while. This game has a ton of content; you could easily spend over 100 hours on this game. With all that said I find this game impossible to recommend to another believer based on the "mature" elements found in the game. 

     

  • Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance (GC)

     

    Baldur\'s Gate Dark Alliance is available on all the popular consoles, including Gameboy Advance. The Sequel however, is currently only available for PS2 and Xbox. Rated Teen for Blood, Violence, Use of Alcohol

    Story

    It?s late and dark outside as you stumble into Baldur?s Gate. You?re not even there for five minutes when you get mugged and are inches from death before the evening watch saves you from your attackers. As it turns out, there is a new thieves? guild rising in power and they are being aided by some evil force. You want to settle the score with them and wipe them out for the injustice they have done to you and others. There of course is a greater evil you will have to uncover and defeat.

    Who can I be?

    Your choices are limited to a male dwarf warrior, a male human archer, or a female elf sorceress. Drizzt is a male dark elf you can unlock later on in the game; he?s powerful and wields two scimitars.

    Game Play

    This game is very fun and is similar to Dungeon Siege, Diablo or other hack and slash RPG?s. You basically get quests, collect loot and upgrade your weapons and armor. As you fight and gain experience, you will level up allowing you to raise various attributes. Some of the attributes are for strength, armor, wisdom, and charisma. You can also learn and enhance various attacks. There are three acts (worlds) in the game that you will get to explore. The game play is rather short; I beat the game in roughly nine hours. Fortunately there are un-lockables such as Gauntlet Mode and Extreme Mode. Gauntlet mode is available after you beat the game. In the Gauntlet Mode you have 15 minutes to clear a dungeon and survive. Of course you cannot save. If and when you complete Gauntlet Mode, you will unlock Extreme mode (ten times harder and ten times as fun according to the box) and, upon defeating that, the new character Drizzt.

    What kind of quests will I embark on?

    Although there are many enemies, you?ll gain a few allies when you complete quests for them. Some of the quests are retrieving artifacts or other items stolen from them from the new thieves guild. You?ll have to infiltrate the thieves? guild, dethrone a king in a not so friendly way and smuggle booze for a bar drunk (optional).

    What kinds of enemies will I face?

    When you start off in the tavern you?ll be battling some big rats. Other animal based baddies include spiders, wolves, yetis, and lizard men. There are some powerful blobs and flames that will attack you too. The undead will attack you as well while often taking the loss of a few limbs before they finally rest in pieces. Each area has it?s own boss or mini boss; fortunately, there is usually a save spot nearby.

    Graphics

    The graphics in this game are very well done. The characters and people you interact with look very detailed and smooth. The environments are large and leave plenty of room for exploring. The terrain is detailed and easy on the eyes. The water, ice, and flame effects are good too.

    Sound

    The voice acting is great; no annoying or repetitive voices come to mind. If you leave your character alone for too long they tell you they want to get moving. The enemies have their own unique sounds as well. Weapons and explosions sound decent, each special effect has it?s own sound effect. The background music is pretty too.

    Multiplayer

    This is a strong point in the game. A second player can join a single player game at any time or drop players from existing games. Of course this can be used as an exploit to get good equipment etc. When you do play a two-player game you share the same screen, so this leads to the only downside is that one player can hold the other back when it comes to exploring. Both characters have to be in the same visible area to move on.

    Appropriateness

    There is plenty of hacking, slashing, and blood. This is unavoidable. There is alcohol and drunkenness too. Murder and stealing are part of the plot. Magic use is present but not necessary. It?s mainly elemental lightning, acid, fire etc. Some of the characters as usual can use some more clothes, mostly the females. I am still perplexed how the female elf does not get her belly all scratched up in battle when it?s fully exposed. I was surprised not to find any occult symbols in this game since many D & D titles have them; in fact the symbols they did use have Christian roots. Finally, the game?s teaching on death is contrary to the Bible?s Heb 9:27. The undead are summoned, and the main enemy needs to die a second death.

    Conclusion

    This game is very fun and is great for two-player action. It?s an older title and can be found for less than $15, which makes it a great buy even though the single player campaign is short. The un-lockables expand the lifespan of the game a bit. It does have some standard RPG appropriateness issues but it?s pretty clean for a D & D title.

    Final Ratings

    Game Play B+ Graphics A Sound A Controls A Appropriateness D

    Overall 81%

  • Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear (Mac)

     

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    Game Info:

    Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear
    Developed by: Beamdog Studios
    Published by: Beamdog Studios
    Released: March 31, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X
    Genre: Role-playing
    ESRB rating: T (animated blood, mild language, use of alcohol and tobacco)
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $19.99 (requires Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition to play)

    Thank you, Beamdog Studios, for sending us a copy of the expansion for review!

    The Baldur's Gate games, which were initially released in 1998, received a revamped, "enhanced edition" upgrade in 2013. The new edition was met with high praise, especially from those who remembered the original and were delighted to be able to play it on modern systems. Recently, Beamdog released the first new expansion for the franchise in 15 years. Titled "Siege of Dragonspear," the game plays exactly like the other games, and serves to tell the story between the two games. But is it worth the hype?

    In some ways, yes. The game does have a lot of the feel and experience of the original game. You can import your character from the original, or create a new one solely to play the expansion. The gameplay is the same as well. Roughly based on the 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rules, you make your character and assign points to flesh out your basic stats (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and so forth). You choose a race and a class, and make other choices based on those. The expansion launches you into the game on the assumption that you've played the base game already, so there's no in-game tutorial at this point to help you. (If you haven't played Baldur's Gate yet, you may want to do that first so you'll know how to play the expansion.)

    The game is presented as an isomorphic, top-down field, where you move your character through tunnels and wilderness, battle fiendish monsters, get experience and treasure, and all the other tropes that you can expect to find in a role-playing game. Then again, this is Dungeons and Dragons we're talking about – this is the franchise that made most of those tropes in the first place. 

    Unfortunately, the player is forced into a railroad plot and not allowed much in the way of variation. The game is supposed to "connect the dots" between the first and second games, but some degree of player choice would have been nice in affecting the outcome. There are several side quests which the player can engage in – some of which are quite amusing – but that's about it. At least you can add some experience and levels to your Baldur's Gate character before importing it into Baldur's Gate II, right?

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adds to the base game; entertaining characters and side quests
    Weak Points: Fails to adhere to established lore; confusing battle system; railroad main plot
    Moral Warnings: Blood, gore, murder, undead and magic use are all prominent; one transgender character makes a minor appearance.

    My biggest criticism of the game is that it lacks the feel of a table-top experience. Everything happens in real-time, and while you can pause the game to issue orders to your characters, combat generally acts out more like a quick time event than a player-controlled battle. Especially at the lower difficulty levels – where victory is guaranteed – combat seems like a pointless addition to the game. It's like Diablo-lite, where the computer controls your character for you so you don't have to do all the thinking. Of course, this is a criticism I had of the original game back in 1998, too. Maybe it's because I grew up with the "Gold Box" series of Dungeons and Dragons games, where combat was turn-based – it's what I'm familiar with, and what I expect from a game sporting the D&D label. Your mileage may vary in this regard. And combat is heavily featured in this expansion – while it's possible to talk your way out of some conflicts, a good portion of the dialogue trees will end up in a battle no matter what you choose.

    On top of that, the AI of the characters seems distinctly lacking. There were many times that my party was under fire, and Corwin – who is supposed to be an archer specialized in the longbow – would just stand in one place watching what was going on. Even after ordering her to attack, she'd fire one arrow and continue to watch as the rest of the team got peppered with projectiles. Fortunately, the AI of the computer seems to be just as deficient, with the standard "zerg-rush" approach being the default. It would be easy to lure the enemy into a variety of traps, if only the player-controlled characters were intelligent enough to follow orders. It's possible that this was simply the result of the difficulty level I was playing – "story mode," the easiest setting, so I could explore the plot. In this mode, the characters can't be killed and have received significant buffs in order to blaze through combat. The enemies might show a bit more intelligence at higher difficulties, but somehow I doubt it. 

    The voice-acting tends to be a mixed bag – some of the new characters and voices are delightful, and in other places the acting seems stiff or tired. The music is still phenomenal, though. The graphics are identical to those in the base game (although I would have preferred less dwarf-like sprite for Glint, the gnome cleric/thief).

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

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

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence - 3/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    For fans of the franchise – or the Forgotten Realms itself – some of the plot elements may leave them scratching their heads. I was the DM for a campaign set along the Sword Coast for many years, so I know the region quite intimately. Early on, while playing this expansion, it is revealed that thousands of refugees have flooded Baldur's Gate, driven from their homes by Caelen Argent's crusade. My first thought was "fled from where?" Double-checking my map confirmed my suspicions – there are no settlements between Waterdeep and Baldur's Gate. Most of the people living in this region are rugged individualists, who would either die defending their land, or stubbornly rebuild elsewhere. While a few may flee to Baldur's Gate for shelter (Or Scornubel to the east, or Waterdeep to the north), it wouldn't be to such an extent where the city's resources and supplies are strained. This is not the only odd element I've run across in the expansion, and I can't help but wonder how much research the writers did in developing the storyline. Forgotten Realms fans will likely be disappointed with the "artistic licenses" this game takes.

    When the game was released, there was a "controversial" element in the game, in the apparent inclusion of a "trans-gender" character. I didn't find the character – a cleric of Tempus named Mizhena – until after I consulted a walkthrough to find where she was located (in the camp of one of the early areas, in case you were wondering). Mizhena looks like any other Flaming Fist mercenary, and doesn't even have her own portrait, so it's easy to overlook her. For some reason, her inclusion set off a lot of people, who proceeded to give the game a "0" score in their own reviews of the game, and prompted Beamdog into editing the game through a patch. In my opinion, the response is overblown. Mizhena has no quests, no relevance to the plot, and isn't even a storekeeper. She feels like the "token minority" that was thrown in so Beamdog could point and say "see? Diversity!" If it wasn't for the fact that the Internet seemed to erupt over Mizhena's inclusion in the game, I likely wouldn't have even mentioned her in this review.

    Aside from the transgender issue, there are several other moral considerations to the game. These are all elements of the original Baldur's Gate, so there's nothing new in this list. Swearing is commonplace throughout, although none of the more egregious vulgarities are used. The undead are commonplace enemies. The entire setting is polytheistic, and some of the characters are the result of a union between gods (or other divine beings) and mortals. Some enemies explode into chunks when killed – it's possible to turn off gore in the options menu, though. What can't be turned off are the rivers and pools of blood in some areas, or an eventual visit to a hellish landscape and battles against demons. The player can choose to be evil, if they'd like, and fill their party with evil characters. Finally, the players can control characters who can cast divine or arcane spells, and magic use is prominent. 

    So, all in all, the Siege of Dragonspear expansion is an interesting mix. What Baldur's Gate does well, Dragonspear does just as well. Where Baldur's Gate falters, the expansion seems to steer into sheer ineptitude. The new characters and side quests are entertaining, but those who were looking for a seamless transition between Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II will be sorely disappointed – especially if they are fans of the Forgotten Realms. While it may be an interesting experience, I certainly wouldn't pay $19.99 for it, and I don't think it's even worth picking up on sale. Diehard fans of the Baldur's Gate series are better off using their imaginations to connect the two games. It's a disappointing chapter to an otherwise excellent story.

  • Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter (PS2)


    Well this is another one of the Famed Breath of Fire games. Where you as a normal person just living out your life then of course you eventually find out you are a ?destroyer of Worlds? or something like that.

    Graphics:

    Pretty decent compared to the other bof's. Though personally I liked bof 4's graphics a lot better than dragon quarter. The cut-scenes are nicely done, though no voice animations I was kinda disappointed with that. Turning into a dragon was just as same as 4.

    Sound:

    I actually enjoyed the sounds and the music a lot. I never really tired of the sounds since most of the time it was different. Sounds that around your area was also well done.

    Story:

    Well actually I don't know how to explain this one much. Apparently everyone lives underground and the government is set on D-ratios. The higher the ratio the higher you are. Well your a very low d at start and then work your way up during the game. But in the beginning your on a mission to make sure this cargo doesn't fall into the wrong hands. But later you find that this cargo is a girl who has wings and is named Nina.

    Game play:

    This was actually very hard. The battle system is very intriguing. It has actual turns and yet it has a a system similar to kingdom hearts. Running around is really simple and you can still use your sword when running around. Though you cant hit people and get cash you can use it on enemy\'s before battles to gain an extra turn.

    Appropriateness:

    Well as usual this has a lot about being the ?chosen? to change the earth forever. Thats really the basic theme to the bof series. Now the game is rated for nudity however I wasn't able to play it enough to actually get to that particular scene or ability or whatever spot in the game. But I will rank this a c- for appropriateness.

    Final Ratings

    Graphics: B Sound: B+ Story: B- Game play: B+ Appropriateness: C-

    Overall 78%

  • Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition
    Developed by: From Software
    Published by: From Software & Namco Bandai Games
    Released: September 22, 2011
    ESRB Rating: M
    Available On: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
    Genre: Action-RPG, Adventure
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $43.99 new ($29.99 for PC), $40.00 used

    Prepare to die. Has an interesting ring to it, huh? A game that teaches you the old school way, Dark Souls is not for the weak of heart, and provides a challenge for even the most hardened veterans of gaming. This game is a true testament to how video games were in the days of the NES and the SNES: hard, frustrating and rewarding. However, the title does allude to some less than brilliant themes, but more on that later. 

    The story behind Dark Souls is one that that seems rather simple at first, but is actually completely determined by the player’s understanding of it. Here is the long and short of it: In the beginning there was nothing but darkness, and in this darkness ruled the dragons, who were immortal. Soon fire was born, and humanity seized it and with its power they slaughtered the dragons and began the Age of Fire. Humanity prospered like never before, although this was not to last. After a while a dark circle began to appear upon people. This was named the Darksign. Humans with this ‘sign’ emblazoned upon themselves would be gifted with a form of immortality. They would be able to die, but would be reborn next to a bonfire, their resting places, after they had died. Instead of this immortality being a blessing however, this instead became a curse. When a human dies and is reborn, they become undead, lose their humanity and become crazed.

    Your character, which you get to make yourself by way of character creation, is the chosen undead. The chosen undead has been prophesied as the one who will go forth to ring the two bells of Lordran. For the most part the story is simple: battle your way through many different and varied locations fighting towards the end goal of either saving humanity, or condemning it. Given the context of the story, it is hard to figure out what you’re doing is right or wrong, as the game has 2 endings. Both of these are completely determined by the player’s view of which one is right or wrong.

    The gameplay is what really sets Dark Souls out from the rest of the crowd. While most action-RPGs have the tendency of swinging your sword and rolling haphazardly out of the way of attacks, Dark Souls punishes you for making even the slightest of mistakes. Even the most basic of enemies can kill your character relatively easily, so it’s up to the player to memorize how an enemy attacks and wait patiently to counter attack. When you start the game, you get to choose between 10 different classes. You have the beefy Knight, built to weather strikes, the strong Bandit, designed to send your foes flying and others. The best part about the class system however, is that these class only dictate your starting gear and level. They do not tell you where you need to spend your skill points. That is up to your playstyle. Don't like swinging that sword? Put a few points into intelligence and your warrior can now cast spells. Swords, axes, maces, lances, magic, and even whips are at the characters disposal. The game’s difficulty is super high, and while this might turn off a lot of players, the game system is balanced incredibly well considering the amount of weapons, armour, and spells that line the game’s huge inventory. When you do die, it feels like less of the game’s fault and more your fault for not being able to beat a certain enemy.

    And they told me it wouldn’t hurt me… Liars
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging gameplay focused on learning enemy’s attacks and slowly progressing. Great replayability.
    Weak Points: Has a high learning curve. Not a “casual” game.
    Moral Warnings: There is a lot of spell casting in the game. Also there is a lot of violence and some enemies are made to look demonic.

    Tip on how to stay alive? Look before you leap. The terrain serves as a big part of the game’s difficulty with invisible walkways, lakes with drops into the abyss and even crystal caverns. Enemies are carefully placed through each area so that you will not be safe until you have cleared out an area. Enemies with bows will snipe you from afar while their sword wielding counterparts will rush you head on. This may sound hard, but if you know the landscape, you can run past some enemies to kill the weaker ones. Once you've taken out the small ones you can turn around and defend yourself from the other, larger enemies. If you take the game slowly and strategically, it becomes much easier to succeed. The game difficulty is in how you play. Slow and steady definitely wins this race. 

    All of this is all fine and dandy until you die however, which you will be doing a lot of (the sub-title of ‘Prepare to Die’ isn’t just for show). When you die you lose all your souls (the currency of the game) and have to restart at the last bonfire you rested at. Did I mention that the game doesn’t have a pause function? Yeah, don’t expect any favours from this game. You play by its rules or not at all. At least you can go pick up your gear from where you died.

    The online play in Dark Souls is unique in two ways. The first way is that players can ‘summon’ other people to help them with boss fights. The second way is less satisfactory and is where the online play becomes a double edged sword. When playing the game you are either in human or undead form. In undead form you cannot summon other players or call for help whereas a human can. Being in human form, on the other hand, means you can be invaded. Being invaded means that another player is entering into your world with the intent to kill you to steal your souls. If you are invaded you cannot enter a boss fight until you have killed the invader or he has killed you. If you defeat your invader you gain a set amount of souls based on your invaders level. However, should you die to your invader, you will be turned into an undead and you will, again, lose your souls.  Do not fear though! Every person that can invade your world will be similar to you in levels. The only difference between you and your attacker is that they might have played this game a lot while this might be your first time. Because of the skill difference between hard-core invaders and regular players, many players choose to play this game without connecting to the internet simply because they find it hard to deal with the other online players.

    When you finally do finish Dark Souls, what do you do? Well, you run the entire game again, but this time with enemies having more health and doing more damage thanks to the game’s New Game + feature. And what should happen when you finish New Game +? You get New Game ++ of course! Where the enemies are given even more health and damage. Around New Game 7+ the difficulty no longer increases, but it will take you a while before you get to it. Also, with the release of the Prepare to Die DLC, you can now explore a new area filled with new bosses, enemies and more beautiful scenery than you can shake a stick at.  Although you will never truly be finished with Dark Souls, if you are a person who enjoys replayability in their games, this should suit you down to the bone.

    Yes ladies and gents: This is in-game graphics
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    The graphics of Dark Souls may not be the greatest but they are far from average. Each area is crafted down to each individual bush and has amazing set pieces for each area. Every area that you can see you can travel to, or at least that’s what the game tells you. After a very short loading time (5 seconds on PS3 and almost immediately on a high powered PC) you are thrust into the land of Lordran, the world in which Dark Souls takes place. From this point, until you die or exit the game, there will be no more loading screens. Considering the quality of the enemies and places you visit, this is no small feat. There are a few times when the game will lag from the amount of things that will be on screen but thankfully this doesn’t happen often. For the PC players, you can download mods that will increase the graphical quality of the game, as well as fix the controls.

    The music of Dark Souls is fitting and is orchestral. Everything sounds how you would expect. Tense and dark for normal areas and fast and furious for bosses. The game does suffer from a few glitches, moreso on the PC port but overall is really good, suffering nothing game-breaking. And finally the controls are good although using a controller is much, much easier than using the keyboard and mouse.

    There are a few things that sets Dark Souls back in its morality. The first and most obvious is that there is a lot of violence in Dark souls. There isn’t much gore but there is a little blood. Also the game’s currency is the souls of others which are obtained by killing any enemy in the game and even some friendly units. The game has many references to witches, demons, and undead and are commonplace within the gameplay elements. The game also forces the player to think only for themselves and put everyone else second. However, the game’s overarching theme behind violence is that you are only fighting to defend and protect yourself from enemies, while you adventure through Lordran. Also when you start the game you have the option to play as a class called the deprived. The deprived class starts out with no armour and has only a loincloth covering their dignity. However this only lasts until you decide to put on armour so it only exists to show the player that they are not wearing any armour.

    At the end of the day Dark Souls is a hard but rewarding game that has some issues morally, but is enjoyable if you are willing to look past this. There are witches and undead, demons and spells, but the real meat of the game is in its gameplay. The rewarding play style coupled with the huge scale of the areas, amazing replay value, and optional side quests to keep you going for weeks, maybe even months on end, definitely make this worth a buy gameplay wise.

    ~Ben

     

  • Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga
    Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
    Developer: Larian Studios
    Released: November 5, 2010
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood; Suggestive Themes; Violence
    Available on: Xbox 360; PC (version reviewed)
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    MSRP: $40 (Amazon affiliate link)

    Thank you to Larian Studios for sending us a copy to review!

    Sequel to the cult hit, Divine Divinity – Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga steps away from its isometric predecessor to offer a different kind of game. Now with the focus on third-person action, Larian Studios set out to correct some of the mistakes with Divinity 2\'s original release, Ego Draconis. With an updated engine, retooled gameplay, and inclusion of the Flames of Vengeance expansion, Divinity 2 sets the bar high. Let\'s see if this RPG is worth the gold.

    Divinity 2\'s yarn revolves around the exploits of a Dragon Knight, a new recruit into an order of like-minded folks who have glowing eyes and special combat training. Not only are you a superstar to lowly villagers, but you\'re also targeted early on by the main villain, Damien. Damien, who threatens to kill you at every chance that he gets, fills the archetypical role of the bad guy, both by spouting bits of monologue and looking grumpy.  The story itself takes around 30 hours to finish, depending on how many side-objectives you feel like accomplishing. Divinity 2’s story wrapped up in an abrupt fashion, which felt both disappointing and undercooked; the expansion – Flames of Vengeance – alleviates this to some extent, by continuing where the main game left off. Or, you can play the expansion straight from the menu with a new higher-level character. Either way, the extra few hours are worth it.

    Along your journey in Rivellon, you\'ll accept quests from townsfolks, bandits, ghosts, and even inanimate objects. Quests range from fetching an item such as a journal, to clearing out an enemy camp, or even sneaking a group of pigs back to their rightful owner. The quests found here have several outcomes depending on which path you choose. Should you slay some guards so the pigs can escape, or leave the pigs where they are to the dismay of their owner? The actions you choose may not evolve on the level of say, the Mass Effect series, but they do have a wide amount of effects that you can see relatively quickly.

    Quests are not all cut and dry, however, with many leading you into dungeons packed with enemies. The large number of dungeons, caves, and tombs you visit also have the occasional hidden passage or concealed switch. Finding these may lead to chests full of bounty, or in more than one situation, lock you in with enemies. With so many enemies standing in your way, you\'ll need something to fight them off with.

     

    When considering how to go about combat, you\'ll have a few options to choose from. One way is with melee combat by utilizing axes, hammers, and swords. Dual-wielding, two-handed weapons, and shields are available as well. For the spell caster classes, you can go barehanded or choose to rely on your backup sword when the mana runs dry. There\'s bows for the ranger class, though I found this to be the least thrilling. Every swing of the sword or arrow shot requires a simple click of the mouse. While this is fine for the warriors, it makes being a ranger pretty underwhelming due to the lack of mobility. Being forced to stand in one spot to fire off arrows doesn\'t work as well as I hoped when it comes to this combat system. Assigning items and skills to your number keys without needing to fumble around in the inventory screen for a potion is here as well.

    By completing quests and slaying enemies, you\'ll be rewarded with experience points. After a set amount of points, you\'ll level up. Each level grants you stat points, which go towards increasing the character\'s focus. There are several different stats and passive percentages that alter how a character will perform, so pumping strength for your warrior, or intelligence and spirit for your mage would be the right course of action. Skill points will also be awarded after each level up. These range from passive abilities such as damage increase with certain weapons and mana efficiency when casting spells, to active roles like heals, summons, and fireballs. While I would\'ve liked to see a more diverse array of skills, the ones here, while rather simplistic, get the job done.

    About a third way into the main game\'s story, the option of having your own headquarters is made available. This headquarters, or “Battle Tower” as it\'s called in-game, houses multiple NPCs who make the journey less stressful, and add a bit of depth to what would be a rather standard RPG. A necromancer handles mixing and matching of your pet, a summon who can be called into battle to fight along side you. Limbs you find during the game as loot or from quests alter the pet\'s stats and abilities depending on what parts you choose. An enchanter allows you to customize gear by removing bonuses from weaker pieces and slotting them into your better armor and weapons.

    An alchemist allows for the crafting of potions, and the skill trainer offers skill redistribution for a price. Some of these processes require ingredients. In a smart move by the developers, you\'ll have three runners: NPCs who automatically fetch these items after a set duration. By paying for better weapons and armor from the NPCs mentioned above, the runners will have higher rates of success in finding that special item you require. The whole Battle Tower concept is pretty neat, not only because it makes tedious tasks easier, but because it adds a sense of accomplishment and of influence that a great hero would normally have.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points:Solid dialogue and plenty of written lore; exceptional voice acting; graphic engine runs smooth and offers pleasant environments; subtle humor throughout

    Weak
    Points: Uneven difficulty; crude and dated menus; not very newbie friendly; uses SecuROM

    Moral Warnings:
    Sword and sorcery abound in combat; blood is seen in environments and with melee attacks; occult themes like mind-reading, communication with ghosts, and necromancy are present, as are pentagrams; innuendo in some dialogue

    Not long after the Battle Tower, the ability to transform into a dragon will open up. This is one of the better aspects of Divinity 2 alone. Though it is simplistic to an extent, there\'s plenty of cool factor because, well, you\'re a dragon. While the dragon can be customized to some degree, it\'s largely hands-off, except for the occasional dragon armor piece here or there. The arcade action as the dragon gets tiresome as the game progresses, however.

    As neat as all of this sounds, one huge drawback when playing Divinity 2 was the difficulty level. I played on normal difficulty for a large portion of my experience, but I eventually had to bump down to casual from the sheer frustration that the game can throw at a player. Early on as a warrior, enemies could take me down in only a handful of hits, and with poor weapons, I had to trick the AI by hiding behind obstacles so I can slowly regenerate my health. Only a few hours later, with my character around level 12, the game\'s challenge seemed to nose-dive, offering up weak enemies that were dispatched in one to two hits. It\'s a weird aspect of the game that comes off as bipolar. One moment you\'re chugging all the potions you have just to stay alive and the next you\'re enjoying a cakewalk through a dungeon.

    The fantastical nature of the world crafted by Larian brings with it the content that readers may find inappropriate. Generic bandits, goblins, and skeletons show up throughout the gameplay experience. Along with them are various demons, summoned beasts, dragons, ghosts, and the undead.

    Spells can and will be used by the player, whether for combat or during scripted sequences. The priest class can summon allies to aid in battle, and mages employ different types of explosive spells; enemies, too, can use the same skills and tools in battle. Combat is largely tame, even though violence is shown through the use of bows, bladed weapons, or fire magic. Blood is seen in combat, but nothing over the top.

    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/Interface 4/5

    Morality Score - 46%
    Violence 3.5/10
    Language 6/10
    Sexual Content/Nudity 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

    Dark and decrepit environments like crypts, tombs, dungeons and caves make up the majority of where you\'ll be fighting. One dungeon had an experimentation room with bloodied corpses on tables and sharp tools nearby; another had corpses that were hanged. Some rooms are littered with the bodies of dead adventurers or with skeletal remains. A villain is pieced together with various body parts for the main purpose of serving a powerful necromancer. The pentagram symbol is visible for some spells and in books that require interaction to progress through the story. Spell invocation, mind reading, communication with ghosts for quests, and using a blood altar are present, too.

    One quest ends with an adulterous relationship between two characters, and some minor dialogue with townspeople is laden with subtle innuendo. Cleavage is present with many female characters, and some are fairly buxom or wear tight-fitting armor. I haven\'t seen anything in the way of nudity or sexual contact compared to other western RPGs on the market. Swearing is low-key: a few “b-stards” and “d-mns” are sprinkled in the dialogue, but again, nothing out of hand.

    With all that said, the fantasy elements that envelop the story are fairly dark through and through; the majority of these cannot be avoided. Please be aware of that if the themes above are not something you want to experience when purchasing a game of this type.

    Sound is one of the best aspects of Divinity 2. Character dialogue is mostly well-acted with varying degrees of accents, emotion, and a good amount of humor. I\'ve yet to run into a character that wasn\'t voiced. Even your own character\'s actions have narration, which helps to guide you in the right direction. It was quite refreshing to come from the handheld text-based RPGs I recently played to a game where everything is voiced; it sure added a lot more character to an already interesting array of characters. Several of the musical pieces that accompany new locations are crafted nicely and fit the area\'s theme, but they can be hit or miss. I did hear a few lackluster ones that either sounded out of place or were a tad convoluted to the point of muting the music until I reached a new location.

    Divinity 2 is built on the Gamebryo engine, which you may of seen in Oblivion or Fallout 3. Here though, the faces aren\'t smudged or, well, downright ugly. Much of the game is easy on the eyes and ears. Excluding enemies, character models are detailed and are different enough so villages aren\'t filled with clones. The graphics of the game can be quite lush, and offer plenty of open vistas to take in; one can easily find panoramic moments, whether it\'s standing on a waterfall, overlooking a cave filled with lava, or when traveling in forests. The third-person camera may have some issues in tight corridors or in flight, but it\'s largely fine.

    Dungeons are jam-packed with detail and appear like others have visited the location before. Aged, ruined, or forgotten, these environments feel alive despite housing all matters of beast. There\'s plenty of nice touches along the journey in environments you visit, whether it\'s a cave\'s natural blue crystal giving off a faint glow or a jail cell holding shackles, a journal, and skeletal remains.

    One big issue I had with the game\'s graphics was that they were locked at 30 frames per second (FPS). While fine on a console, this made the entire game an eyesore to play, due the choppy nature of rendering and how clunky the combat seemed. I saw that a recent hot fix allowed the game to go higher than 30 FPS. After applying the right settings, it improved the gaming experience greatly by allowing a much more fluid feel, in both combat and exploration. The video I posted with this review has the game configuration at a steady 60 FPS, so if you pick up the PC version, be sure to unlock the game from 30 FPS before starting the story.

    When it comes down to it, Divinity 2 is a well-crafted game that doesn\'t exactly transcend the genre. Plenty of heart went into the game and it\'s easy to see that. From the well-written dialogue to the large amount of quests to the nice dose of humor, there\'s plenty to enjoy. The game was, frankly, grating the first three hours or so I played. As time went on, though, I eventually warmed up to it. The world becomes less confined the longer you play, and it feels more expansive by the time you hit places like Sentinel Island and Orobas Fjords, around the eight to ten hour mark.

    For hardcore RPG fans yearning for some adventure, this game has it in spades. You\'ll easily sink dozens of hours into this game if you choose to work at it. At $40, it\'s a reasonable deal, especially with the improvements to the core game and the included expansion.

    More casual gamers, however, may want to look at other options instead. The slower story progression, difficulty of the game, and lack of hand-holding make this a hard sell to those not used to such staples of the genre.

    -- Jonathan "Keero" Harling

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition (Xbox One)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Developed by: BioWare
    Published by: Electronic Arts
    Release Date: November 18, 2014
    Available on: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC
    Genre: Action role-playing
    Number of Players: Single-player, multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Mature
    Price: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third entry into BioWare's highly regarded original fantasy role-playing world and it was met with high expectations.  The anticipation speaks to the pedigree of the series, for BioWare has few peers in the genre, much of it was fueled by curiosity as to whether Dragon Age would recover from the disappointment many felt with Dragon Age 2.  In many ways it is a rousing success, but I can't help but feel there was a cost.

    BioWare admitted it felt it needed to respond to Bethesda's smashing success The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but I have to wonder why.  And why now?  Skyrim didn't do anything substantially different than Morrowind or Oblivion and when those games were getting press BioWare was getting press at the same time doing its own thing.  They seemed, to me, content to let Bethesda play in the open world sandbox while they focused on admittedly smaller worlds with richer experiences.

    “Emotionally engaging” was the phrase BioWare used often and it wasn't something Bethesda could really respond to.  No matter how much fun Skyrim was, no one was calling it an emotionally engaging experience. It was not the kind of game that made you care at all about the NPCs you interacted with or the greater conflicts that gave context to your actions.  This was BioWare's bread and butter; if they couldn't make you care, they failed.

    For the most part I just didn't care about what was happening to Thedas or the threat the surprisingly one-dimensional baddie posed to the realm.

    Before I dive further into what I felt BioWare sacrificed to compete in a race it never needed to, let me talk about what I did enjoy.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful environments, engaging companions, challenging combat
    Weak Points: Incompetent party AI, minor bugs and occasional crashes, flat villain and story
    Moral Warnings: Strong language, violence, nudity, occult references, alternative relationships

    The game is spread across the two neighboring countries of Orlais and Ferelden.  The latter is the setting of Dragon Age: Origins, and is recovering from the ravages of the Fifth Blight.  Orlais is a France-inspired land of decadence and intrigue.  We've never seen it before and those familiar with the lore will know it occupied Ferelden in the not too distant past.

    Rather than go open world and allow you to traverse the two lands unimpeded. BioWare sprinkled large open zones across them.  According to them, the first zone you enter, the Hinterlands, is larger than the whole of the first game and that's believable.  The variety of zones you can explore as the game unfolds is a welcomed change to the reused brown bleakness of Dragon Age 2.  Verdant forests, desert plateaus, rain-drenched bogs, open plains, it's all here to explore and it's quite addictive to do so.  When you first enter a zone, your quest map only shows a sea of black pinned with quest markers.  As you trek, the map opens up and you discover a wealth of time-sucking opportunities.

    I don't use the phrase flippantly.  Much of what you can do in these zones, any zone, is designed to be a time sink.  When adopting the open world style, BioWare found itself with the task of filling that space with things you could do, most of it having little impact on your main quest.

    There's herbs to collect, ore to mine, fetch quests to fill, and Fade rifts to close.

    So many Fade rifts to close.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 30%
    Violence - 3/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    For those of you who do not know, the Fade is the realm of dreams and spirits.  Also, according to Chantry doctrine (see: what might happen if the Christian church was established by Joan of Arc) it was host to the Maker's Golden City.  In short, heaven.  A long time ago, however, the city was entered by human mages using blood magic, turning it black.

    The villain of Dragon Age: Inquisition, Corypheus, is one of these mages, freed from imprisonment during the course of Dragon Age 2's DLC Legacy.  According to him, the city was already black when they arrived.  Believing there is no Maker, he now seeks to make himself a living god for humanity and enter into the Fade bodily once more.

    His actions have caused the veil between the world and the Fade to weaken, thus plaguing the lands with many, many Fade rifts that demons are using to enter Thedas.

    Remember in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion when Oblivion Gates started opening everywhere in Tamriel?  Yeah, basically the same thing only slightly less annoying to deal with because you don't have to invest nearly as much time in closing them.  So, thematically, they serve a purpose, but their larger purpose is to pad gameplay with busy work.

    Filler aside the environments are varied and beautiful.  Seriously.  They're a real treat and a promising look at what this console generation will deliver.

    Next, we move on to what you'll be spending most of your time doing other than filler quests: combat.  Intended to be more strategic than previous incarnations, Dragon Age: Inquisition finally allows console players a tactical view of the combat area that was only available to PC players.  On the fly, you can pause the combat, take an aerial view, and assign paths and actions to your party.  On casual and normal difficulties, you can forgo this mechanic for a more action-driven experience, in hard mode, it becomes a must, in part because of the sometimes flaky AI.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition

    I didn't spend too much time with the tactical view, but the number of times party members fell because of stupid AI decisions (rarely using a shield to block, never stepping out of the way of sustained breath weapon attacks from dragons...) made me long to master its intricacies.

    Gone are healing spells for mages, which took me a minute to deal with... emotionally.  However, I found that I rarely needed them in combat since my health, and my party's, was often regenerating in combat due to arcane wizardry on the part of my AI-controlled mage.  When emergencies arise, the party can share a pool of up to 12 healing potions and you can equip other potions to each companion manually.  Only healing potions are refilled automatically without a cost in camp, so you must choose wisely who gets any of the other potions, tonics, or grenades.

    As with previous games in the series, abilities are mapped to three face buttons and pressing the right shoulder button gives you access to three additional face button slots, making a total of six abilities at your disposal quickly.  I was playing a warrior and spread my accumulated points across four ability trees and found myself mining for passive abilities once the six slots were filled with go-to actions I didn't want to mess with.

    Were combat kept to a single protagonist, and not a party, I'd have little to grouse about but it's not and it all comes down to AI; it's frustratingly stupid sometimes.  Those 12 healing potions the party shares aren't for me.  Aside from when the environment occasionally conspired against me (it's swell when you're mopping up a hard fight only to have a few bears wander in), I didn't find myself having to use them nearly as often as the rest of the party.  Warrior abilities and magey stuff kept my health high most of the time.  Many was the time, though, when I'd see a party member's health take a dive and find them engaging in activities they'd no business entertaining.

    One might argue that the tactical view alleviates this problem, and they'd be right, but it misses the point as the action-driven playstyle is just as legitimate.

    Lastly there's the companions themselves.  By and large they're all pretty great with unique voices, viewpoints, and depth.  Perhaps the most one-note of the bunch was Varric, a carry-over from Dragon Age 2, but I can admit it may be my own bias.  I never cared much for him in that game and that sentiment didn't change here.  I took no small amount of glee during a particularly heated scene between Cassandra, my paramour, and him and siding with her as much as I could rationalize.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    I more or less ignored Vivienne, a loyalist Circle mage from Orlais because, pretty much, she was the last to join my party and I was already invested in Solas and Dorian, the other two mage companions. As the game went on, the colorful Dorian overtook dour Solas as my favored mage. As my time with the two of them progressed, Dorian proved more accessible and his relationship with his father is one I think Christians could learn a few things from.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is more of a sequel to Dragon Age 2 than Dragon Age 2 is a sequel of Dragon Age: Origins. Dragon Age: Inquisition picks up a year after the beginning of the Mage-Templar War got kicked off in Dragon Age 2 and is heavily influenced by it. The game dramatically opens up with a peace conference between the two factions literally exploding. As part of the main quest in the game, you're forced to choose one of the two factions to back. Given that I thought mages needed to be watched, backing the Templars was a no-brainer. Like Marvel's X-Men, the game tries to treat being a mage like it's a civil rights issue, but the argument falls apart on close examination.

    Are there good mages who don't want to enthrall a village to their will, or invite demonic possession for quick power? Sure. There are also gun owners who don't want to rob a bank or shoot random strangers.

    One of these groups still has to get a background check.

    It's for these reasons I didn't find the mage angle convincing, though obvious Templar excesses are inexcusable, and why I was tired of mages by the time Vivienne hitched her wagon to the Inquisition's train.

    Since the game centers around mages and Templars so much, of course the Chantry and its teachings and politics takes front stage. In fact, as you progress the Inquisition may even throw its influence behind a new Divine, a heavy decision indeed. What's most noteworthy about all of this is the discussion BioWare tries to elicit about faith.  What could have been interesting came off to me, a man of faith, as very patronizing. It's hard to explain further without delving into real spoilers, but suffice to say the message I got was, "You're free to believe whatever you want, despite the evidence, so long as it make no demands upon those around you."

    The Gospel of Jesus the Chant of Light is not.

    Like all BioWare games, romancing a companion is an option and I've already mentioned who I chose. To BioWare's credit, they eschewed making most everyone bisexual (something I've complained about in the past), keeping it limited to only two: one companion and one adviser. Some characters aren't even interested in a romance, which is a nice change.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition

    BioWare took this game as an opportunity to really lay out their politics on the matters of sexuality and sexual relations.  To anyone familiar with the company and their left-leaning attitudes, it's no surprise.  Same-sex relationships in Thedas are common and barely worth batting an eye about.  In fact, there's even a codex treatise on the topic should you wish further reading.  Additionally, this is the first game from them that I'm aware of that features a transgendered NPC.  She's a member of Iron Bull's (one of your companions) retinue and while it seems the setting does take notice at that, Iron Bull does not because she's a good soldier.

    Which is something BioWare also chooses to plant their flag on: women serve equally side-by-side by men in battle.  While this is a topic of debate today, and only possible given technological and medical advancements made within the past 100 years or so, it's absurd to cast it as feasible so far into the past, even a fantastical past.  It's clearly there to make a political point while ignoring socioeconomic realities of the medieval age it purports to take place in, and the stark biological differences between the sexes.

    This is the worst sort of storytelling and it's all the more noteworthy because BioWare is better at its craft than this.  That said, however, they've embraced one of the key techniques of normalizing otherwise objectionable content in media: don't draw attention to it.  Don't draw attention to it, treat it as innocuous, and it will be absorbed a piece at a time organically.

    This is a lesson Christian media has yet to embrace, preferring to obtusely beat non-believers about the neck and face with a message.

    Finding Cassandra's warm center – BioWare has described her like being a “crusty baguette” - was a real joy. Her embarrassment when you uncover her more 'girly' predilections is delightful.  The height of the dance between the Inquisitor and her (and the only time nudity came up), however, was unceremoniously marred by a glitch that froze the cutscene for a minute or so.  The drama, the poignancy, was gone and I was reminded that I was playing a video game.

    This particular glitch reared its head a numbers of time during my play through, tossing a damp rag on what would have been story highlights.  There's nothing quite like thinking, for a moment, a scene paused for effect when in reality it was taking a smoke break.  Thankfully the bug got squashed with a 300MB patch that came out when I was about three-quarters of the way through my game.

    But it seemed to then introduce total game crashes, an issue I never experienced before the patch.  I suppose I should thank BioWare for the new feature.  After losing several hours worth of progress, I really took stock of what I was doing and realized that I'd gotten caught up in beautiful chores.  Nothing I'd done during that time progressed the plot, mattered to anyone I cared about, or would even open up an interesting bit of side-story.

    I wrapped up my time with Skyrim when I noticed I was approaching 100 hours of playtime and it felt like a good place to deal with Alduin because he'd been so patient about my shenanigans to this point.

    I wrapped up my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition when I realized nothing I did for the majority of the game mattered.  Astute readers may see a contradiction but the thing is I didn't expect to matter in Skyrim.

    I do in a BioWare game.

    And that's what I think BioWare sacrificed in trying to compete with Bethesda.  But I have to admit that my voice may be alone.  Already the game has garnered several Game of the Year awards from various publications.  I think that if this game were The Elder Scrolls VI I'd have to agree.  Bethesda would have done an admirable job at pushing a story and characters that matter, that we might care about, to the fore.  It would have represented a step forward for them.

    While Dragon Age: Inquisition is an improvement from Dragon Age 2, and not quite a step backwards, it feels like an unnecessary sidestep.  It picked up a gauntlet I'm not sure was ever thrown.

    I enjoyed my time with the game. I really did.  I cared about most of my companions, what they thought and felt. The combat, while sometimes frustrating because of deficient AI, is a lot of fun, and seeing Skyhold grow and change as the Inquisition becomes a force to reckon with is a nice reminder of what you mean to a world that really lacks such a reflection for most of what you're doing in the game.

    My time in Thedas is now over.  I don't think I'll be revisiting this incarnation of it anytime soon.  Dragon Age: Origins, my favorite BioWare game, calls to me again.  I might take it up.

    Of course now that Green Ronin Publishing finally got Set 3 of the Dragon Age paper-and-pencil RPG out I could always get a group together for that.  Let it never be said I am not a fanboy for the setting!

     

  • Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen (DS)

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    Game Info:

    Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen (NDS)
    Developed By: ArtePiazza
    Published By: Square Enix
    Release Date: September 2008
    Available on: Nintendo DS
    Genre: RPG
    Single Player with limited multiplayer capabilities
    ESRB Rating: E10
    Price: $30
    (Amazon affiliate link) 

    Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen is a remake of the 1992 NES version which was released in the US as Dragon Warrior IV. In 2001, Japan had a PlayStation version but it was never released in the US. The story is pretty much the same but the graphics are improved along with the addition of a new chapter, dungeon, and a boss.

    As the title suggests, this game is split into chapters. The first few chapters have you learning the back stories of random people who will unite with the hero and save the world from domination by monsters. The characters include various walks of life including a castle guard, an overweight merchant, a tomboy princess, and twin sisters who are avenging the death of their father. Each party member offers a different skill set including magic, healing, and sheer strength. One party member can tell fortunes and use tarot cards as a weapon.

    Highlights:

     

    Highlights: Fun game play with good character development  and side stories.

    Weaknesses: Multiplayer is limited to recruiting people to a town via wireless connection. That’s it.

    Moral Warnings: Violence, revenge, magic and tarot card use.

    Once you get to know all of the characters, they will all unite with the hero in chapter five and defeat Psaro the manslayer in his most powerful form. Once Psaro is defeated, the original game is over and you’ll see an ending sequence. If you load your newly saved game, you can defeat another evil boss. The ending is mostly the same but there are some differences.

    The hero is a byproduct of forbidden love. The main protagonist is called Hero, he\'s both half-human and half-Zenithian, an angelic race that lives in a sky castle. In order to get the help of the Zeninthian dragon, you have to gather all of the Zenithian equipment needed to ascend into the skies. Besides this undertaking there’s tons of side quests and dungeons to explore. There are legendary magical staffs and swords to be found and they are definitely worth looking into. There are mini-medals scattered around the world and you can redeem them for nice equipment on an island castle called Mikikin’s Dominion.

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

     

    Game Score: 86%

    Game Play: 16/20

    Graphics: 9/10

    Sound: 8/10

    Stability: 5/5

    Controls/Interface: 5/5

     

     

    Moral Score:73%

    Violence:  2/10

     

    Language: 10/10

     

    Sexual Content: 10/10

     

    Occult Supernatural: 6/10

    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 8.5/10

     

     

    You can travel by foot, wagon, ship and eventually, by hot air balloon. The last three methods are available after completing quests. You don’t just get handed a wagon, boat or a hot air balloon. As you travel, time progresses and you’ll see unique monsters and get different NPC dialogues during the night.

    Dragon Quest IV  plays out like many other classic RPGs. The random battles are pretty straight forward, and you can control the actions of your main characters. There are some temporary alliances and these party members have a mind of their own. You can tell your party to flee, defend, attack or use magic. If the enemy you told a person to attack is gone, they will automatically select another monster to attack.  When a battle is won, experience, gold, and sometimes a treasure chest is left behind.  When enough experience points are accumulated, a character levels up. The attributes and spells are automatically adjusted so there is no customization there. The only way you can impact your stats directly is by consuming seeds of magic, life, agility, strength, etc. The items you equip also impact your stats. Be careful, some items are cursed and you can’t remove them without the help of the church.

    The church is where you save your games or record a confession as the game calls it. There is an option to quick save, but you have to load this up to resume your game. It replaces your save file so don’t depend on it as a backup or a duplicate.

    Graphically, this game is very unique. The game appears to be 2D and has a colorful painted look to it. There are 3D elements as you can rotate your view using the L and R triggers. This comes in handy when you’re exploring dungeons. In battle the graphics are in 2D but the enemies animate as they attack you and the magical effects add a little eye candy.

    The background music is pleasant to listen to, but the speakers on the DS don\'t do it justice, so I would recommend using headphones to fully enjoy it. And while there is no voice-acting, the sound effects for both enemies and magic attacks are very fitting and well-done.

    When it comes to appropriateness there are some issues worth mentioning. There is fighting and violence including cold blooded murder and female sacrifices. Some of the characters in your party are fighting to avenge lost loved ones. Magic use is unavoidable and there are some instances of fortune telling. One character can use tarot cards as a weapon.

    Those issues aside, Dragon’s Quest IV is a great addition to the series. The character development is well thought out and there are some touching moments, especially at the end. I haven’t played the NES version but going from Dragon Quest IX to this, I miss the ability to see the enemies roaming around. The last few bosses are fairly challenging and will require some level grinding to defeat them. All in all I spent over forty hours playing the main storyline and getting some side quest weapons. I didn’t bother with the multiplayer feature; I can care less about populating a town with random people. If you don’t mind the appropriateness issues and lack of decent multiplayer, I recommend checking this game out.

     

  • Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (DS)
    Developed By: Level-5, Square Enix
    Published By: Square Enix, Nintendo
    Release Date: July 2010
    Available On: Nintendo DS
    ESRB Rating: 10+
    Genre: RPG
    Single/Multiplayer
    Price: $35
    (Amazon affiliate link)

    It’s been a while since I played a true Dragon Quest game.  After playing Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime I wanted to go back and pick up where I left off since Dragon Warrior 3.  Yes, I’m dating myself - I last played Dragon Warrior 1-3 on the NES.  Fortunately, with Dragon Quest IX, the formula is still pretty simple and many familiar enemies and relics await your arrival.  The storyline is unique so you don’t have to play the previous eight games to enjoy this one.  There are two worlds, the celestian world and the mortal world.  The angelic celestians protect the mortals and are assigned to specific towns to watch over.  Without giving away too much of the story, the premise is that both worlds are in danger and you must prove that the mortals are worthy of being allowed to live. 

    The game starts with your mentor, Aquila, showing you the ropes of being a town guardian.  The mortals cannot see celestians but believe in them through answered prayer.  When you help them, they will give thanks thus creating Benevolence.  In turn, you collect this Benevolence and offer it to the World Tree named Yggdrasil.   There’s much more to do in the game besides answering prayers.  Like many RPGs, you have to explore, talk to everyone, and fight lots of enemies for experience and gold.   I like the fact that the enemies are no longer hidden and it makes it easier to avoid or target specific enemies. 

    Later in the game you get to set your vocation.  By default I was a minstrel which is a pretty well rounded character.  You can also be a Mage, Martial Artist, Warrior, Thief, or a Priest.  If you’re unhappy with your selection, you can change it again and keep your skill points, but you’ll be back at level one.  Don’t worry; it doesn’t take long to regain levels again.  To assist you in your battles, you can have up to three friends in your party.  You can design your own characters or go with the token Mage, Priest and Martial Artist.
    Highlights:

    Strong Points:Simple and fun game play, lots of online content, no random battles
    Weak Points:
    Some may find it too easy
    Moral Warnings:
    There’s violence, magic use, nature and goddess worship

    Quests are a big part of this game and usually have good rewards.  There\'s story line quests and side quests that you can accept by talking to the villagers.  You\'re limited to a certain number of open quests; fortunately you can later decline doing them.  More quests are available via wireless download.  In fact, many of the DS features are utilized in this game.  You can use the stylus to move around, but I preferred using the regular controls.  The top screen displays the map and battle animations.  The bottom screen shows your characters moving around and is where you control them in battle.

    The battle system can be as easy or as complex as you want it to be.  You can manage your party by having them be in the front or in the back for less chance of being attacked.   The preset AI attack styles are nice and include modes such as “No Mercy, Fight Wisely, Focus on Healing, and Use no MP (magic points)”.  These presets are great for hunting for gold and experience but when it comes to boss battles, I highly recommend controlling all of the party members manually.

    When you’re in battle you can attack, try to flee, defend, analyze your foes, or use an item, ability, or a coup de grace.  A coupe de grace is an extraordinary attack typically granted after you take a huge hit.  For example, a warrior can get a guaranteed critical hit, a mage gets to use spells without using MP, and priests can summon angels to heal the whole party. Each class has their own unique coup de grace and abilities.
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence:  6.5/10
    Language: 10/10
    Sexual Content: 6.5
    Occult/Supernatural: 4/10
    -3 for magic use
    -3 for false religion references
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10
    +3 for a good moral lesson

    When a character levels up, points are automatically assigned to attributes like strength, agility, magic, health, and so on.  The skill points, on the other hand, are assigned manually.  Each class has its own shared and unique skill abilities.  The skills are typically weapon specific but there are shield skills and class skills too.  If you max out a skill, it will go with you if you change vocations.

    The world is pretty big and the monsters get harder as you venture onward.  There are many towns and the best way to replenish magic points is to stay at an inn.  The further out the town, the more expensive the stay at the inn is.  Make sure you visit each armor and weapon store to see if they have better weapons and armor than what you’re wearing.  The better the gear, the more expensive it will be.  The best way to upgrade your equipment is through alchemy.  As you explore, make sure you keep an eye out for shimmering objects to collect and alchemize.

    The graphics appear to be 3D and I like how the battle backdrops are unique for each area that you are in.  The enemies bring back memories and there are many familiar faces and even bosses from previous games make an appearance.  There’s lots of variety, but many of the same models are re-used but with a different name and color palette.  When you\'re in battle you\'ll see the enemy\'s attack animations and there\'s plenty of eye candy when it comes to magic use.  The characters in this game are totally customizable by setting your eye color and hair styles.  When you change your clothes and armor, your character will reflect the changes made.  Some of the outfits can be a bit skimpy as you’ll run into belly dancers in some towns.

    Other appropriateness issues include violence and magic used in battles.  Magic use is pretty inevitable if you want to survive.  There are goddesses and nature worship and many references to ghosts and the undead.  Some items and trinkets you can buy boast of satanic power.  To offset the negatives, I can say that the story is uplifting and ultimately is about redemption.  

    The music in this game is pleasant to listen to and I have caught my kids humming along with it.  Some of the music is identical from previous games; for example, the game saving jingle at the church is the same.  There is no voice acting, but the battles sound effects are great.  

    There is a ton of replay ability, even after you beat the main quest.  You can travel to other player’s games and play in their world.  There’s a mode called Tag mode where you can share treasure maps with other players.  These treasure maps often have good loot and tough bosses to fight at the end.  There have been events at major retailers offering exclusive maps to players bringing in their DS’s with the Tag mode enabled.  Dragon Quest IX also has a store that offers exclusive online content if you have a Wi-Fi connection.

    If you’re new to Dragon Quest or a veteran, this game is definitely a worthy purchase.  Some may find it easy but I found the final boss and the Treasure map bosses to be quite challenging.  There’s plenty to do between the main story, alchemizing unique items, and treasure hunting.  I have easily spent forty hours playing this and there’s so much more I can do.  You’ll definitely get your money worth if you don’t mind the magic and false religious concepts.

  • Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2)

    Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is the latest installment in Square Enix's venerable series of Role Playing Games. Dragon Quest is actually one of Japan's most popular game series, but for one reason or another it has not been as successful on Western shores (where until this iteration the series has been known as Dragon Warrior). There is a whole lot here for RPG fans to like as long as they don't mind the content typical of a Teen-rated RPG and some unusual religious overtones. Casual gamers might want to test the waters first because, though the cel-shaded graphics and top-notch production values are modern, the actual game play is, for better or worse, old school to the core.

    Story:

    The story is relatively simple throughout. Cookie-cutter RPG villain no. 302 has stolen a magical staff and has used it to reduce Trodain Castle to ruins and turn the king and the princess into inhuman creatures while he was at it. The mute main character (the player names him at the beginning) was the only person to escape the attack unharmed and it is up to him to journey with the king find a way to reverse the curse. Along the way other characters that have their own reasons for taking the bad guy down will join the party.

    There is a twist or two that change things up a little bit along the way, but the story is always very straight forward. This isn't a game like Final Fantasy or Xenosaga that is full of convoluted political intrigue and complicated interpersonal relationships, but it is charming in its simplicity. The characters are one-dimensional but likable, especially the titular cursed king who, with a voice that is something like Grover's with a British accent, always manages to be amusing; it is too bad he isn't a playable character. Anyway, fans of modern RPGs who are expecting a brilliant story probably won't be satisfied, but at least that means the cut scenes aren't billions of hours long.

    Game Play:

    Dragon Quest VIII plays much like any other traditional Japanese RPG. The heros go from town to town solving the problems of every stranger they meet, fight random battles for gold and experience, and explore caverns and ruins on their way to defeating the big boss. If something sets DQVIII apart, it is scale. The streaming overworld is one of the biggest I have ever experienced in an RPG. There are enough mountains to climb, forests to hike through, and caves to delve into to make the player feel like s/he is exploring real continents and not man-made game environments. Sometimes the size of the world seemed overwhelming to me, but once I realized that there is no real need to visit every place in order it became liberating. The frequency of random battles makes being absorbed into the exploration element somewhat difficult at times, but as the characters learn spells to reduce the encounter rate and obtain faster means of transportation the player will probably find himself or herself purposely going as far off the beaten path as possible to see new sights and find hidden treasures. Dungeons are simply designed and for the most part easy to navigate with the help of a map, and the monotony of walking around and fighting random battles is occasionally broken up by simple puzzles.

    The battles themselves are like any old school RPG; the player gives commands to the party members through a menu system and they and the enemies take turns hitting each other. The system is uncomplicated but deep in the sense that you gain a whole bunch of special attacks, spells, and abilities to use, and every one of them is useful. A character can also spend a turn to 'psych up' to make his or her next attack more powerful. This technique becomes vital in the more difficult battles. Sometimes the fighting can get repetitive, but the higher-than-average level of challenge keeps it from getting outright boring. It takes a long time to level up in this game, so good tactics will get the player through the fights faster than gaining a lot of experience will. Leveling up finally occurs, the player is treated to a refreshingly simple upgrade system. Besides the usual increase in hit points, magic, etc, a couple points are given to allocate among a few different skills which are unique to each character. It isn't as deep as the customization in some other, more modern RPGs, but it gets the job done. When the game suffers, it does so because in being so old school it ignores the conveniences of modern RPGs when there is no reason to. The save system is the biggest flaw. Progress can only be saved by going into a town and confessing to a priest of the 'Almighty Goddess'. There are no save points in dungeons or even in the field, and I can't begin to guess why. Also, managing items in the in-game menus is a pain. Characters can only use items in battle which are placed in their own limited inventories, which is an unnecessary hassle compared to most RPGs where all characters draw their items from a communal pool. Other than that the interface works well and the game is glitch free.

    There is a lot of game play here. Taking my time (but not being overly meticulous), it took me nearly 80 hours to make it to the end credits. If I tried to complete the Pokemon-esque battle arena mini game, find all hidden medals, get the biggest prizes at the casino, create the best weapons and items using the alchemy pot, and complete every optional dungeon, then that number might get closer to 100.

    Sound:

    For the American release, DQVIII was given an entirely new orchestral soundtrack, and it is great. The majestic score adds an epic flavor to the experience. After 80 hours some of the songs, especially the out-of-place battle theme, get repetitive; however, sweet new melodies are added often enough to make this only a minor annoyance. Also new to the American version is voice acting. Nearly every character has a British accent of some sort. A lot of respect has to be given to whoever localized this game because I doubt most Japanese people know the difference between Irish and *****ney accents and the dialects become an integral part of the game's character. The writing takes advantage of characters' voices too, so if someone has trouble pronouncing the letter 'R' you can bet that he will be given lines with a lot of them. With all this fun added to the game by the localization team it is no wonder that it took so many months to bring the game to North America.

    Graphics:

    The graphics are cel-shaded, so the game looks like a hand-drawn anime cartoon. Often graphics done in this style seem lifeless and flat but the experienced developers at Level 5 have put done a good job of creating the illusion of life in the environments with subtle visual effects and absolutely incredible detail. My breath was taken away by some of the massive cathedrals and monuments in the game world. I just wish the faces on the characters had some real animation and depth. There is some pop up too, which is a shame because in a game with environments this open it would have been great to be able to see forever. The characters and monsters were all designer by Akira Toriyama, whom you may know as the creator of Dragon Ball, so that is the style one can expect. The player characters are all distinctive, but the models for the people in the towns are recycled much too often. The monster designs are fun and cutesy; some were so cute that I felt bad killing them at times.

    Appropriateness

    The ESRB rated Dragon Quest VIII TEEN for Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Simulated Gambling, Mild Language, and Suggestive Themes.

    Violence:

    RPG Violence (This is where you enter a command and watch it happen Ex. Final Fantasy) (-3 pts) The violence here is pretty tame even by RPG standards. There is no blood or gore; the cute monsters simply disappear when they die. The player never kills a human being in battle.

    Language:

    No Foul Language (-0 pts) Sexual references are made throughout the game. (-3.5 pts) I don't remember any bad words myself, but the ESRB label says that there is 'Mild Language' (whatever that means) so there might be something in there that I missed. Jessica, the female playable character, has an upgradeable skill called 'Sex Appeal' which grants her skills such as blowing kisses or fondling herself to distract enemies. This type of thing is the main reason why I am hesitant to recommend this game to Children.

    Sexual Content:

    Characters clothing is sexy or accentuates their sexuality (Ex. tight clothing or low cleavage) (-1.5 pts) If Jessica had half of an inch more cleavage, then this game would be rated M. Some other female characters also wear skimpy outfits. These characters are probably not realistic enough to incite overwhelming lust, but if you play this game expect to be looking at cartoon cleavage throughout.

    Occult/Supernatural:

    Game takes place in an environment with minor occult references. (-3 pts) Fairy tale type magic is used in game by player. (-1.5 pts) Nearly every character in DQVIII reveres the Goddess, and this religion is a major part of the environment and plays a minor to medium role in the story. The Goddess herself doesn't actually appear, but the presence of the church that worships her is very strong. Besides the gender of the deity, this institution resembles the Roman Catholic Church complete with priests, nuns, cathedrals and even knights templar. In order to save the game you must confess to a priest of the Goddess. Some enemies, especially the final boss, are demonic in appearance but I do not think the word 'demon' is ever used. They aren't frightening because like all monsters in this game they are cartoonish and somewhat comical looking. It should be noted that the main villain's MO is to possess people. Also, one boss can only be beaten by praying to a magical staff. These things and the Goddess religion aren't necessarily 'occult' in the technical sense, but they are likely to bother many Christian gamers. Magic is used in this game much like in any other fantasy RPG. Spells may produce fireballs, cure poison, kill enemies, or resurrect dead allies.

    Cultural/Moral/Ethical:

    There are no issues in this category to speak of.

    Conclusion:

    A lot of this game's content may offend or embarrass many people. If the issues outlined above don't seem like a big deal, then Dragon Quest VIII is a great RPG for hardcore fans of the genre to spend hours on. The slow pace and archaic game mechanics might frustrate casual fans, but for those who take the time to get lost in this giant world will find the rewards worth while. Also, the game comes with a playable demo of Final Fantasy XII, which I will not review here. It isn't worth buying this game just for the demo, but it is a nice bonus for fans of Square Enix's other big RPG franchise.

    Gameplay: 17/20
    Controls/Interface: 4/5
    Sound: 9/10
    Graphics: 9/10
    Stability: 5/5
    Total: 44

    Violence: 7/10
    Language: 6.5/10
    Sexual Content: 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10
    Total: 37.5

    Final Score: 81.5

  • Dragon Warrior 7: Warriors of Eden (PS1)

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    Game Info:

    Dragon Warrior 7: Warriors of Eden
    Developed By: Heartbeat, ArtePiazza
    Published By: Enix
    Release Date: November 1, 2001
    Available on: PlayStation 1
    ESRN Rating: T
    MSRP: $35 used

    The Dragon Warrior series is known for expansive worlds and great storytelling, but the sheer number of titles may be overwhelming for newcomers. Thankfully, with an independent story, Dragon Warrior 7: Warriors of Eden makes it easy for anyone to jump into the Dragon Warrior series and doesn't require you to be familiar with the franchise to enjoy it. There are many returning features like collecting mini medals and the ability to change classes, but the story, characters and the world are brand new.

    You begin the game by naming your character, who also happens to be the son of the best fisherman around.  You’re nearly of age to join your father when destiny decides it has other plans for your young hero. Together with your best friends, the neighborhood girl Maribel and the prince of the next town over, Kiefer, you explore the peaceful land of Eden, a continent alone on a seemingly endless ocean. But a nearby ancient ruin reveals a portal to lands lost in time.

    As you talk to people and explore your surroundings, you’ll collect pieces of shards, that when combined, will open up a portal to a land in the past in need of saving. If you can successfully save the citizens from certain doom, their ancestors are suddenly alive and well in the present. Although some towns need more saving than others, as one town required intervention three times!   These quests vary from saving a town from a volcanic eruption, to stopping a mechanical army from destroying another.   Some of the towns are being tormented by a tough enemy that you will have to deal with in order to save them.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Over 110 hours of game play, not including the bonus engines.
    Weak Points: No multiplayer or re-releases on newer platforms.
    Moral Warnings: Swearing, violence and sexual references.

    The boss battles are the same as normal ones with the exception of different background music.  The random battles are pretty straight forward as you direct your party to attack, defend, or use magic.  You may be able to flee from regular battles, but not from boss battles.  If you die, half of your gold will be taken and only the main character will be revived at the last church you saved at.  When a battle is won, experience, gold, and sometimes a treasure chest is left behind. When enough experience points are accumulated, a character levels up, though attributes and spells are automatically adjusted, leaving little room for customization in that regard. The only way you can impact your stats directly is by consuming seeds of magic, life, agility, resilience, and strength.  Most weapons increase your attack attribute; however, there are a few that can be used in battle as a tool.  Some weapons are cursed, and if you equip them, they may negatively impact your stats.  

    Some of the magical attacks have really neat graphical effects and eye candy.  The explosions, wind, water, and fire attacks are always fun to watch.  Being the target of those attacks is another story.  The towns and dungeons have a  3D over view  and you can rotate to get a better viewing angle to spot those treasure chests that are not in the default field of vision.  These graphics are on par with the Nintendo DS releases of Dragon Quest IV, V, and VI.  

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

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 66%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Dragon Warrior 7: Warriors of Eden is the first Dragon Warrior game to be released on a Sony platform.  While the Nintendo releases had a couple of ”d words” in them, this game had them more frequently and one of the bosses calls your party b**tards.  Violence is a given, but it’s not gory or violent.  One of the towns has a kid being bullied and your party helps intervene.  You’ll make many friends, and some of them have romantic implications.  There are sexual references, including the ability for your character to get "puff-puff” for good luck at the casino.  As you progress in the story, you will need the help of the four guardian spirits (aqua, flame, terra, and wind) to defeat the powerful evil spirit.  To gain the help of the wind spirit, you must agree to send her five cute guys a year.  It goes without saying that a few of the characters you encounter are notably promiscuous.  

    Those issues aside, I like how this game offers you choices and exposes the depravity and redemption of humanity in general.  It even shows you the fallibility of the spirits that these people worship.   There are moments in this game where you will be put on the spot and asked to make a choice on how to save a village.  Sometimes the people asking you have impure motives and you have to look at the situation from multiple perspectives to uncover the truth.  

    As you can imagine, the character development is great and the story being told is a memorable one.  Since the boss battles get progressively harder, there will be times where grinding sessions will be required to be prepared for the upcoming battles.  A necessary evil for many RPG games out there and this game is no exception.  If you are a fan of the Dragon Quest/Warrior series this is a very long and great addition to the series.  Just keep in mind that it’s not as family friendly as the Nintendo offerings.

     
  • Dragon's Crown (Vita)

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    Game Info:

    Dragon's Crown
    Developed by: Vanillaware
    Published by: Atlus
    Release Date: August 6th, 2013
    Available on: PS3, Vita (reviewed)
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of Players: single-player, four player multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Teen for violence, alcohol and tobacco use, partial nudity and suggestive themes
    Price: $50 for PS3 version, $40 for Vita
    (Amazon affiliate link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review! 

    The Kingdom of Hydeland is in turmoil as the king has gone missing. To make matters worse, magic users have been seeking out a legendary artifact called the dragon's crown to awaken the ancient dragon.  With monster attacks on the rise, the adventurer's guild and royal family have plenty of tasks for you to complete.   Are you up to the challenge?

    When you first start the game you will have to choose your character class. Since some are easier to play than others, the game recommends starting off with a brawny class like the amazon, warrior or dwarf.  You can also choose the sorceress, mage, or ranger.  Each class has unique abilities, fighting styles and equipment.  As you fight and gain experience you will also earn skill points that can be assigned to common or class specific abilities.  

    Some of the abilities include new attack moves, more health, or inventory space.  Dragon's Crown combines the action of 2D side scrolling brawlers with the allure of finding hidden treasures deep within dungeons and towers.  While there are only ten areas, there are multiple paths with a boss waiting at the end of each of them.  I like the humor of this game as one of the boss' is from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun combination of brawler and dungeon crawler gameplay.  
    Weak Points: Multiplayer is not available until the initial single player quests are completed.
    Moral Warnings: Like many RPGs there is violence and magic use. The female characters in this game suffer from abnormally large breasts, thighs, and buttocks.  They are also dressed so provocatively that a sneeze could cause a wardrobe malfunction.  The males of course are adequately covered and are without delusional enhancements.

    As you accept quests and explore new areas you encounter many enemies including orcs, vampires, lizard men, skeletons, evil mages and of course dragons.  They often drop coins after their demise.  There are also treasure chests and bones of fallen adventurers to be looted.  You can either revive the bones to get a NPC party member or you can bury them for a random treasure.  

    The first few quests are solo as you learn the game mechanics and prove your worth to the adventurer's guild and royal family.  Once you're at the point of collecting the nine talisman to battle the ancient dragon, you can play alongside NPCs, local friends, or random people online.  The boss' hit points go up the bigger the party is.  Some of the bosses I fought solo to make it easier on myself.  Some of the adventurer's guild quests require you to fight on your own as well. To do that you must disable joining.  If you have join enabled and are on the network, online players may hop into your party at any time.  It should come as no surprise that in order to play online, your system has to have the current firmware.  

    I never had any trouble finding anyone online to play with.  There is no chat and the only way to interact is you use your hand pointer.  When there are multiple dungeon paths, the majority vote wins.   Joining a random game is always fun and if the other players are higher level you may get even better loot.  I once picked up the bones of a level 99 adventurer; I didn't have the 999,999 gold to revive them though.  

    Gold comes and goes in this game pretty fast.  After you raid a dungeon you can either appraise (for a price) or just sell an item outright.  You cannot use an item until it has been appraised though.  Fortunately each item is assigned a rank form E (worst) to S (best) so anything C or lower I typically sold without bothering to appraise it.  As your character takes damage their equipment deteriorates or breaks altogether.  If you're carrying multiple bags of items you can switch equipment at the dungeon crossroads.   Anything damaged or broken can be repaired in town for a price.

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

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

    Morality Score - 64%%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 2.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Magic runes play a big part of this game no matter what class you play as.  There are rune markings on many of the dungeon walls and if you combine those with the runes your purchase, you can conjure up temporary weapons, buffs, hidden treasure, healing circles or an extra life.   You start off with three lives with the option to pay and pray for an extra one at the temple.  When those lives are exhausted, you can pay again and again until you can no longer afford the increasing revival rates.  When you're out of money and lives you're taken back into town and revived by a friend.

    Violence and magic use is a given in role playing games.  What surprised me with these titles was the blatant sexualizing of females.  The Amazon warrior I played was incredibly buffed with thunder thighs and a thong suit.  I mean who would seriously fight an ancient dragon wearing a thong bikini?  The sorceress was even worse with her double J bust size and a lace dress that was extremely low cut.  It gets even worse.  In the dungeons I encountered a mermaid with a human buttocks, a wounded female monk warrior spread eagle with her chastity belt holes exposed, and lastly, a bound attractive female spirit wearing a thin semi transparent outfit.  This artwork was extremely one sided; granted the warrior and dwarf classes were muscular like the Amazon warrior, but their groin area was realistic and not jiggling as they walked. 

    It's a real shame since the 2D artwork in this game is incredibly detailed and well done.  Unfortunately, they put too much detail into the females.  I would not recommend this game to anybody who is struggling with pornography or lust.  The sound and voice acting is top notch as well.  The gameplay is solid and had it not been for the sexual fantasy art, I would recommend this game to any RPG or brawler gamer out there.  

     

     

  • Dungeon Souls (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Dungeon Souls
    Developed by: Lamina Studios, Mike Studios
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Release Date: December 2, 2016
    Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux, SteamOS
    Genre: Rogue-like
    Number of Players: Single Player game
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Price: $12.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    *Advertising disclosure* - After this review was posted, Black Shell Media became an advertising partner.  This review is not influenced by this relationship.

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

    Skill level is a hard thing to talk about with game reviews. I always try to avoid using the phrase casual gamer. Who am I to tell someone they aren't good enough for a game? Yet at the same time certain games are not meant for everyone. Some people have massive backlogs simply due to the fact there are certain games we just couldn't beat. I have a few of those myself (looking at you FTL: Faster Than Light). So now we have a game that is supposedly the Dark Souls of rogue-like games. Dungeon Souls certainly lived up to that nickname in my book.

    Dungeon Souls takes you through a fearsome dungeon. Souls are trapped and a select few are reborn with a chance at earning freedom if they conquer the dungeon. You choose from classes such as the barbarian, thief or ranger as well as a medley of unlockable classes. Each class has its own unique abilities; some classes focus on melee attacks, some on magic, some on pure ranged combat.

    Dungeon Souls
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A well thought out procedurally generated game with plenty of content to keep you going.
    Weak Points: This game has a lack of world building and story.
    Moral Warnings: A rather dark game with eternal punishment themes. Some may compare this to Hell.

    To progress through the stages you have to activate a varying number of summoning circles in each level. Once you have defeated the monsters at each summoning circle an exit portal will open up to the next stage. You only have a limited time to escape to the next stage before the Redeemer ends your life quickly. Don't try to rush through every stage as the gold you earn can be spent on shops, or you may find a golden or silver key to open special chests that contain powerful passive items. Take too long and the Redeemer will come for you even if you're not finished with the stage. After every couple of levels you will face challenging bosses from skeleton kings, frozen golems, and Merlin. If you die, you will have to start over without any items or upgrades. However, materials you collect such as bones, metal, and magic dust can be used in the arcane forge to craft new weapons and items for your favorite classes to make them stronger.

    The challenge certainly lives up to its nickname. Enemies are abundant and constant, but never feel like they are just meant to completely overwhelm you. You also feel like you get upgraded when you pick up an item. In these rogue-like games too often do you find that certain items are useless no matter which way you look at it. Making items in the Arcane forge can feel like a bit of a chore due to the amount of materials some of these recipes require. However, the game doesn't make you feel like they are needed for meaningful progression. You will die so don't expect to beat this game within a few hours. Some gamers might find such challenge as a deal breaker and may take long breaks from playing. Many people may never finish the game at all.

    Dungeon Souls

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

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    The biggest notable con I have with this game is a lack of story. The game doesn't need it, but, imagination doesn't always carry interest. Why is each character trapped in the dungeon in the first place? This is one of the many questions I know I won't get answered. The only notable story bits I have come across is by appearing in a secret location when trying to find Merlin that I won't spoil. Story doesn't have to be around to make a good game, but you can develop the story off the back of a good game. Be warned this game has a notable memory bug where if you horde two million coins the game will crash on you and reset all progress. Controller support is lacking in this game as well; the character feels much harder to maneuver with a controller. 

    Morality comes from the few bits of story you get. You're playing as mysterious individuals whose souls are trapped in a deadly dungeon. Other than the more obvious occult themes, the violence is overexaggerated and extremely gory for an old 8-bit style game. With a lack of story elements it may not be clear what the developer was going for theme wise in certain moments.

    Dungeon Souls will frustrate you, anger you, and challenge your skills to the core. Rise up to the challenge and beat it, gamers! Or let it become another game in your backlog. The choice is yours. (Unless it erases all your progress.)

     

  • Endless Legend (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Endless Legend
    Developed By: AMPLITUDE Studios
    Published By: SEGA (currently), Iceberg Interactive (previously)
    Released: September 18, 2014
    Available On: iOS, Windows
    Genre: RPG, Strategy
    PEGI Rating: PEGI 12 for Everyone 12 and older: Violence, Online Gameplay
    Number of Players: 1 offline, 8 online 
    Price: $34.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Released a couple years ago, Endless Legend is a civilization builder of fantastical proportions. Set on the planet Auriga, players take control of one of the factions struggling to survive. On this world are all kinds of wonders waiting to be discovered but be careful, not all of them are friendly, nor a native of Auriga. Can you lead your faction of zombie bugs, crashed space marines, or mechanical cultists to victory or will you become another footnote in the history of Auriga?

    In Endless Legend you take control of one of the different factions in the game (or you can make your own faction using different traits) and try and lead them to one of the various victory conditions. Each faction has different traits that help make certain victory conditions easier to attain than others. While this might sound very limiting in how you can play the different factions it does allow for a lot of player choice. A fair bit of how the player will play their faction is decided by what regions the player settle with their cities. Different regions have different resources the player can collect as well as different minor factions that can be assimilated into the empire. 

    Endless Legend lets the player make many decisions of how to run their empire. The biggest choice is what regions to settle. Each region has its own set of riches and it is up to the player to decide if it is a good idea to settle there. There are five main resources in the game; food, industry, dust, science, and influence; and each one is used in different ways. Different parts of the map have different yields for each of those resources so you’ll have to pick what is most important for how you are playing when you go to expand. You might also settle a city to gain access to a specific strategic resource (used to equip your military as well as build special building), luxury resource (used to give a buff to your empire), or minor faction (to gain their empire boost and / or gain access to their specific military unit). All of these are things that go into deciding how to expand your empire.

    In this game each faction has access to three unique military units. Each faction has a different selection of units, each of one of the five classes of units in the game. The player can choose how to equip these units. Different types of equipment give different stat boosts as well as cost different amounts. They also can give different skills for the units that can help them both in and out of battle. Units can be combined into armies that are used to explore the world and to attack enemy armies. When your army attacks an enemy you are taken to a scene showing you the possible outcome of the battle and different ways to approach the battle. If you choose to manually control the battle and not go auto-combat you’ll be taken to selection of the map your units were on before the battle. In this screen you control your units in turn-based combat on the part of the map it gave you. At the beginning of your turn you can set up what you want your units to do and then they will then try and carry it out. I say try because the enemy also planned out their turn and they will be carrying it out with your units. This can sometimes lead to weird situations where your units end up taking a long route to get to an enemy or moving to a point where they can no longer attack an enemy.

    One thing I do really enjoy about this game is its research tree. All of the different techs in this game are organized into eras. In order to approach into the next research era you simply have to research a certain number of techs from any previous era. This is really useful for allowing you to spend less time researching things you will not need as much. I also really like the idea that some techs can’t be unlocked unless you complete certain quests. It feels really special to get a tech that way.

    Endless Legend
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique fantasy setting; unique factions and allows the player to create their own factions; randomized maps; allows for many different ways to achieve victory; clean UI; allows players in a multiplayer game to use the host’s dlcs.
    Weak Points: Lots of information getting presented to the player; all of the art in this game can make it hard to see the finer details; when playing multiplayer games, turns can take a long time to end.
    Moral Warnings: Some tactical-styled RPG violence; use of magic including some darker things like human sacrifices; some minor pieces of revealing clothing.

    Managing a city is also something that is really interesting. When you go into your cities you are actually able to control what all of the populations focus on. If you need extra dust just put all of your pops on the dust focus. It can really help give your cities that extra umph in the direction you need them to be heading. This is especially good during the dark season (winter) when all of your city yields get lowered. I also like the idea of appointing a hero to lead your city. 

    Heroes are another interesting thing added to this game. Heroes are basically really good military units. Each player starts off with a single hero under their control. Each starting hero is a hero from that player’s own faction but every player does get the choice of later being able to recruit heroes from other factions. Each hero can be equipped just like a regular soldier would but they also come with their own skill trees that can be used to give each hero some nice bonuses. Every hero can be sent to lead an army, acting as a really powerful unit, or they can be sent to a city where they will act as governor but will take part in any fights involving that city. My only real complaint about heroes is that each of them has a set story and are pretty unique and there are only a handful per faction. The way the game gets around that is by throwing in “relatives” of them. For instance if you had Bob, somebody else could get Bob the 2nd and so forth. That is a minor complaint but it does make the very special heroes fell less special.

    For a game about running an empire it has a fair bit of story. Each different faction has their own backstory and questline to expand on that story. The player can also get additional quests by exploring ruins and parleying with minor faction villages. In addition to that, there is also a fair bit of story accompanying all the research in the research tree. The story is also pretty interesting. One of the factions in this game, the Vaulters, is basically crashed space marines. Many years ago their ship crashed onto the planet and it went deep underground. They lived there for many years until they finally decided to come back to the surface. Another faction, the Broken Lords, used to be a race of proud, chivalrous knights until something happened that wound up with their bodies being fused with dust. Now, they are basically vampires that must feed upon dust in order to survive. Their questline is all about trying to stay the same group of honorable people they were before the transformation. It’s all this backstory that makes it feel very lively when most other similar games don’t.

    Overall the audio is pretty good in this game. Most of the tracks are fantasy-styled background music. I normally find the music very pleasant to listen to but it is definitely not the kind of music one would download to listen to later. The art in this game is also very pretty. Everything is very detailed although this can lead sometimes to the map looking very cluttered when you are zoomed in. The most outstanding part of the art design would have to be the UI. The UI is very clean and easy to read and it can even be resized in the menu if you are having a hard time reading everything. It is a good thing that it is fairly easy to read because it does have a lot of information to present you with. 

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 81%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 8.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    The controls are also pretty decent. Most, if not all, things in the game can be controlled by just the mouse. The game is also pretty stable. I haven’t had any crashes and I’ve encountered no bugs. The game can take a long time to load and, if you are a warmonger like me, the game can really start to take a little bit of time to load the next turn if you control around ten cities. I also have not had any problems getting the multiplayer to work. The multiplayer is also very generous by requiring only the host to have any of the dlcs in order for all the people playing to use them. The only bad thing about the multiplayer is that sometimes the turns can take a fair bit of time. This happens when somebody goes into manual combat. It can sometimes take around five minutes for them to finish the battle and that is time were the other players just have to sit and wait.

    In addition to all that the base game offers Endless Legend also offers a selection of DLCs.

    Guardians: Adds into the game guardian super units as well as legendary deeds, buildings, and new competitive and cooperative quests. $9.99

    Shadows: Adds to the game an espionage system as well as a new faction called the Forgotten that heavily relies on the espionage system. $12.99

    Echoes of Auriga: Adds into the game seven new soundtracks as well as some new items based on these soundtracks. $2.99

    The Lost Tales: Adds into the game over twenty different quests revolving around the minor factions. $1.99

    Shifters: This DLC revamps the way winter is handled in the game and adds a new resource called pearls as well as introduces a new faction called the Allyai that really benefits from the new winter season and new resource. $12.99

    Tempest: This DLC adds into the game an actual naval component as well as naval regions and the naval faction called the Morgawr. $12.99

    The new factions added to the game are all very unique and take good advantage of the new systems added. The new systems added are also pretty nice and gives the player more options for how to play the game. The Guardians DLC offers some interesting new units and gives the player some medium term goals to try and achieve. The two smaller DLCs, while not adding much, adds some new content that can appear during your game so as to help make each player feel different which is something I greatly appreciate in a game like this. The only DLC that feels like it should have been present in the main game is the Tempest DLC. In the base game, if you are on a map with a lot of ocean it really feels like something is missing. My final thoughts on these DLCs is each dlc is pretty good.

    Morally speaking, this game is very solid. I don’t remember any language coming up but there were some darker things being discussed during some of the faction quests. The game does have a decent degree of fighting and units being killed and cities being burned to the ground but the player is rather removed from the violence happening in this game. Some units simply die by showing their souls / life-force ascending. There are also some instances of the player being able to sacrifice units or population in order to get rewards. There is also a fair bit of magic happening in the game with some of it being elemental-type magic while others are clearly darker in nature. Finally, on the topic of sexual content there really is not as much as one might expect from a fantasy game. There are a few units that have some low-cut tops but that's about the extent of things in this game. 

    In conclusion, Endless Legend is a very solid civilization builder game. The game has a very unique fantasy setting with big differences between the different playable factions. Morally, the game is pretty solid with the main questionable content being its use of different magics, but the biggest reason for not getting this for a young kid being all of the information that has to be digested at one time. Overall, I’d say if you are interested in this genre of game and like a unique fantasy setting, you should probably check this game out.

    -Paul Barnard (Betuor)

     

  • Final Fantasy II (GBA)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Final Fantasy II
    Developed By: Square
    Published By: Square
    Release Date: December 17th, 1988
    ESRB Rating: Teen
    Available On: GBA (version reviewed), PSP, PlayStation, iOS
    Price: $10.00 on LeapTrade

    It’s been my personal goal to play through every Final Fantasy game and I have been playing them in order.  I found the original Final Fantasy fun, but lacking in character development.  Final Fantasy II has improved on that along with revamping the class and leveling system.  While I'm not a fan of the broken leveling system, I found this game more enjoyable than the first.

    Final Fantasy II starts off with four characters: Firion (you), Maria, Guy and Leon.  After your hometown village has been burned down, your party is whooped by Palamecian soldiers and left for dead.  The rebel princess Hilda has rescued most of your party and needs your help in defeating the evil empire.  Leon is missing and nobody knows his whereabouts.  The princess lends you her magician Minwu to temporarily fill that fourth slot, but don’t get too attached to anyone in that fourth slot; it’s quite the revolving door.  

    The princess will be giving your party orders to help strengthen the rebel army and weaken the evil empire.  At first, you’ll be sent to check out towns close by, and later you’ll be asked to explore towns that have to be reached by boat, airship, snow sled, or chocobo.  The chocobo is an ostrich-like bird that can take you to land based towns quickly and without having to worry about fighting enemies along the way.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun game play, character personalities and leveling system.
    Weak Points: Poor translation from the Japanese version. 
    Moral Warnings: Violence, Magic use, evil and undead references.

    Enemies are hidden and they are lurking outside of towns and inside of dungeons. The battles are completely random with the exception of boss battles which are triggered by stepping on key tiles.  When in battle, you have the choice of attacking, using magic, using an item, equipping an item, or fleeing.  If you win the battle you will get some money (Gil), experience, and occasionally some loot.  After you gain enough experience you will level up and your attributes will increase automatically.

    The leveling system is unique this time around.  The more you use a weapon or spell, the more powerful it gets.  If your character takes a lot of damage, their hit points will increase.  If you use magic often, you’ll gain more magic points along with spirit or intelligence depending on the kind of magic you’re using.  

    Magic spells are sold in Magic shops and each town sells a handful of spells.  Each character can learn up to sixteen spells.  It’s a good idea to have every person learn and level up the Cure and Life spells to heal and revive allies.  After those, it’s best to diversify the magic among the characters. Given that you’ll be fighting elemental enemies, they often have a weakness.  For example, fire enemies will be weak to ice spells.

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

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

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - -7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    These enemies often have nasty attacks that can poison you or turn you into stone.  Make sure you visit the item shop and stock up on healing potions, antidotes, and golden needles to cure you from becoming a statue.  Another item worth noting is the cottage that can be set up outdoors to give you a place to rest and replenish your Hit Points (HP) and Magic Points (MP).  Each town has an inn and the lower your mana and health is, the more expensive those inns get.  Don’t worry though: money is not an issue later on in the game.  At first it’s hard to come by, but soon you accumulate enough to stock up on $50,000 elixirs that fully restore health and mana.

    The graphics have been spruced up to SNES quality from the original Japanese NES version.  The dungeon layouts have not changed from the NES release of the game.  There is a new dungeon, called The Soul of Rebirth, exclusive to the GBA re-release.  The Soul of Rebirth dungeon is extremely hard and I didn’t bother completing it.  There are lots of unique monsters and lots of different colored variants.  For example, a green dragon is completely different than a red one.

    The music composed by Nobuo Uematsu is where Final Fantasy really shines.  The towns, shops, caves, and battles have the same music throughout the game.  However, some areas, like The Rebel Castle has its own unique theme song.  The chocobo has a dedicated song too.  The sound effects are decent but I was often listening to the beautiful music instead.

    If you like classic Role Playing Games, Final Fantasy II is worth looking into.  I spent close to forty hours playing the Dawn of Souls remake which includes both Final Fantasy I & II.  Had I completed the Soul of Rebirth dungeon, I could have easily spent a few more hours playing the game.  The only appropriateness issues I saw were fantasy violence and magic being used.  There is also a scene where your character is seduced but nothing is shown.  If you don’t mind those elements, you might want to check this out on your GBA, DS (via GBA slot), PSP, or PlayStation, if you can find a copy.

  • Final Fantasy III (DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Final Fantasy III
    Developed By: Square Enix
    Published By: Square Enix
    Release Date: August 24th, 2006
    Available on: DS, iOS, Android
    Genre: RPG
    Modes: Single player
    ESRB Rating: E 10+

    Final Fantasy III was originally released in Japan in 1990 and the USA didn’t get to experience it until 2006.  The DS version was the first version to feature the updated 3D graphics.  The iOS and Android versions look similar, but the Android version is only available in Japan.  If you’re looking on the virtual console, be warned that the Final Fantasy 3 there is actually Final Fantasy 6 which was released in the US as Final Fantasy 3 originally.  (Confusing I know)  What separates Final Fantasy 3 from the previous entries is the brand new job system.   

    The story begins with four young orphans exploring some ruins after an earthquake struck close to their home town of Ur.  In their travels, they are summoned by the Crystal of Light who imbues them with its power to aide them in defeating the forces of darkness.  In order to defeat the enemy, they must harness the powers of wind, earth, fire and water.  

    These crystals are scattered across various continents that will require canoes and airships to reach them.  You’ll have to explore various caverns and locate towns and people spoken about in folklore.  Of course, when you finally locate the crystal it’s protected by a boss that wants to make sure you’re worthy to harness its power.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay, character personalities and unique job system
    Weak Points: Slower battles and noticeable blank white loading screens
    Moral Warnings: Violence, magic use, tight clothing

    Enemies are hidden and they are lurking outside of towns and inside of caves and dungeons. The battles are completely random with the exception of boss battles which are triggered by stepping on key tiles or by picking up treasure or quest items.  When in battle, you have the choice of attacking, doing a job specific move, using magic, using an item, changing position/equipment, or fleeing.  If you win the battle, you will get some money (Gil), experience, and occasionally some loot.  After you gain enough experience you will level up and your attributes will increase automatically.

    There are two forms of leveling up in this game.  Your character has a base level and a job level.  The more time you spend in your job, the more proficient you become at it.  You can change jobs as you see fit, but there is a cooling off period where your attributes are gimped for a certain number of battles.  At first you will start off as a freelancer that can use basic weapons and both white and black magic.   There are many magic based jobs that master in white, black, and summoning magic.  White mage specializes in restoring/healing magic while the black mage focuses on destructive elemental magic.  Many (but not all) enemies have a weakness to a particular element.  The black belt and monk jobs have no magic points and don’t require any weapons.

    There are a few knight classes that focus on swords and staves.  The onion knight is a special class that is unlocked by sending several in game messages to your friend’s DS codes. You can send messages to AI characters that you meet throughout your adventure.  You will actually get a few replies and possibly unlock a secret quest.    The messaging system is a little tricky to use and sending messages to my husband's system required us both to be online and in it to actually receive messages. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the 3DS’ swap note software that delivers messages to you whether you're online or not.

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls 4/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I was able to play this game on my 3DS just fine. The left trigger zooms in so you can find treasures not seen in the default camera view.  The right trigger brings up the menu.  During battles only one of the screens is utilized but they are both used when you're exploring.  You can save your game anytime when you’re outside.  If you need to save inside of a cave or town, you can use the quick save feature that will resume and delete the temporary save file after your game is loaded.  Closing your DS will put the game into a sleep mode so if you’re in a pinch, that’s always an option.  I’m not sure how that impacts your game play time though.  I put in close to forty three hours and ended my game with level seventy five characters.

    Level seventy five was overkill and I didn’t see a need to grind much further. I’m not saying that there are no rewards for doing so, but my characters had over 6,000 hit points and my physical attackers could easily do 9,999 points of damage in each turn.  The mages are not as powerful, but their healing, buffing and elemental attacks hold their own.  Not to mention that their spells add some visual variety and eye candy to the battles.  

    The graphics are cutesy and even though the characters are adults they look like children in this game. As much as I hate to say it, the main character looks effeminate but the intro movie is well rendered and shows the much needed masculinity for him.  Each job has its own outfit and many of them are appropriate but the Devout’s outfit with the white hoodie with cat ears is a bit over the top.  What’s worse is that outfit was worn by a male character in my party.

    The character animations are fluid and well done.  The cut-scenes show proper emotion and give depth to the characters and greatly add to the story.  There’s a wide variety of monsters and they gradually get tougher as you progress in the game.  You’ll also notice that some of them get recycled with a different name, color, and attributes.  Some of the names kind of poked fun at this and the “new” monster’s name would be the same as the previous one with “clone” after it.

    While the sound effects are decent and get the job done, the music is where Final Fantasy games shine.  The battle music gets your adrenaline pumping and the town music is calming and peaceful.  Some areas have their own music like Salonia and the Crystal Cave.  The music is composed by Nobou Uematsu, the same genius behind the scoring of the previous Final Fantasy games.

    Overall Final Fantasy is a wonderful adventure that is fun to play, watch and listen to.  The character development keeps getting better with each installment of the series.  Morally the only issues worth mentioning are violence and magic use.  There is no blood or gore and when a person dies, their body vanishes.  The last boss is definitely female but it's nowhere near as bad as future games featuring her. It’s a clean enough game that I let my kids play and grind my characters for me.  They enjoyed watching the boss battles too.  

    It’s a shame that it took so long for the United States to get this title.  Android users may still be out of luck in that regard.  However, if you have a DS or an iPhone, I recommend adding this game to your library.  

     
     
  • Final Fantasy IV (DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Final Fantasy IV
    Developed by: Square Enix
    Published by: Square Enix
    Release Date: July 22, 2008
    Genre: RPG
    Mode: single player, multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: E10+
    MSRP: $17.50 on LeapTrade

    Final Fantasy IV was released for the Super Nintendo in 1991 and is known for being one of the best RPG’s ever made. Between all of its versions Final Fantasy IV has sold over five million copies.   It has been re-released on the Play Station, PSP, GBA, Virtual Console and of course the version I’m reviewing, the Nintendo DS.  

    The DS version has implemented 3D graphics, cinematic cut scenes and voice acting.  There is multiplayer support for battling against fellow DS players. I only played the main story, so I can’t comment on the multiplayer aspects.  The story is pretty much unchanged but the game play mechanics have been modified.

    Augments are new to the DS version and grant characters new abilities such as drawing all the attacks to one party member, increasing health or magic points by 50%, raising all of the party members if one dies or dual casting some seriously powerful magic spells.  Make sure you think long and hard on whom to give augments to since they are permanent and cannot be undone.  Some of the augments are given automatically in the story but most are easy to miss.   Many temporary characters in your party will reward you with one or more augments depending on how many you have given them before they leave.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent story of redemption and great character development
    Weak Points: Even at the fastest setting, the battles are still slow
    Moral Warnings: RPG Violence and low cut female attire

    Your party is constantly changing in this game; the only one that remains the whole time is Cecil.  Some party members stay a short time while others come back after a period of time.   Cecil is the main character who starts out as a Dark Knight following the orders of his king even though he doesn’t personally agree with them.  Convinced that this king is not the same that he swore an allegiance to, he sets out on a journey to find the truth and ultimately saves the world from pending disaster.

    As you embark on your journey you’ll be attacked by the hidden enemies lurking outside of towns and inside of caves and dungeons. The battles are completely random with the exception of boss battles which are triggered by stepping on key tiles or by picking up treasure or quest items.  When in battle, you have the choice of attacking, using an augment ability, using magic, using an item, changing position/equipment, or fleeing.  If you win the battle, you will get some money (Gil), experience, and occasionally some gear.  After you gain enough experience you will level up and your attributes will increase automatically.

    The pacing is pretty good and the caves and dungeons are long enough so you’re generally pretty well leveled and ready to face the next boss waiting for your party.  Level grinding is a given for any Final Fantasy game but some of the bosses are very challenging while others can be pushovers if you catch onto their pattern or element weaknesses.  Some of the bosses have been modified so veterans of this game will have to use different tactics to defeat them this time around.  My only complaint with this game pacing wise is the battle system.  The default battle settings are so slow that I was tempted to forget the DS version and play the PSP one instead.  While the PSP version is much faster paced and true to its roots, the DS version has nice cut-scenes, dialogue and voice acting.  The interactive flashbacks add even more to the already strong character development.  

    You'll see childhood memories of Cecil, Rosa and Kain playing together.  You'll learn about Cecil's parents and how he wound up at Baron castle.  The other characters' dialogue has changed a little bit here and there but the main story stays the same. The famous line "You spoony bard!" has been left intact.  The game just wouldn't be the same without that.    

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

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

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The graphics are very similar to the Final Fantasy III DS game with the simple 3D anime style characters.  The CGI movies are more realistic and breath taking.  The battles have lots of eye candy when it comes to magic use and summoning creatures to battle for you.  I must confess that I usually skipped them to make the battles go faster.

    As you can tell, this game has violence, magic use, and the ability to summon creatures to fight for you.  The violence isn’t gory but death is unavoidable and part of the main story line.    The only other moral issue to be aware of is that a few of the females in this game can use more modest attire.  Many of them walk around in belly dancer style outfits.  In one of the towns you can join a gentleman’s club for 100,000 gil that allows you to get your own private dances.  There are innuendos suggesting that more than dancing is going on there but your party cannot partake in it.  

    Many towns along with various dungeons and caves have their own music to set the mood.  Some of the songs are brought back from previous titles including the chocobo theme and menu title music.  The battle music is similar but different from Final Fantasy 3.  The same composer, Nobuo Uematsu wrote the music for this game.  After playing these games I can totally see why people would go to see these songs played by an orchestra.  

    I’m glad to have finally gotten this game off of my bucket list.  The story is solid and has a great message of forgiveness and redemption.  Like many RPG’s there are some moral issues but this game is still pretty family friendly.  If you like flashy visual effects and better story telling, I would look into this version.  However, if you want a fast paced game I would recommend looking into other releases of it.

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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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