enfrdeitptrues

Turn Based Strategy

  • 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

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Atlas Reactor
    Developed By: Trion Worlds
    Released: October 4, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Strategy
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Violence
    Number of Players: 8 online 
    Price: Free-to-play but $29.99 for full unlock

    Have you ever wanted to play a MOBA but you don’t have quick enough reflexes? This is your game. Atlas Reactor  is a game where you pick a character, team up with three other people, and then fight a four-person team in turn-based combat. The game advertises itself as a MOBA that does not require quick reflexes and it delivers on that.

    In Atlas Reactor you fight matches using freelancers. Each freelancer has its own set of stats and abilities. There are different freelancers designed to fit different roles such as a tank, support, fighter, and assassin. Once you have chosen your freelancer you can look for a match. You can play against bots with an AI team or other players, compete against other players, or play ranked. Once you start a match you will have 20 seconds to plan your turn. After that 20 seconds, all actions will be carried out simultaneously and then the next round will start. The first team to reach five kills in twenty turns will win the match. That’s the core of the game.

    Currently the freelancers are very diverse. There are supposed to be three different categories, (firepower, frontliner, and support) but freelancers can vary wildly within categories. For instance, in just the firepower category there is an artillery unit that leaves mines where it shoots; a long-range, sneaky sniper; a guy that can bounce his shots off walls; and a girl with a crossbow that can order a drone around the battlefield to scout out and shoot enemies. Each character has their own set of unique abilities they can use. There are four types of abilities in this game and each one happens at a different time during each turn. First you have the prep abilities. These happen first and consist of healing, buffs, debuffs, and the placement of traps. Next you have dash abilities. These allow a player to quickly move in order to avoid damage or to gain some extra mobility. Some dashes cause damage while other simply move you. All dashes happen at the same time so if somebody is dashing to you and you dash away you’ll receive no damage. Next is your blast abilities. These are your attacks which come last and happen before your character gets to make a basic move. Different attacks do different things and have their own quirks as to how they are used or aimed. Blast abilities all happen at once, but they get shown to the player one at a time. In addition, each character has a special ultimate that they can use after they gain enough energy by using their other abilities. 

    After you play with a freelancer for a while you’ll be able to unlock mods. Mods allow you to augment your abilities in order to better suit your playstyle. One thing that is interesting about mods is they are balanced. Each player can only equip up to ten points of mods and more powerful mods cost more to equip. It’s an interesting situation having to make an ability weaker to strengthen another ability but it allows the creation of a unique freelancer. This helps to make the same freelancer feel different each time you fight one since you never know just what kind of mods they have equipped.

    Atlas Reactor
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique gameplay; Varied freelancers; The ability to mod freelancers in order to suit different playstyles; Allows the player to still be able to play competently without having quick reflexes.
    Weak Points: No offline singleplayer; It can require a decent amount of grinding to do stuff; Game currently only has one game mode; Global chat can be a cesspool.
    Moral Warnings: Some language; Some sexual content; Some cartoonish violence.

    The different freelancers are fun to use but there are a limited number of ways to use them. Currently, there are only four maps that you can play on. Also, there is only one game mode currently available. There was another game mode in the game at one point, but it was been removed, although it seems to come back for a little while every now and then. Playing deathmatch over and over again can get a little stale in my opinion. Thankfully, the game rewards your play by giving you a loot matrix every time you level up your season level. A loot matrix can be opened for random pieces of loot that are available at the time. These items are things such as skins, boosts, iso (an in-game loot), taunts, and pieces for your banner. If you get a duplicate you get iso which can be used to buy any piece you want so long as you have enough iso. Completing matches in order to keep unlocking loot matrices is one of the thing that keeps me playing. It’s really fun opening up a loot matrix to see what’s inside.

    This game does have a story but it is not very obvious. This game has things called seasons which are a collection of chapters that are only available to do for a limited time. Each chapter contains objectives to complete. When you complete all the objectives you unlock a new chapter. Some objectives can be easy such as playing ten matches or gaining ten season levels but some can be tedious and time consuming such as using twenty taunts in games you win, play fifteen matches as an Omni freelancer, or complete five daily quests. Completing chapters earn you rewards and can unlock more story. Each chapter contains a decent length story that a player can read. Each piece of story is supposed to relate back to the quests the player is doing in that chapter. Overall, what little I’ve read of the story seems okay, but I have not read all of it since it takes a considerable amount of time to sit there and read it all when one could be playing the game and unlocking more items.

    The game has surprisingly good graphics. More turn-based games don’t seem to have really nice graphics, but that’s because the player is normally zoomed out so that they can see the battlefield. This game lets you zoom in all the way. Also, I mean that literally. For some reason, you can zoom in so far that you can look at a freelancers waist. Now, I have no idea why one would really want to zoom in that far since it makes the game impossible to play but the graphics do look good zoomed in all the way. My only real complaint about the graphics is that you can’t zoom out that far (I’d really appreciate a top-down angle) and that sometimes the character models clip but this seems to mainly happens when playing a taunt (a special animation) with a special skin equipped. The audio is also pretty good. Characters all have nice, distinct voices and they say things rather frequently during battle. In addition, the different abilities all sound rather well. The only downside is the music is not that impressive. The main menu theme is nice but while playing a match the music is mostly background noise and ambient sounds. 

    The game does have a very interesting control scheme. For the most part, everything can be done with the mouse and most things seem to try and be done in the fewest clicks possible. That can be good since you are on a timer but some things can be just downright frustrating. For instance, one character can throw two little grappling claws at her enemies. She can throw them both at one enemy, throw them at different enemies, or throw one at a power-up to pick it up. In order to throw both at one enemy you have to aim the mouse away from the player in the direction you want to throw. If you want to target two locations you have to move the mouse closer to the player until they split. Once they split, you keep moving the mouse closer to the player to split them further apart. If you need to change the direction you are throwing them in you have to keep the mouse that distance from your character and rotate the mouse around. It can be pretty tedious to aim that ability just right. Also, that’s just one of the abilities that behaves like that. 

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

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 4/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Some freelancers have different firing modes that change depending how far the mouse is from the player. Other than that most of the controls seem pretty good. My only other real complaint is that since this is an online multiplayer game, you can be affected by lag. That can make the game slow to respond to your input. Normally this is not that bad but it can really mess you up every now and then. Another weird thing about the abilities is how aiming works. Some abilities are single-target, others are multi-target, and some attacks can switch between the two. Sometimes, if you can’t hit a target with a single-target shot you can change to a multi-target mode and be able to hit them. This can lead to some weird attacks and can lead to you dying when you thought you were safe.

    During the course of writing this review the game went free-to-play. This has changed the game somewhat. It used to be you had to pay $29.99 to play the game with full access to everything. Now, you can play the game for free to earn a special currency that can be used to unlock freelancers. This is good for them but the problem is people that have bought the game have a bunch of that currency they are also gaining that is mostly useless to a paying player. Also, even though the game is now free-to-play they still offer the $29.99 package that I had gotten and they do seem to encourage you still to buy that since it seems like unlocking stuff as a free player takes a while.

    Overall, this game’s biggest moral problem is its language. There’s not much offensive language that is said in this game besides using the Lord’s name in vain, but there is language that appears in the story. There is also the inclusion of a global chat and some things posted in it are very bad. There is a language filter to bleep out the curse words but there is a lot that is not filtered. There is some violence in the game, but is mostly cartoonish violence. Now, there are some more sexualized outfits for some characters but most of those are optional outfits you can unlock and are not the default outfits.

    If you want a fun and fast-paced (for a turn-based strategy) game with the ability to battle your friends I’d recommend playing Atlas Reactor. If you like the idea of this type of game I’d really recommend checking out the free-to-play option to test it out for yourself. The free option doesn’t seem to be too limiting and the price you pay to fully unlock everything is not that bad. The only downside is it only has one game mode, but the game is also pretty generous with giving you loot matrices to unlock so you always have something to play for. Overall, it is a pretty fun game to jump into for a little while and play a couple of matches.

    -Paul Barnard (Betuor)

     

  • 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. 

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Battleship
    Developed by: Frima Studios
    Published by: Ubisoft
    Release date: August 2, 2016
    Available on: PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Board game
    Number of Players: Up to two
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence and mild language
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Ubisoft for sending us this game to review!

    Battleship is a classic board game that I have not played in ages.  I’ve been wanting to show it to my kids, but the electronic one that I had growing up is listed for $80 on Amazon.  The newer versions of Battleship aren’t as sturdy and like all physical board games, you can lose the pieces.  This version of Battleship is only available in digital format and provides thirty story missions and endless local and online matches.  If you’re looking to play against anyone online, you had better look elsewhere since I was not able to find anyone to play against.

    Thankfully you can still play against the computer or a friend.  Playing against your friend requires the honor system as the game asks the opposing player to look away while the ships are being deployed.  Each player needs their own Xbox account or a guest account logged in to join a game.

    The classic game rules can be used where only one shot per turn is allowed or you can play the much faster Clash at Sea mode.  With the new rules each player earns three white and red pegs per turn.  Spending them during the ninety-second turn is optional as more powerful attacks require more pegs.

    Battleship
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A classic board game re-created with classic and enhanced play modes
    Weak Points: Nobody online to play against; local multiplayer asks players to look away from the screen; dumb AI
    Moral Warnings: Naval warfare; minor language (d*mmit)

    The advanced attack modes require active ships so as your fleet gets depleted, so do your options.  Some of the enhanced attacks let you place five white pegs at the cost of four.  Another new move lets you deploy a mine that will attack anything in its radius when hit with a missile.  If you want to canvas a rectangle shape or an entire row (throughout a couple of turns), it's possible with the new rule set.  With the added arsenal of moves available, more strategy is added along with faster gameplay.

    Five tutorials are available to teach you the basic and advanced battle techniques.  The story campaign is decent though the enemy AI seems rather dumb at times when it chooses not to sink ships right away after it detects them.  The missions vary and some of them put you at a disadvantage by starting you off with less ships than your opponent or by requiring you to sink their fleet in a limited number of turns.  

    The enemies range from pirates to orcs and you can unlock and customize different fleets with Uplay points earned in-game at the Uplay store. The different fleets have variations of the same attacks at their disposal.

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

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    Visually this game won’t disappoint.  The 3D graphics look good and you can rotate your grid to see your ship’s placement by pressing the right bumper button on the controller.  When a ship is hit the controller will vibrate and you’ll see the cracks on the head-up display (hud) screen.  When a ship capsizes it will appear on the grid and will be grayed out on your hud. 

    The sound effects are good, especially when a ship is hit.  Each attack has its own sound effects too.  The battle themed background sets the mood accordingly.   Though there is dialog in the campaign, none of it is voice acted.

    As fun as this game is there are a few things holding it back from a solid recommendation.  The first is the fact that nobody is playing it online.  Playing against humans is always more fun than dumb AI.  Hopefully you can trust that your opponent will not be looking at the screen while you’re setting up your ships.  My last complaint is the language.  While it’s not severe, I still don’t think it’s necessary to include the word d*mmit in a family friendly title.  This is not a word I would like my children to be saying when they get frustrated.  Because of these issues I recommend passing on this title and sticking with a previous release or the physical version.

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    BATTLETECH
    Developed By: Harebrained Schemes
    Published By: Paradox Interactive
    Release Date: April 24, 2018
    Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux coming soon
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Turn-based Strategy
    Mode: Primarily singleplayer, with a multiplayer mode also
    MSRP: $39.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Paradox Interactive for sending us this game to review!

    In high school, I had a very good friend and his older brother who introduced me to the board game BattleTech. I clearly remember the hexagonal map laid out on the table with trees, lakes, buildings and other environmental obstacles, as well as the intricately painted robotic giants. I also remember creating mechs with various loadouts including ER PPCs, Large Lasers, and other powerful weaponry as I rolled the dice to calculate hit locations and damage totals. It was a lot of fun back then and I haven’t had a chance to do anything like it since, until now.

    Much of the BattleTech lore books are written from 3050 and onwards, while this game takes place in and around 3025. You and your mercenary Lance are quickly pulled into a conflict of factions where you choose to help a friend and fellow student of your mentor, who is the rightful heir to the throne. When her father dies, her uncle quickly steps in, seizes power, and attempts to take the princess’s life. With your help, she barely escapes. When the time is right, she starts a war to regain her kingdom and you and your Lance become her ace in the hole.

    In BATTLETECH, there is a ship mode in which you prepare for your missions and a battlefield mode where combat takes place. You get to manage many aspects of your mercenary Lance including which pilots to hire, how to fit and arm them, and prepare your MechWarriors (pilots), as well as various ship upgrades. You can also take your ship to many different star systems where you can look for new contracts to work as a mercenary-for-hire. The jobs themselves vary from helping out a local government to assisting pirates in their dirty work. As you gain victory in combat you will often recover salvage which can lead to gaining bigger and better mechs.

    BATTLETECH
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent representation of the classic BattleTech board game; very nice graphics and sound; very engaging ‘one more turn’ gameplay
    Weak Points: Can be too slow-paced for some; performance could be better; I ran into a game-crashing bug until I determined that G-Sync for windowed-mode applications was the cause
    Moral Warnings: ‘They’ offered as a gender identity; most common curse words used, including ‘*ss’, ‘sh*t’, ‘d*mn’, and ‘hell’; references to ‘gods’ and skinny dipping

    On the battlefield, rather than a direct hex-grid conversion of the tabletop game, this does much better - you directly move to various points on the map and fight other enemy units on the field in a turn-based fashion. When you create your character, you give them a background which has a small impact on the story. You create them as a ‘he’, a ‘she’, or a non-conforming ‘they’. Your Lance has up to four members, while your enemy can sometimes vastly outnumber you. It takes careful environmental, weapons, ammunition, and heat management in order to be successful.

    BattleMechs typically range in weight from 20-100 tons. The armor, firepower, and movement range of each mech type can vary drastically. While there is conceivably a place on the battlefield for light mechs in the 20-40 ton range, in reality once you get heavy mechs, you don’t go back. Each weapon, from Long-Range Missiles (LRMs) to Auto-Cannons (ACs) to Lasers all require precious tons to equip on your mech. And let’s face it: firepower is king. And assault mechs in the 80-100 ton range carry lots and lots of guns.

    Combat itself is typically broken up into two phases per turn. The first is the movement phase, during which you can move, sprint, or use your jump jets. Not every mech has jump jets, especially since they cost precious tons and generate heat. But they can be quite handy, as you can go up or down steep inclines or jump over obstacles for a potentially massive tactical advantage. When you sprint, you can go nearly twice as far, but doing so takes up the second combat phase, which is the action phase.

    During the action phase the most common one is most certainly attack. But it’s not alone. You can do a melee attack, brace for impact, or do a precision shot. Brace for impact is handy because it lowers received damage by half from the front and sides. The precision shot costs morale, which is something you earn by defeating enemies. But the benefit of this is that you can target any part of the enemy unit in which the strikes will hit. Destroying an enemy mech is accomplished in one of three ways: killing the pilot, destroying the center torso, or immobilizing it. Getting a powerful enough shot to the head is extremely fatal - but is also extremely unlikely. Knocking out both legs can often work quite well and has the added bonus of usually offering extra salvage. I find precision shots to the center torso as the most effective way of shutting down an enemy BattleMech as quickly as possible.

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

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

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    On the ship, you can allocate experience points to skills for each of your MechWarriors. As they level up skills, you can choose to specialize them in various areas. These areas are Gunnery, Piloting, Guts, and Tactics. Most of the combat bonuses are passive, but notable active skills are multi-target and sensor lock. Multi-target allows you to hit up to three enemies at once, while sensor lock grants your teammates the ability to attack far away targets, as well as makes them easier to hit. It’s not uncommon for a faster mech to act as a scout with sensor lock while the rest of the Lance pelts them with LRMs.

    Visually, BATTLETECH is a fun game to watch. It looks nice with good details, and the sound effects when things explode are also well done. The voice acting is rare, but all that is there sounds great. It does look much better on high settings, but it scales down to work fairly well, even on lower-end hardware. I played BATTLETECH perfectly well on both my high-end gaming systems maxed out, and on my GPD Win 2 with all settings on low. The cutscenes are drawn rather than rendered and look fantastic.

    BATTLETECH takes place in a universe full of violence, death, and betrayal. Blood is shown in some cutscenes, but most of the game lacks any. When fighting other MechWarriors, it is a fight to the death. Your pilots can and will die, and managing their health is an important part of the game. Curse words like ‘*ss’, ‘sh*t’, ‘d*mn’, and ‘hell’ are present in the game, as well as ‘gods’. Most of the violence is in the form of robotic limbs being destroyed or falling off. Death of enemy MechWarriors is common and a fact of life. There is also a reference to crew members skinny dipping in the pool.

    As soon as I found out that the BattleTech board game was getting a proper PC adaptation, I leapt at the chance to review it, and I’m glad I did. While a bit slow paced at times, BATTLETECH is a blast to play and most definitely worth your time. Multiplayer is still active also, which is great to see. I wouldn’t give it to children because of the language, but I can heartily recommend it to others.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Disgaea PC
    Developed by: Nippon Ichi Software
    Published by: NIS America
    Release Date: February 24, 2016
    Available on: PC
    Genre: Turn-based Strategy
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for violence, language, suggestive themes
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Charity Link)

     

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

    Disgaea PC is an updated version of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness which was originally released for the PlayStation 2 in 2003.  Five years after that, it came out on the Nintendo DS.  While the story and multiple endings are the same, the textures have been updated and Steam features like achievements, trading cards, and cloud saves have been added.  If you’re new to the series, there’s plenty of gameplay packed into this $20 title.  

    The Overlord of the Netherworld, King Krichevskoy, has died and the demons are fighting amongst themselves for the prized title.  Two years into the chaos, Krichevskoy’s son, Laharl wakes up to find his castle in disarray and his vassal, Etna, by his side plotting to kill him.  Etna decides to join Laharl’s side to help him reclaim the throne or seize an opportunity to off him if he lets his guard down.  Demons, after all, are selfish and shouldn’t be trusted.  

    At least that’s the assumption of the angels living in Celestia.  Later in the game, Flonne, and angel trainee is sent to the Netherworld and meets Laharl and his party.  She is intrigued by his demeanor and apparent lack of kindness and vows to determine once and for all if demons can express love.  Once defeated, several other bosses agree to join Laharl’s party.

    Like many 3D turn-based strategy games you can deploy a limited number of party members (maximum of ten) and can move and perform an action during each turn.  The number of movement spaces is dependent on the character’s stats and the actions can be consuming an item, fighting, or using a special skill like magic.  After all of the party members have used up their actions, you can end your turn and watch the enemies retaliate.   

    Disgaea PC
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny characters; fighting abilities and dialogue; challenging battles
    Weak Points: Lots of grinding is required to survive enemy attacks; no way to skip attack animations
    Moral Warnings: A few angels are shown as bad while some demons are good; swearing and blaspheming; sexualized outfits; gross humor

    Many games have used the ability to counter an attack, but this is the first title I have seen with a counter-counter ability that can counter up to four times back and forth!  In fact, many of the special attacks are silly and often drawn out in the cut scenes.  I wish there was an option to skip the fighting cut-scenes because they are tediously long.  As abilities are used more they level up and as the characters gain levels, more special abilities become available to them.

    Another new feature to this series are the Geo Panels which apply various attributes to similarly colored squares they are residing on.  Sometimes the panels are helpful to either the allies or enemies by giving them a damage or defense boost.  Other times the panels can be very restrictive by blocking players from crossing them or by granting units invincibility.  Geo Panels can either be attacked (as long as they’re not invincible) or picked up and thrown to another colored square.  

    The story mode battles ramp up in difficulty relatively quickly and much grinding is required to be strong enough to advance the storyline.  To level up you can replay previously completed story missions or play in an item world several levels deep to fight numerous enemies and a final boss before returning to your castle.  Successfully completing item levels will increase and strengthen the item’s level.   It should go without saying that the more valuable an item, the tougher the enemies within will be.  It’s nice to have an exit item on hand because there is no telling how many levels deep an item world is and leaving is not possible without an exit item or without clearing the last boss.  If you plan on adventuring in the item world, make sure you’ve set aside about an hour of time to do so.

    Last but not least, there’s an Etna mode which can be unlocked by finding and reading her secret diary diligently in each of the fourteen episodes.  In Etna mode, the main character is Etna instead of Laharl.  There are Steam achievements available for completing episodes in her mode.  

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

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 51%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 1.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6.5/10

    No matter what mode you’re playing you’ll want to have the best weapons and armor possible.  The more you shop at the weapon and accessories stores, the higher your customer ranking will be.  As your rank increases you can talk to the senators and ask their permission to get more expensive (or cheaper) equipment.  If you have enough favor with them, they’ll grant your request.  However, if they reject your request, you can battle the senators that voted against you to reverse their vote.  Senator approval is also required when creating decent characters, but if you have some good for nothing characters, you can re-spec them for a fee.

    The character conversations can be lively at times and the humor in this game is pretty good.  Sadly, it’s often laced with profanity (d*mmit, b*stard) and blaspheming.  Despite there being angels and demons there isn’t much mention of God until Laharl calls out to Him wondering if He’s even there.  The Prinnys in this game are souls bound in servitude to repent of their sins in hopes of being reincarnated.  Other issues worth mentioning is a skimpy bikini like outfit worn by a female party member.  Last but not least there is some gross humor including piecing together the ultimate zombie and attaching a horse wiener on it.     

    Visually Disgaea shows its age and some of the textures are best suited for small screens instead of my 27” monitor.  The facial expressions of the characters in the dialogue screens are nice looking though.    

    The background music has a lot of variety and you can purchase tracks with in-game money to play instead of the default music.  The voice acting is well done and most of the game is voice acted, but not all of it.

    I’ve heard a lot about the Disgaea series and I’m glad I’ve finally gotten a chance to check it out.  I look forward to playing more of the series someday.  If you don’t mind the language, gross humor, and religious references, there’s a lot of fun and obligatory grinding to be had here.

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Disgaea 2 PC
    Developed by: Nippon Ichi Software
    Published by: NIS America
    Release date: January 30, 2017
    Available on: PS2, Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Turn based strategy
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Mild Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    Disgaea 2 was originally released for the PS2 in 2006 and was released for the PSP in 2009.  All of the content in those games along with enhanced visuals plus keyboard and mouse support is now available in the 2017 PC version.  Since characters from the first Disgaea make an appearance in this title, I highly recommend playing the original game before picking this one up.     

    The main character in this title is Adell, the only human living in the netherworld which has been cursed fifteen years ago by the powerful Overlord Zenon.  The curse Zenon placed on the inhabitants caused the humans to lose their memories, conscience, and slowly turn into demons.  Adell doesn’t know what became of his human parents, but he loves his adopted demon family who fully support his quest of defeating Zenon to avenge those impacted by Zenon’s curse.  Luckily, Adell seems to be immune to it.

    The story begins with Adell’s adoptive mother trying to summon Zenon (using her children as part of the ritual) and getting his only daughter instead.  Princess Rozalin is very stereotypical with her pampered ways and high demands.  The clash in personalities provides much humor and silly dialogue which is voice acted in cut-scenes.  

    Since the princess lived in a secluded mansion, she hasn’t done much fighting and is unfamiliar with the world of Veldine.  Adell is relying on her to bring him to her father who he wants to defeat.  She hopes that he’ll succumb to one of the increasingly stronger demons along the way.  

    Disgaea 2 PC
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny characters, fighting abilities and dialogue; challenging battles
    Weak Points: Lots of grinding is required to survive enemy attacks; no way to skip attack animations
    Moral Warnings: Sacrifices are made to summon demons; language (b*tch, b*stard, d*mn, hell); sexualized outfits; gross humor

    Adell and Rozalin won’t have to fight them alone though.  Along the way they’ll meet some people with interesting backstories who are willing to join their cause.  Several party members are available through the bundled in add-on content called “Summoning Experiments.”     

    Like many 3D turn-based strategy games you can deploy a limited number of party members (maximum of ten) and can move and perform an action during each turn.  The number of movement spaces is dependent on the character’s stats and the actions can be consuming an item, fighting, or using a special skill like magic.  After all of the party members have used up their actions, you can end your turn and watch the enemies retaliate. 

    Many games have used the ability to counter an attack, but this series has a counter-counter ability that can counter up to four times back and forth!  In fact, many of the special attacks are silly and often drawn out in the cut scenes.  I wish there was an option to skip the fighting cut-scenes because they are tediously long.  As abilities are used more they level up and as the characters gain levels, more special abilities become available to them.

    Another returning feature is the Geo Panels which apply various attributes to similarly colored squares they are residing on.  Sometimes the Panels are helpful to either the allies or enemies by giving them a damage or defense boost.  Other times the Panels can be very restrictive by blocking players from crossing them or by granting units invincibility.  Geo Panels can either be attacked (as long as they’re not invincible) or picked up and thrown to another colored square.  

    The story mode battles ramp up in difficulty relatively quickly and much grinding is required to be strong enough to advance the storyline.  To level up you can replay previously completed story missions or play in an item world several levels deep to fight numerous enemies and a final boss before returning to your castle.  Successfully completing item levels will increase and strengthen the item’s level.   It should go without saying that the more valuable an item, the tougher the enemies within will be.  It’s nice to have an exit item on hand because there is no telling how many levels deep an item world is and leaving is not possible without an exit item or without clearing the last boss.  If you plan on adventuring in the item world, make sure you’ve set aside about an hour of time to do so.

    Disgaea 2 PC
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 71%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    After completing Adell’s story, Axel’s story becomes unlocked and there’s even more enemies and silliness there.  Axel’s starting level is 100 and party members from Adell’s adventure are at his disposal.  I like how Etna from the first Disgaea game is available as a party member later on.  Be warned that there are some battles that are meant to be lost to progress the story.  If you find that the boss has several thousand more defense and hit points than your characters, they’re probably not meant to be defeated.  If you’re struggling to defeat enemies and bosses perhaps it’s time to upgrade your equipment and power level to give your party a fighting chance.

    The more you shop at the weapon and accessories stores, the higher your customer ranking will be.  As your rank increases, you can talk to the senators and ask their permission to get more expensive (or cheaper) equipment.  If you have enough favor with them, they’ll grant your request.  If their vote is leaning against you, they can usually be bribed with items from your inventory.  However, if they reject your request, you can battle the senators that voted against you to reverse their vote.  Senator approval is also required when creating decent characters, but if you have some good for nothing characters, you can re-spec them for a fee.

    Some of the female characters wear bikini like outfits and flaunt their cleavage and back sides.  Some of the humor takes a sexual tone with several breast (and lack thereof) jokes.  Language is scattered throughout the game, but doesn’t use the F bomb.  Other words like hell, d*mn, b*tch, and b*stard are said though.  Since there are lots of battles, violence is a given but there’s isn’t much blood seen if any.  Magic use is unavoidable since some of the enemies are practically immune to physical attacks and the long range spells are extremely helpful.

    If you don’t mind magic use, sexual humor, and language, Disgaea 2 is a fun turn based strategy game that’s bound to entertain you for several hours.  The asking price is a reasonable $19.99 and there have been bundle sales that included both games at a discount.  I look forward to playing more of the series on PC and other console platforms.

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Disgaea 5 Complete
    Developed by: Nippon Icchi Software
    Published by: NIS America
    Release date: May 23, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Switch
    Genre: Turn-based strategy
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for fantasy violence, language, and suggestive themes
    Price: $58.00
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

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

    Disgaea 5 was originally released on the PS4 in 2015. The Switch version does not add any new content, but it does bundle in all of the available DLC. At the netherworld base you can talk to the Special Content NPC and receive powerful characters, extra episodes/levels, better starting weapons, and even one million HL (hell) currency. The optional character, Nisa, is powerful and says funny things like “To protect game industry!” during her attacks. Another free character is a witch named Metallia who often says “sh*t!” during her attacks.

    Between the cartoon violence, cussing, and sexual references, Disgaea 5 does earn its Teen rating from the ESRB. The main overlord you’ll be playing as is the temptress Seraphina who often charms her male targets in order to have them do her bidding. She definitely dresses the part as a temptress and many of the male characters are showing off their muscular chests as well. A powerful wanderer named Killia is immune to her charm spell yet still agrees to fight alongside of her army since they have a common enemy, Void Dark. One third of all of the netherworlds are under Void Dark’s control and in order to take him down, the rest of the netherworlds need to band together and form a rebel army.

    In the beginning you don’t know too much about Killia’s past or the source of his tremendous powers, though you do see him regaining energy by constantly eating whenever and wherever including on the battlefield. You’ll get to see some of Killia’s hazy memories and quickly learn that his main driving force is revenge.

    Disgaea 5 Complete
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Looks and runs great on the Switch; funny dialogue and characters; lots of bundled in extra content
    Weak Points: Lots of grinding required to complete the game
    Moral Warnings: Foul language (hell, d*mn, sh*t, b*tch, b*stard), lots of skin shown by male and female characters; crude and sexual  dialogue; references to homosexuality; cartoon violence; magic use; some characters are revenge driven

    Gamers who are familiar with the previous Disgaea games will feel at home in this entry. The turn-based battles are the same and all of the silly moves like the ability to counter-counter-counter attack are still there. Geo effects play a big part in many of the levels which can either boost the enemies or players significantly. Some Geo Panels will damage, buff, or level up players who are on squares of matching colors.
    One newer feature for me is the character’s “Evility” which are unique character specific bonuses. For example, some enemy characters will have increased attack power if they surround an ally. Besides abilities, characters also have weapon preferences so be sure to equip them accordingly.

    Each level has a player limit of how many party members can be deployed in battle. You’ll want to keep a wide variety of classes in your squad. Along with your strong brutes, you’ll also want a mage and a healer nearby. Some areas have environmental hazards that can be worked to your advantage if you use them on your foes. For example, if you throw a mushroom at an enemy it can harm. There's a whole netherworld filled with poison which can harm a party member left standing in it at the end of your turn.

    The main story is broken down into sixteen chapters with five maps in each one. Besides the story missions you can visit item worlds to power-up your favorite weapons and armor. The item worlds are a great place to grind and level up which is required to complete the game. If you don’t like grinding, then the Disgaea series is not for you.

    Disgaea 5 Complete
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 63%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 2.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    While you can get lots of great loot in battle, chances are that you’ll be buying a lot of your equipment and items at the shops in the netherworld. In order to have the shops carry better items you’ll need to win over the council members at the strategy assembly. If the vote does not go in your favor, you can attempt to have them re-consider by beating them into submission. Besides loot, you may also bring back prisoners from battle. After successfully interrogating them you can convince them to join your cause or extract a useful item out of them. If you don’t want to interrogate them you can simply make them citizens of your netherworld to increase its population.

    As solid as the battles are, the characters and dialogue are what make these games great. The characters are likable and funny. There is much banter about Seraphina and Killia’s relationship. She denies being in love with him despite her referring to him as her husband at times. There is also some speculation about why Killia is immune to her charm and his sexual orientation is called into question.

    Most of the lines are voice acted and sound great. The background music is excellent as well. Since my previous Disgaea experience is limited to the first two games, it’s safe to say that this is the best looking entry I have played yet. I’m happy to report that it ran flawlessly on the Switch as well.

    The $60 asking price is a bit steep, but this game will entertain you for a long time as long as you’re okay with grinding. Like other Disgaea games, there are some moral issues to consider before purchasing. If you’re fan of the previous games, then Disgaea 5 Complete is a worthy addition to your Switch library.


  • This is a fun strategy game. You must pick a Chinese dynasty and unite the other two. You have to build up your kingdom collecting resources such as gold, food, wine, wood and men. Then you must train them and learn about new technologies so you can conquer and unite China once again. From a Christian perspective you must understand there is a different culture involved in this game. In the game you must restore Buddha sculptures and build temples. Also, this a war strategy game so there is violence but I have seen much worse. The game is easy to play, it has a good interface. Graphics are nice, a little slow loading the map sometimes. 3D acceleration is not used. Good sound effects. This demo does not have multiplayer yet but a newer demo will have that feature. It\'s a pretty fun game.

    Final Ratings

    Appropriate: 3.5/5 Interface: 4/5 Game Play: 5/5 Music/Sound: 3/5 Graphics: 3/5 Stability: 5/5

    Overall: 78%

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
    Developed By: 6 Eyes Studio
    Published By: 1C Company
    Release Date: 2019 (August 16, 2018 for Early Access)
    Available On: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux, PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Turn-Based Tactical RPG
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $19.99

    Thank you 1C Company for giving us a preview code!

    Usually, we don’t have much time to do previews or first impressions, since we are blessed with so many games to review. Even still, if something looks truly remarkable, sometimes we might just take the time out to give it a whirl - like we have done here for Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark. Here is a game that takes tons of inspiration from a game I absolutely loved, Final Fantasy Tactics. And I have to say – a little spoiler here – if first impressions are anything to go by, I have a strong feeling they delivered.

    Fell Seal takes place in a kingdom where Immortals rule and Arbiters act as the police force who try to keep the peace. Corruption is rampant, but Kyrie is one of the few that are not. She and her protege, Anadine, witness a murder by a snobby aristocrat. They proceed to arrest him, and take him to a far-off jail to avoid payoffs by the local prison guards.

    When they arrive, one of the Immortals announces that they are retiring, and that several Marks may show up on citizens who will soon be partaking in trials to determine if they are worthy to be the next Immortal. Of course, as luck would have it, our not-so-friendly aristocrat happens to be one of them. This sets up the power struggle that drives the story in Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark.

    Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting art style that grows on you; engaging story; excellent music; if you like Final Fantasy Tactics, you will love this game, as it has a similar turn-based tactics game system with awesome classes
    Weak Points: Graphics don’t currently scale well to resolutions other than 1080p
    Moral Warnings: Too early to tell, but there is blood, magic, and fantasy violence

    I have to say, I am very pleased with how the story is told. Everything is done in engine, and there are scenes in between or during battles, as well as bits of interesting dialogue as you enter a town or other new areas. And thankfully, the character customization, battles, and so forth are also really well done.

    The Final Fantasy Tactics inspiration is clear and obvious, though the art style is different enough to make it its own thing. That’s not really a problem – I love that game so very much; it’s one of the top five SquareSoft/Square Enix products ever, in my opinion.

    The battle view is a three-quarters top-down view, with a square grid system for each battle map. Characters move in a turn-based fashion, with the turn order listed out at the top of the screen. When it is a character’s turn, they can move up to the number of spaces of their move stat, and can attack or use any skill in a class that they have unlocked so far and assigned to their skill slots. This can make for some incredibly varied and powerful characters.

    Each battle, party members earn both character experience, and class AP. Each character level, you increase hit points, magic points, and various other stats based on what character class you are at the time of gaining the level. This gives you plenty of options when it comes to min/maxing a character – if someone was a magic user for 99 levels, they won’t make a very good warrior, but their spells will be something to be feared.

    Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Each class has ten skills, one of which you get for free by unlocking the class. As you spend AP on the skill tree, you unlock more and more powerful skills that you can take with you to other classes. As you gain class levels, you can also unlock other classes. As you switch classes and unlock more skills, you can then unlock new classes, and so forth. This process grants you tons of skill customization options for both active and passive skills, allowing you to really make each character both powerful and unique in their skill sets. From what I saw, this looks great and I really look forward to trying more and more powerful classes out for size.

    From what I saw, when it comes to appropriateness issues, there is animated violence and magic use. One cut scene had someone bleed on the ground when they were killed, but most of the game, the enemies simply fade out. I have not noticed any curse words during my play time so far.

    Graphically, the game is all hand-drawn art, or pixel art. The combination is quite stunning, though the pixel art is not quite up to the level of quality the hand-drawn art is at. Nevertheless, it still looks very nice for what it is. The only problem I saw is that the game doesn’t really scale properly at higher or lower resolutions. At higher than 1080p, the characters have an odd pixel filter that simply looks bad. I had no trouble with my 720p GPD Win 2, but another user reported problems at 1366x768. Either way, I spoke with the developer, and they are looking into the resolution issues.

    I have only played a couple of hours of Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark so far, but what I have played I really liked. The art is great, the music is simply fantastic, and I really enjoyed the turn-based tactical gameplay a whole lot. It seems like a proper spiritual sequel to Final Fantasy Tactics that may actually live up to that high bar. I’m really excited about this game, despite having only played it for a few hours so far. I can’t wait for the final release in 2019, so I can give it a proper review!

    NOTE: Preliminary preview scores – subject to change!

  • boxart
    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • boxart
    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

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

    Fort Triumph
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    - Paul Barnard (Betuor)

  • boxart
    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Grand Kingdom
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Kings of Israel
    Developed by: Funhill Games
    Published by: Funhill Games
    Release date: December 21, 2015
    Available on: macOS, Windows
    Genre: Board game 
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Funhill Games for sending us a review copy of this game!

    The board game version of Kings of Israel was successfully Kickstarted in November of 2013 and received more than three times its meager goal of $9,500.  For $45 backers could own a copy of this Christian themed board game that received positive reviews from various media outlets.  The board game is available to everyone at the same price on Funhill’s website.  The video game follows much of the same ruleset and is available at a fraction of the price.  The only downside is that it’s single-player.

    It’s up to two prophets with unique skills to cleanse Israel from the sin that is steadily corrupting it.  Their goal is to build enough altars by gathering resources and knocking down idols while preaching God's message along the way.  If the predetermined number of sin clouds or idols are erected, then the game ends.  Another way to lose is to not have enough altars built before the 300 years of good and bad kings has ended.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun digitization of a Christian themed board game; a great way to learn about the good and bad kings of Israel.
    Weak Points: No Steam cloud saves.
    Moral Warnings: None!

    During the reign of a good king, a blessing card will be drawn at the beginning of the round and give the prophets a slight advantage.  Some of the blessing cards include the ability to summon resources or to quick travel to another town of their choosing.  If an evil king is ruling, a Sin & Punishment card is drawn and they work against the progress of the prophets.  Sometimes those cards will destroy an altar and replace it with an idol instead or reduce the number of actions or resources available to the prophets on their turn.  While strategic skills are needed, luck plays a big part as well and sometimes the cards are stacked against you.

    After the blessing and curse cards are drawn, the sin increase phase begins and you’ll see sin clouds gathering around various cities.  When three sin clouds are in the same city, an idol is erected.    After all of the wickedness is dispersed it’s time for the prophets to take their turns and deal with the sin.

    Most of the actions they take use up one action point but some, including destroying idols or building an altar, take two.  Walking, sailing, or taking a camel to travel use up an action point too.  The camel lets you go further, but the tradeoff is that it costs you a calf or grain for payment.  Other available options include preaching to remove a sin cloud, or making an offering at an altar to remove sin from that town and adjacent ones.  Making a sacrifice also gives you an additional blessing card.  If you don’t have the resources needed to make an offering you can request one at the cost of an action point. 

    Kings of Israel
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Some prophets have the ability to foresee what the next two resources given will be.  Prophet abilities and using blessing cards can be done without costing an action point.  If multiple prophets are in the same town, they can trade items to make altar building easier.  Some blessing cards or prophet abilities allow you to trade freely, but there’s normally the cost of an action point to do so.

    Those who know Israel’s history will be aware that there were more evil kings than good ones. In other words, you’ll be getting a lot of Sin & Punishment cards during your gameplay.  If you want to test your Bible knowledge further there’s a Bible Study mode that asks a trivia question and rewards or punishes you depending on your answer.  

    If you’re looking for a fun Christian themed board game to play with your family I recommend looking into the table-top edition.  However, if you’re playing solo and want a fun and challenging Christian video game, look no further than Kings of Israel.  The price is a reasonable $7.99 on Steam and it’s bound to keep you entertained for several hours as it scales its difficulty level on your win/lose ratio.  My only complaint is that there’s no cloud save option to sync my progress between my desktop and laptop systems.  

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
    Developed by: Ubisoft Paris
    Published by: Ubisoft
    Release date: August 29, 2017
    Available on: Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Turn based strategy
    Number of players: Up to two
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for cartoon violence, comic mischief, mild language
    Price: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Ubisoft for sending us this game to review!

    It’s always neat when franchises work so well together unexpectedly. Kingdom Hearts (Disney + Final Fantasy) immediately comes to mind, and now there’s Mario + Rabbids. It should come as no surprise that the Rabbids are behind Mushroom Kingdom’s new look and inhabitants thanks to a device that combines any two objects or characters.

    The Rabbids unintentionally invade Mushroom Kingdom through a wormhole that appears over it. Mario finds himself surrounded by a Rabbid Peach and a Rabbid Luigi. Thankfully, these new partners are calmer than typical Rabbids. A Roomba looking gadget named Beep-O assists Mario in getting acclimated in this modified kingdom. Beep-O suggests locating the Rabbid dubbed Spawny who is the one wreaking havoc in Mushroom Kingdom.

    In total, there are four worlds to explore and they each have numerous treasures, coins, secrets, and battles to uncover. There are many collectibles like artwork, soundtracks, 3D models, and Tarot cards which can be viewed in the museum. In the Battle Headquarters you can modify and upgrade your party and weapons. Each character has a unique skill tree that can have the various tiers unlocked with Power Orbs, which can be found in levels or earned by completing Rabbid Challenges. The Buddy Dome is where co-op multiplayer battles take place. Multiplayer isn’t available until the first mini-boss is defeated. By then, the players should be acclimated with the ins and outs of this turn based battle system.

    Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun turn based strategy game that skillfully combines two different franchises
    Weak Points: Second hand owners won’t have the weapon advantage of the original owner
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; potty humor; mild language (hell), Tarot cards and fortune telling; rabbids seen kissing

    Your battle party consists of three characters who each get to move across grid style levels and attack during the player’s turn. Some of the player characters as well as enemies have a preemptive or counter attack ability so keep that in mind when playing your characters. If your character is close enough, they can slide into an enemy before using their attack for additional damage. Most battlegrounds have areas to take cover, but many of them are destructible and temporary. If possible, try to stay on high ground for a significant damage boost.

    Before the battle begins, you can choose to play at an easier difficulty which will replenish your party’s HP (health points) and give them an additional 50% of health. Some battles will replenish your health afterward, but most of them don’t. You may find some mushrooms around the world that can heal you, but they are few and far between.

    Most of the battles are won by defeating all of the opponents. Some battles only require eliminating a certain number of foes which will keep respawning until that goal is met. Another battle objective is just having at least one of your party members make it to a designated area. If all of your party members survive, you’ll get a perfect rating. If one party member gets knocked out you will earn a good rating and having one standing will net you a fair rating. You can always replay battles to get a better score if desired. The better the rating, the more coins you will earn. Coins are used for unlocking better weapons. The physical version of the game I was sent contained a DLC code for upgraded weapons, which were significantly more powerful than the starter ones. Besides this DLC there may be a new story and worlds added so a season pass may be worth considering if you enjoy this game.

    Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    The current worlds will keep you entertained with several levels, a mini boss, and an intimidating boss at the end. Once the boss is defeated, the next world will become available by unlocking a new ability for Beep-O. You can use the new skills to unlock areas and get to treasure chests previously inaccessible in the earlier levels.

    The worlds and enemies have a lot of variety and detail. A lot of effort and thought went into the design of this game and the visual and audio quality shows. The same voice actors reprise their roles and I love hearing Luigi's "I'm a winner" at the end of a battle. The controls are pretty responsive and easy to use as well. People of any age should be able to grasp this game pretty quickly.

    As bright and colorful as this game is, it's bound to catch the attention of kids. Thankfully, it's pretty clean and there's not too much to worry about here. Rabbids are known for their silliness and there is a scene were a couple of them are kissing.  The first boss is Rabbid Kong who loves bananas. Once you remove his stash of healing bananas, he gets upset. He’ll then take the offending character and wipe his butt with them, and then throw them. There are some other instances of potty humor with various bodily noises that the Rabbids make. The word "hell" is also used in the game. Last but not least is the cartoon violence which is a given in any Mario or Rabbid title.

    If you’re a fan of turn based strategy games and appreciate the Mario and Rabbid games, you’ll definitely want to pick up Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. The crude and silly humor will entertain kids and the challenge will keep gamers of all ages engaged. The multiplayer co-op mode is fun as well if you have another player nearby. This title is worth adding to your Switch library if you don't mind the Tarot cards and fortune telling.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Mordheim: City of the Damned
    Developed by: Rogue Factor
    Published by: Focus Home Interactive
    Release date: November 19, 2015
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Turn based strategy
    Number of players: Up to two online
    PEGI Rating: 16 for Realistic looking violence
    Price: $39.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Focus Home Entertainment for sending us a review code!

    Mordheim: City of the Damned is based on the table top game that came out in 1999.  It didn’t have much of a shelf life since Games Workshop stopped supporting the game in 2004.  The fans have been maintaining it since and apparently there are enough of them to warrant the development of a videogame.  

    Like the board game, this 3D turn based strategy videogame is set in The Old World which was struck by a comet and scattered powerful gems called wyrdstone throughout the streets.  These gems are in high demand and you must gather them for your faction, but you will not be alone.  Many other warbands are gathering them too and they will put their lives on the line to collect them all.

    Each warband has their own strengths and weaknesses as well as weapon limitations.  In my forty-hour campaign, I played as the Sisters of Sigmar (hammer wielding nuns that worship the patron god of the Empire) that have no ranged weapons.  They do however have ranged based magic attacks like the Comet of Sigmar spell.  The only problem with that spell is that my caster was often cursed by their deity shortly after using it.  

    Other warbands include the Skaven (giant rats) who are fast and stealthy; human Mercenaries are also lurking about and they’re pretty strong.   The Cult of the Possessed are zealots that wish to promote chaos to please their four Chaos Gods as its pantheon.  A new warband, the Witch Hunters is available as DLC for $9.99.  No matter which warband you choose, they all have their own goals be it making money, chaos, or purging evil in the land.  Each warband has a two act single-player campaign with several missions in each act.  

    Mordheim: City of the Damned
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging 3D turn-based strategy game that has RPG elements
    Weak Points: Merciless difficulty with perma-death and no way to back-up your save file; slow-paced; not many people playing online
    Moral Warnings: Violence and bloodshed as your bludgeoning and slashing enemies with hammers, swords, maces, daggers, and other deadly weapons; magic use; references to various deities; some females wear form fitting outfits  

    Between story missions you can play as many skirmishes as you see fit to power up your warband and collect enough wyrdstone to meet the demands of your primary faction.  Every few days your primary faction will require a certain weight of wyrdstones to be delivered and in return, they will pay you and supply your warband with new items and abilities.    Failure to make four deliveries will result in an end to your campaign.  There are also secondary factions that you can send wyrdstones to for better payouts and even more unlockable items and abilities.  

    While the primary objective in each skirmish is to either annihilate or lower the morale of the enemy to make them rout, there are several optional objectives that can net your warband valuable experience for completing them.  Some of the optional objectives include collecting the majority of the wyrdstone in the level, stealing the enemy’s idol and securing it in your cart, or killing specific enemies and collecting their tokens as trophies.  

    Experience earned in missions helps your soldiers level up and gives them points which can be used to increase various stats like agility, alertness, intelligence, leadership, strength, and toughness.  Skill points can be used to unlock numerous skills as long as the minimum stat levels are met. Not all of the units have skill or magic upgrade options though.  

    In battle, each unit has a limited number of movement, offense, and strategy points.  The restricted movement and attack points make this game a bit too slow paced for some.  What turns off others is the brutal difficulty.  If a unit is badly injured they may lose an eye or a limb and it will impair their attack as a result.  Sometimes there will only be a light wound which will involve a couple days of downtime, while other times they may die on the spot and you’ll have to start leveling up a new character.  More experienced units are available for hire, but they cost more gold to recruit and maintain.

    Mordheim: City of the Damned
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence - 2.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    If a unit is awaiting treatment or payment, they will not be able to partake in future missions.  Firing a unit is possible, but you have to pay their medical bills and wages first.  If a maimed character is weighing your warband down, you can fire them and get a Cold Hearted Steam achievement while you’re at it.  In total, there are one hundred and six Steam achievements available.  

    To earn all of the Steam achievements you’ll have to complete the single-player campaigns for each of the warbands and play some multiplayer skirmishes.  Given the difficulty level of this game, unlocking those Steam achievements is easier said than done.  The single-player campaign is merciless and does not allow you to back-up your save file.  Thankfully the multiplayer mode lets you play lighthearted battles that do not carry over unit injuries or treasure.  You can still play for keeps if you want to keep it challenging.  Sadly, I did not see many skirmishes to join and the ones that I did see were not in my warband’s experience bracket.   

    Not only is the difficulty brutal, so is the violence.  Blood will splatter as the units are clobbered with hammers, swords, daggers, maces and various projectiles.  

    The enemies, allies, and city maps are all incredibly detailed.  The streets of Mordheim are covered with traps and the walls literally have eyes that follow your every move.  Some of the levels take place in the daytime while others are foggy, or at night.  The maps vary in size and it’s easy to get lost and thankfully the steps of your teammates are glowing so it’s easy to follow their tracks if needed.   The audio is just as well polished as the visuals with eerie choral music and superb voice acting.  

    In the end, Mordheim: City of the Damned is an extremely well-polished but brutally difficult turn-based strategy game.  Despite the lack of multiplayer activity, there’s plenty to do in the single-player campaign.  If you’re a fan of Games Workshop games then you should keep an eye out for this one if you don’t mind the violence, magic use, and references to various deities.

     

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence
    Developed by: Koei Tecmo
    Published by: Koei Tecmo
    Release date: September 1, 2015
    Available on: PS3, PS4, Windows
    Genre: Turn Based Strategy
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for mild language and violence
    Price: $26.94
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Koei Tecmo for sending us this game to review!

    The Nobunaga's Ambition series has been around since 1983 and Nobunaga's Ambition Sphere of Influence was originally released in Japan on its 30th anniversary. It didn’t reach Western shores until late 2015. Many of the clan names I am familiar with by playing the Dynasty Warrior games, but the gameplay is much different in this title and the battles are not as epic. Nobunaga's Ambition Sphere of Influence is a very complex turn based strategy game and I HIGHLY recommend going through the tutorial before diving into the several campaigns available. Even after going through the tutorial I was still fumbling through the complex menu system.

    I first played through Sanada Yukimura’s campaign despite the title’s namesake Nobunaga Oda’s being available. The character artwork for the Sanada clan is different than the Dynasty Warrior series. Each campaign takes place in various time periods and have you starting off as different classes. I enjoyed working my way from a lowly retainer to a powerful Daimyo.

    In order to get promoted you'll need to earn honor by completing tasks assigned by your Daimyo. Other ways to earn honor include efficiently running your territory and winning battles in your clan's name. With enough honor you may be able to request officers or ownership of castles from your leader.

    Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: In-depth and fun strategy game
    Weak Points: Complicated interface takes some adjusting to; limited voice acting
    Moral Warnings: War violence and dead bodies are left laying on the ground; mild language (d*mn); references to various religions though Christianity is present

    The campaigns can be played at easy, normal, hard or extra hard difficulties. There are many options to configure including the lifespan of the leader. You can choose to be historically accurate and have them die at their appointed year or take some artistic license with their age. Another option is to have maiden generals which was probably not likely back then. Fictional heirs can also be appointed to extend the dynasty’s rule if needed.

    If you don’t start off as a Lord or Daimyo, there’s not much you can do between monthly council meetings other than fielding villager requests and talking with nearby leaders who are visiting or ones you chose to visit. At the council meeting, resources permitting, you can build on your territory, research innovations, or barter with the trader if you already researched commerce for your clan.

    In order to build on or innovate your land, you’ll need to have enough food, iron, gold, and lumber in your stockpiles. If gold runs low, you can tax your villagers, but your popularity will go down as a result. Lumber can only be harvested by a forest and iron ore can only be mined if there is an iron vein nearby. Gold is earned by having shops and traders in your district. Merchants require a lot of traffic and they have to be placed by roads. Farms require faith and water to flourish. Miners need to unwind and request for theaters to be built nearby.

    As you research technology, you’ll unlock new structures that can be built. When you have a tea house in your village, nobles from other clans will drop by and sometimes they will send secret messengers to recruit you to their side. During the council, you can decide on who to pay a visit to. As you build up friendships with other clan members, they may assist you in the construction process or even train your soldiers as a favor. Sometimes they may ask for resources or money as a favor. Besides proposals to join other clans you may even get a marriage offer.

    Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls/Interface - 2/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As war ravages the country, you’ll get status updates on different clans disintegrating and Daimyos passing away. Sooner or later you’ll be summoned to battle. You can always bounce around clans if things are too peaceful for you.

    The battles give you two points of view. You can do a tactical overview, or see the battleground firsthand. I preferred the tactical view since the controls were slightly easier to use, though the graphics were nicer in the battlefield view. Like all wars, there is plenty of violence and dead bodies left behind.

    Other than the violence there is some language (d*mn) in the dialogue. The voice acting is very minimal and only used in the council meetings. The background music is good though.

    The graphics are a mixed bag in this game. I like the character artwork but the rest of the visuals are a bit bland. This game was originally released on PS3 so that’s probably why. The visuals are leagues better than the NES version however.

    In the end, Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence is a solid entry into this long running series. The daunting interface is not for the feint of heart though. Once you learn the basics, the rest falls into place and you’ll lose track of time before you know it. The retail price is still at $59.99, but it’s bound to entertain you for quite some time.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Oriental Empires
    Developed By: Shining Pixel Studios
    Published By: Iceberg Interactive
    Released: September 14, 2017
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Strategy, Simulation
    ESRB Rating: None
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Iceberg Interactive for sending us this game for review!

    Historically based video games are a unique bunch. On the negative side, games with this particular label invite extra helpings of scrutiny for itself. People inspect its accuracy with a microscope, and the second common pitfall is for the game to shove so many facts in the player’s face that it outright murders the fun. However, should an edu-tainment game hit that sweet spot between education and play, it can be one of the most effective learning tools known to man. With their strategy game, Oriental Empires, the creative minds at Shiny Pixel Studios decided to rewind the clock by a few thousand years and place focus on the Far East. Published by Iceberg Interactive, Oriental Empires opens a window into ancient China.

    This game starts you somewhere between the Autumn and Spring Period and the Warring States Period. For those of you who don’t know, this era directly precedes China’s official founding. Here, you act as a ruler, and you get to pick one among several kingdom states that will one day compose China. Your first goal is to stabilize your selected kingdom so that it can provide for its peoples’ needs, happiness, and protection. As for your second goal, you aim to unite all city states under your banner as the first emperor. The game’s structure is set up like a turn based strategy RPG. You take your time administering orders, organizing armies, passing edicts, and whatnot before sounding a gong on the bottom corner of your screen. Once the gong is struck, you end your turn. Then you can sit back and watch the populace do their stuff. This start and stop dance will thus continue in an endless cycle. There’s no rush in your decisions (and there will be a lot of decisions), and it’s nice to have the option to just watch your people do as they’re told. To me, this procedural method feels very natural and easy-going, which is great considering how dense Oriental Empires is.

    Following strategy game norms, Oriental Empires is structured around management. Like I’ve said, the main things you oversee are the funds, city development, and overall maintenance. As you found your settlements, you need to consider what needs development most. Nearly every decision of yours costs money, and some decisions carry maintenance fees to boot. Believe me, you can suck your treasury dry in two licks if you’re not careful, and trying to fix one problem can cause a whole conga line of consequences. To demonstrate what I mean: the fast-lane solution to the ‘bankrupt bank blues’ is to establish a functioning economy. Commissioning shops and mines can thusly spurn money-making trade. However, if your people are starving, they’d sooner rebel than be productive. Planting farms would then be the solution, but then you’d need to wait for them to be completed. Not to mention you can’t build squat if your workers are too few. Even then, if they’re overworked, they might rebel anyway, which leads to another batch of headaches. (Frankly, the whole ‘satisfying the people’ thing is probably the most annoying element. I mean it. Very few things don’t rock your whine-prone population’s boat, and having either peasant unrest or noble unrest is bad news.) Then there are what could be called skill trees that you use to determine which upgrades your kingdom gets in what order. There’s a power branch, a craft branch, a technology branch, and a religion branch that must be enhanced to further progression. Exhausted with this list yet? It’s not over. Not even close. There’s diplomacy, where you can host or be called to meetings with other kingdoms. There’s edicts you can pass, which can change up the way the game runs (each with their own sets of pros and cons), and then there’s the occasional disaster to deal with too. *Pant* *Pant* *Pant* Well, you’ve gotta hand it to the developers. They really have thought of everything.

    Oriental Empires
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Impressive historical portrayal, Ultimately rewarding gameplay
    Weak Points: Oversaturated text, Hostile learning curve, A minor bug
    Moral Warnings: Ancient Chinese philosophy/religion

    On that note, the first thing about Oriental Empires that impressed me is the massive amount of historical research. Sure, you picking a kingdom to be victorious with means the game isn’t strictly following the factual timeline (*The Qin kingdom won*), but the sociology side of it is pretty spot on. Inventions, arts, clans, customs; no matter if it has gameplay relevance or not, if you can click it, there’s an informative textbox for it. I daresay the game’s intel reaches encyclopedic levels. Forget the library. Play Oriental Empires, and you’ll become an honorary expert. Unfortunately, all this info can cause a significant problem after the first minute of play. First and foremost, a game must remember that it’s a game, not an encyclopedia. For the most part, Oriental Empires handles its info just fine. That’s really saying a lot, but there is one main place where the facts get in the way: their in-game manual. It’s not consistent in clearly describing how to perform certain actions. Now at times, it does explain matters well, but whenever it wastes time talking about what something is rather than how it should work in the game’s context, it becomes less helpful. I’d like to say this was a minor offense, but in this game’s case, it grew a little bigger than that.

    To elaborate, this game feels overwhelming. Very overwhelming. I yapped about the gameplay’s complexity earlier, but once you get into the mechanics side of it, complex turns into oversaturated. As stated, the broadstroke rundown is that you’ve got to establish trade, organize some kind of security, and ensure your citizens are fed and happy. However, once you zero in on any single factor, you’ll discover a pile of mechanics dense enough to merit its own game. Take army management for example. You can recruit a certain number of citizens in your current population to take up arms. Drafting a faction costs both an initial fee and a maintenance fee for every turn that faction exists. There are multiple types of soldiers to choose from, but your main draftees are divided into two camps: nobles and peasants. High cost nobles are better skilled but not as mobile, and peasants, while cheaper and agile, aren’t as strong. You have to weigh out what you can afford versus what’s best for your situation. Then, after you’ve recruited your faction(s), there’s a whole command pool to learn just so you can tell who to go where and what to do when. You also have to mind their strength and stamina. Use your faction(s) too constantly and they’ll tire out, losing their effectiveness. Sounds like a mouthful, yes? And that was just a drop in the vast pool of Oriental Empire’s gameplay. I hadn’t even bothered splitting hairs about all that goes on in order to do the construction, trade circulation, or ambassadorship, ‘cause frankly this paragraph is long enough as it is. The fact that the manual isn’t clear enough at times on how to handle these things doesn’t help. Doesn’t help at all.

    Now, I know I just made Oriental Empires sound unforgivably convoluted, and younger me (as in one-month-ago me) would have agreed. I spun my tires for an hour, straining to keep everything straight or even how to give the most basic of commands. Needless to say, this game has a horrible first impression, and it put a nasty taste in my mouth. However, after a while, I got accustomed to its groove, and found myself enjoying it far more than I expected to. That’s what genuinely surprised me. To watch your seed of a town branch into a thriving empire is an addictive joy. I subconsciously continued turn after turn from a genuine desire to keep improving my people’s lives. In a way, the game is like a sculpture. It begins as a boring block but will gain meaningful form under loving hands willing to shape it. It’s just the fact that its learning curve is such a complete turn off is plain tragic. However, if a person is willing to stick it out, the struggle becomes quite the satisfying reward. I’d also like to add that there are some atou-build and auto-spend options that you can toggle to handle some of your funds for you. However, I would caution you to watch your towns like a hawk should you have one on. Structures you may not want might end up built, and it’s an oversight that can cost you thousands from your struggling treasury. At first, I thought this auto-build thing was a bug, but once I figured it all out, my silly builders finally, finally stopped trying to construct that same do-dang shrine. Like I said, keep an eye on those switches then be ready for any consequences.

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    The world map in Oriental Empires offers quite a view. Your field of vision is limited in the beginning, but it expands the further you venture off the map edge. I was awestruck by the landscape. It’s so pristine and well rendered. The rivers glisten from every angle, and the entire country side even changes seasons after every turn. Now, in my opinion, the whole area looks its best at a distance. Thankfully though, it’s not too shabby up close either. Zooming in to the ground level lets you see people and animals. Their models aren’t stellar. They don’t do much either, but they don’t look bad. Battles in between turns are also slightly more exciting magnified than far away, even if the animation is largely unimpressive. As for music, I‘ve always had a weakness for the oriental faire, so I might be a little biased in my assessment. But I loved their score in an instant. It had great quality, the orchestration was pleasant to listen to, and not once did it annoy me.

    I compliment Oriental Empire for achieving fairly reliable functionality. Large games are not easy to sustain, especially considering the strings upon strings of code it takes to run. Notice, though, that I said, ‘fairly’ reliable. I came across a couple bugs that slipped through the cracks. My army factions would shuffle around on occasion. These occurrences were unprompted and happened before I rang the gong. It was more funny than obstructive really - kind of like watching action figures doing musical chairs. I also recall having the game freeze on me once, but that was only once. It wasn’t a recurring issue. I’d also like to point out that there is a multiplayer mode in Oriental Empires. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to test it, due to the lack of opposing players. There’s just no one to play against.

    A careful reader likely noticed the word ‘shrine’ in my earlier paragraph. When it comes to Biblical teachings, it shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that a deep dive into ancient Chinese culture would include some contrary belief systems. Just about every oriental philosophy under the sun is mentioned from Daoism to Confucianism. Additionally, the option to build shrines and pagodas is available but not required. Now, in Oriental Empire’s defense, you could argue that this makes for a well rounded study. You can’t fully understand a culture if you don’t understand what they believed. However, parents should know that the religion upgrade tiles ask players to promote false lines of thought in order to get their upgrades. Not only that, but your in-game bid to become emperor is also a claim to divinity as the ‘son of heaven’. Some might say that’s taking things a little too far, and they might be right. When in China, you shouldn’t have to play monkey see, monkey do. However, the ultimate decision lies with you. Is this just a thoroughly explorative game? Or a yin-yang glorifier? Pray and take your pick.

    As I finish this review, might I add that I’ve had interest in Chinese history since I was kid. Thus, you can imagine I highly appreciated the developers’ efforts in Oriental Empires’ portrayal. On the positive side, my inner historian was stunned, but on the negative side, my inner gamer groaned for the first hour or two. Now, whether a good game should be simple or complex has become a popular debate in recent years. It’s easy to see why. Simple games are a great change of pace in our hectic lives, but there’s a certain beauty to complex games too. Just think. A group of people toiled long hours to get systematic juggernauts like this running. That’s hard not to admire, and as Oriental Empires demonstrated, they can have plenty to offer in the long run. However, complex games shouldn’t have to be complex to learn. That’s Oriental Empires’ primary deterrent, but if you’re willing to learn and aren’t turned off by heavy doses of Chinese philosophies, then I can imagine Oriental Empires being worth your time. You’ll like it. That is unless games like Civilization aren’t your style. There’s that too.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Phantom Brave PC
    Developed By: Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.
    Published By: NIS America, Inc.
    Release Date: July 25, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Violence, Blood, Suggestive Themes, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
    Genre: Strategy Role Playing Game
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

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

    Phantom Brave PC is the definitive (perhaps final?) edition of the highly regarded PS2 game of the same name. This version includes all of the extra content from the Wii and PSP ports, and has higher resolution backgrounds and interface adjustments to make it run and look reasonably well on PC. While not an ideal PC version, it is a decent enough port, and the deep and charming story as well as the complex gameplay systems are all here.

    The main characters are Ash and Marona. In the introduction, it explains that Ash and Marona's parents were fighting a powerful evil force, and they were defeated. Just at the moment of death, Marona's father casts a spell on Ash preventing his complete death, but instead of remaining living, he becomes a Phantom. In this game, a Phantom is probably easiest to describe as a more powerful ghost – it's dead and yet not, as he can manifest physically for a limited time, and has a full personality. Marona inherited from her parents the ability to see and interact with Phantoms, which both grants her great power, and makes her an outcast and someone to fear from almost everyone.

    Marona was five years old when her parents died, and Ash was left behind to help take care of her. Ash cares for her very lovingly, and Marona trusts him very deeply as well. Their relationship is one of the highlights of this game, and their intense care for and trust in each other comes through very clearly throughout the story.

    At thirteen years old, Marona decides that she has to start working in order to meet her needs, so she heads out as a Chroma (which is what Ash and her parents also were in life) in order to offer her services to any citizens in need. Chromas are basically legal mercenaries for hire; their jobs range from finding lost items to defeating powerful enemies. Of course she is not the only one, with other individuals and companies competing for contracts.

    Despite people's constant harassment because of her unusual (and frightening) power, she believes deep down the words of her parents – that she would face a lot of difficult prejudice against her, but over time, people would be swayed by her kind personality. Watching this happen is one of the highlights of Phantom Brave's main campaign. Over time, you come to really love Ash and Marona.

    Phantom Brave PC
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Wonderful characters; fantastic music; interesting variation on the SRPG genre; solid challenge, with a whole lot of character and item customization; tons and tons of content
    Weak Points: Character art is much lower detail than the backgrounds, so it takes time to get used to it; at times very difficult (if that's a con) which can require grinding to overcome; controls could be better; requires a significant time commitment to make progress (not pick up and play)
    Moral Warnings: Some blood and cartoon violence; foul language, with words like 'b*st*rd', 'hell', '*ss', 'd*mn'; sexually suggestive dialog in a few places, with references to breast sizes; some skimpy outfits, though most are on very pixelated sprites; alcohol consumption, drunkenness, and tobacco use; significant spiritual elements, most of your warriors, as well as one of the main characters, are Phantoms, which are manifested by possessing items; magic use

    The second story, which is accessible via New Game+ or from the main menu, is called 'Another Marona'. This story is a bit darker, with more conflict between the characters, and more sexually suggestive dialog. I would recommend the main campaign be played first, with 'Another Marona' reserved for older gamers.

    At first glance, it may appear that Phantom Brave is a Strategy Role Playing Game (SRPG) similar to other popular titles, like Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics. In some ways this is true – it's a top down, hybrid 2D/3D game (3D areas with 2D sprites) with characters that move about the battle map with skills that affect friends or enemies with various areas of effect, and so on. Each turn, your characters, along with enemies, go in order of their speed attribute, and move into place to utilize the best skill or attack for the situation. It's a time tested and enjoyable game mechanic, and it works well here, too.

    Despite a similar heritage, there are a few aspects of Phantom Brave that really sets it apart from other SRPGs. For one, rather than the more typical grid or hex based system for movement and combat, everything here is completely freeform. This means that if you are careful, you can step around objects, or find the exact shortest paths to make the most of your movement. This is really handy on slippery levels, where you can move really far with the smallest amount of movement. At other times, it can be a bit frustrating, as characters may not go exactly where you expect, or they can get stuck on something stupid, which wastes their turn.

    The other, and much bigger change, is that all of Marona's team members are Phantoms. She literally summons her team members into nearby items, which then go on to possess those items, take physical form, then proceed to fight for her, until their time runs out. Each class has a summon turn limit – anything from three to eight – where they can move and perform actions. Once that limit is reached, they disappear and cannot be summoned again until the next battle. There is an incredible amount of strategy involved in both character and item summons, as well as placement; after all, a move-only turn is all but wasted. There is a lot to consider here, and a well executed plan can be very rewarding indeed.

    The game system is really meant to be abused, by design. Much of the more difficult content expects you to know how to do this, and the game seems to expect you to use a guide or figure it all out via trial and error. Item leveling, skill leveling, character leveling, and even dungeon leveling, as well as titles, are all interlinked in that you can take advantage of the systems to make obnoxiously powerful characters with levels that are just nuts.

    And there is also the fusion system. You need to fuse items together, generate random dungeons with various attributes, fuse characters together, and so on to transfer skills, mana (which levels skills), and more all in the pursuit of more power. The game has a character and item level limit of 9999 – which cannot be reached without a ton of fusions. Honestly, the fusion system is very complex, and that's not all of it – there is another tangential blacksmith system as well, not to mention merchants whose items level up as they do. And of course there are ways to abuse the game to get tons and tons of money as well. Exploits and powergaming opportunities are endless.

    Phantom Brave PC
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The presentation is a mixed bag. Graphically, the characters are very low resolution sprites, which looks jarring next to the much nicer backgrounds. Thankfully, there are filters you can apply to the sprites that helps somewhat. The backgrounds look better, though you can tell much of the improvements are just higher resolutions, with textures that are clearly dated.

    On the other side, the music is clearly fantastic. The pure audio quality is top notch, and there is an enchanting mix of instruments and vocaloids that really sets the appropriate moods. There is also excellent voice acting that really helps you get to know each character. Top ratings here for sure.

    Moral warnings are a mixed bag. On one level, we are talking about Phantoms - ghosts who fight for their living masters. There is emotional pain, and loss of life. On another, you see people with an undying desire to help others, and an unrelenting kindness that never gives up, and the rewards of that love. Marona also thanks God for her gifts and desire to help others and considers her powers to be from God. God is otherwise unnamed. You also see the consequences of lying, and other moral lessons.

    There are also other concerns, like violence, language, and sexual content. There is cartoon violence, blood, and a scene has a man impaling himself. Foul language includes 'b*st*rd', 'hell', '*ss', and 'd*mn'. There is sexually suggestive dialog, mostly in the 'Another Marona' episode. Some outfits are very skimpy, showing skin everywhere but the required coverings, though it is rather low detail because of the sprite resolution as mentioned above.

    Phantom Brave PC has a rather excellent story and game system, and is absolutely worth playing if you are looking for an extremely long and involving SRPG. If you like a quick pick up and play, this game is absolutely not that – I would never commit less than an hour or two at a time when sitting down to play this game. A game for lunch breaks this is not. While not without flaws - the controls are a little tedious on keyboard/mouse, and occasionally stubborn on controller (Steam Controller is best in my opinion because you can have both), and the graphics have a lot of room for improvement - it is a very good game, and worth playing. And as always, please consider the moral warnings before purchase.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Phoenix Point
    Developed By: Snapshot Games
    Published By: Snapshot Games
    Released: May 1, 2018
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Strategy
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: 1 offline, no online
    Price: $50.00

    Snapshot Games just recently released its Pre-Alpha Development Build for Phoenix Point. Phoenix Point is a turn-based strategy (TBS) game from the creator of the original X-Com back from 1994. In this game, you lead an organization that is fighting against monstrosities born from a virus that was released from a melting ice cap. This virus began to spread and quickly consumed most of the world. In this early build, you play as one of the three factions that you will encounter in the full game. All of your four soldiers have been infected by the virus, also called the mist, and have been sent on a suicide mission to recover a lost facility.

    At this point in the build, there are two scenarios you can play. There is the preset mission which is mostly the same as the press build they have been showing off for a bit now and then there is the randomly generated level that is mostly the same as the preset with the objectives and enemies present, but it is not set up so that it is balanced like the other mission. These missions are so you can test the currently available features which is really nice since there are some really different things that are trying with this game and that is what I’m mostly going to spend the rest of the article talking about.

    So far, probably the most unique feature would be the way they handle what each unit can do during their turn. In Phoenix Point, there are no TUs (time units) nor the two action system that recent TBS games have implemented to replace TUs. Instead, you have what I believe I’ve heard referred to as the action wheel. This “wheel” is a bar you have under the list of actions that a unit can do. Each action, including moving, reduces that bar down. When that bar is empty, that unit’s turn is done unless there is still some free cost actions they can perform. This bar takes some getting used to, but once I got more familiar with it I have really grown to like it. Most actions that can be performed remove set chunks of it. For instance, firing a rifle uses half of it. Throwing a grenade or using a medkit use half. Firing a heavy weapon like the sniper or machine gun costs ¾ of the bar. Using a pistol or messing around in your inventory costs ¼. Moving is fairly cheap. I believe one space is roughly 5% of the bar. To help you know if you can still use a weapon after moving, the game displays some different areas. If you move to a spot inside of the blue area, you can still fire the equipped weapon once that spot is moved to. The orange area shows a spot that can be moved to, you just can’t use the equipped weapon once you get there, but you may still be able to swap to a different weapon and then use it. This whole system I found to be really good in most cases and I look forward to seeing how it will play out once a couple more things get added into the game.

    Phoenix Point
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay with a lot of new and interesting mechanics, a randomly generated map, nice art and music.
    Weak Points: The build is very early so it is fairly buggy, the use of will in some bits feels a bit much, the game starts you off woefully underequipped, the random generation of the map can be very unfair.
    Moral Warnings: Lots of violence, Lovecraftian creature design.

    The next thing that the game has that is very unique is its firing system. In Phoenix Point, every shot uses a realistic ballistics simulation. This basically means that each shot fired actually matters. Shots are handled by playing an animation and then damage occurring. In this game, it matters if each shot hits and where it hits. Bullets must actually be able to hit their intended target. That also means that cover actual works off a system of whether it is big enough to block a shot from hitting you or not. It is no longer a wise idea to try and hide a big guy behind a puny coffee table since most of his body will still be poking up above it. To also allow for more freedom, the player also gets to actually aim each shot. When you go to shoot, you actually get to aim in a sort of first-person perspective. You get to pick which part of the body you want to shoot at. This allows you to target certain parts of the enemy that you might want to disable such as their gun arm to prevent them from shooting or their legs to limit their ability to move. All body parts can be disabled in this game including your own. Depending upon the body part damaged, your soldier is affected in a different way. If a leg is damaged, their movement ability is greatly hindered. If it is a hand or an arm, they can no longer use weapons or equipment that requires both hands. If you are really unlucky, you can even have your weapon shot and destroyed. This can be really annoying, but it shouldn’t be as bad in the full game when you can equip your squad since you’ll be able to carry more than the bare minimum. Also, the later builds shouldn’t be as bad with gear as the current one since they stated that they wanted to limit your gear to encourage looting to kind of force players to test the new inventory system.

    Another thing this game is doing differently is tying abilities to a will system. In the demo, you have three different types of player units: soldier, sniper, and heavy. (These are what I’m calling them, but I have no idea what they are officially called.) Each unit has different gear and maximum amount of will points. Everything besides the most basic abilities like shooting or reloading, require the player to use will points. This is a very different way to do a lot of these abilities. Some of the abilities allow for some basic things such as healing or going into overwatch while some abilities allow for some really special things such as using your jumpjets to move long distances or to give yourself some extra points in your action wheel. Some of these abilities seem to be tied to the soldier and what class they are while others are tied directly to the equipment they have. Once you run out of will points, your soldier is supposed to be able to panic, but I have never had this occur to me. I’ve heard that they even want to do some more things in the future with things such as a soldier with no will is more likely to get infected which should be interesting, but as of right now it just mainly seems to mean you just can’t use any of your special abilities. Will points can also be lost by taking a lot of damage. If you lost a body part your maximum will decreases. Will can either be restored by spending all your actions on regaining a bit of it, by ending a turn in some special buildings, or by doing objectives. While I’m not a total fan of some of the abilities being locked behind will points, such as healing, it does seem like a good way to limit the use of the really powerful abilities and is certainly more interesting than just putting it on a cooldown.

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

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 91%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The enemy designs are something I did really enjoy. So far, the early build just had in it Crabmen enemies and the Queen boss enemy. The Crabmen are either crabs mutated by the virus to become more human like or humans mutated into some more crab-like beings. There are a nice couple of different versions of them in the build to mess around with. There are four types in total now each with some slightly different body parts. It seems that in this game, instead of equipping the enemies with different types of gear, they will instead get different body parts. If one of them is supposed to have more armor, it will have a big carapace on its back and it will now have its head tucked more in. It this is a melee enemy, it will have a crab claw. This looks like it will be a fun way to make each enemy different. The Queen is also an interesting enemy. The Queen is a massive mix-up of crab and spider with the upper bits of a person sticking off the front of it. This enemy is well armored and has a lot of health. What makes this interesting is it also has a lot of body parts to shoot. This is where attacking the different body parts really shines since the Queen is healthy enough to survive a few targeted shots so you can really mess around with disabling different things. Right now, the only attack is from the two claws so once you take those out there really isn’t much threat left, but there are supposed to be some more abilities she’ll be able to use later so you can really take advantage of disabling the different parts. Each of these two creatures feel very Lovecraftian in their design and I really like that, but this direction might not be for everybody since it can be gross and creepy.

    What art I saw in the build was good and it was more polished than I expected from a game this early in development. I’d also argue that in this game, the art matters a little bit more than it does in a lot of other TBS games since you can actually zoom in with the different weapons and look around. The sound so far is also good. I like the background music a lot and I am looking forward to seeing what else they make for the game. The guns all sound interesting and the enemies all sound very alien for their little murmurings and death screams. The stability is lacking, but that is to be expected of such an early build.

    Since there is so little in the actual game it is pretty hard to judge this game morally. There is some violence with killing the enemies, but there isn’t anything too gory or violent. When you disable a body part, it just seems to darken. The Queen does lose a bit of her claws but it is not in a gory manner. Everything else I can’t really comment on since I know nothing of the lore or story for the game.

    Overall, I’d say this is a very solid early build for Phoenix Point. I am happy to have backed the game and I greatly look forward to later builds of it coming out and adding more features into it. The game is doing a lot to differentiate itself from the other TBS games out on the market, but I could see some changes alienating some potential buyers. I’d love to say go and try the early build for yourself, but it is locked behind one of the slightly higher preorders so it isn’t really possible to try it out before you buy it. In my opinion though, the game seems to be heading in a really good direction and I’m looking forward to being able to enjoy the ride as it comes along.

    - Paul Barnard (Betuor)

Latest Comments

Latest Downloads

About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

S5 Box

JFusion Login Module

Register