Developer: Roland Studios | Publisher: ATLUS || Overall: 6.0
This is a strange world we live in. It’s a world where the most popular app for young adults is related to capturing fictional monsters and is not about hooking up with very real people. It’s also a world where ESPN believes that airing the finals of a Street Fighter tournament makes for good sports programming. These are only the most recent examples, too. For a long time now it seems like whatever was considered unpopular is starting to become popular, and the things that the dweebs, geeks and weaboos among us whispered in silence about have become the subject of very public and sometimes loud conjecture among major media, news outlets and the more popular among us. It’s almost like we are living in some geek’s daydream…
Out of the jaws of failure comes Daydreamer: Awakened Edition for your PS4. Originally starting as two Kickstarter projects that failed to make even three percent of their original goals, the game has come a long way to be published by ATLUS and available for the PS4. As a passion project for Roland Studios (which is really just a code name for the one guy who developed this game), Daydreamer is set to take your imagination and your money on this throwback side-scrolling shooter. At first glance, the game is an obvious departure from the usual flair. The art style jumps at you for being one part gorgeous and another part grotesque. Though, whether the game is all art style and no substance remains to be seen.
Getting the obvious out of the way first, the art style can only be described as “something else.” It may take a while to get used to, but it eventually settles into your heart as the Lovecraftian-wet-dream that it is. Daydreamer has an awkward beauty to it that presents your nightmares in a sort of picturesque–fashion, as if they were plucked right out of a child’s demented fairy tale. This is further supplemented by the amazing animation for the enemies. Each enemy walks, wriggles, crawls and staggers with a fluidity that makes them come to life; a disgusting, scary and ugly life, but a life nonetheless. This also extends to the main character that possesses the same sort of fluidity but without the characteristic grotesqueness of the enemies. Daydreamer: Awakened Edition is quite the sight to behold.
Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said of the gameplay. The Kickstarter mentions Alien Solider and Gunstar Heroes as inspirations and the gameplay reflects that, but I can’t help but think that it pales in comparison to its precursors. There wasn’t the same sense of urgency or utter chaos that both of those games are well known for; instead of having to contend with wave after wave of enemies, the standard rhythm of Daydreamer seems to be walking forward, shooting the things in front of you and then repeating that process until a boss appears in front of you. Which is a shame because the game seems to have all of the building blocks needed to pull off a fast-pace and fun shooter: a varied amount of weapons, movement options, melee attacks and even bonuses for chaining kills, but they never seem to come together in just the right way to put all those options to good use. There are a few things to break the monotony that include objectives that have you seeking and destroying power cores and a boss battle at the end of every level. Though, they do little to change the overall pacing. The power core hunts happen far too infrequently to matter and most of the boss battles quickly devolve into an arms races where shooting the boss becomes more important than dodging the boss’ attacks with only one notable exception.
Like the gameplay, the story has good intentions but doesn’t quite live up to them. The premise is sound, with the story taking place on an Earth ruled by alien invaders, and our lone protagonist is kept alive as a living trophy to their conquest. Roused from her matrix-like existence by the mysterious, nightmare-inducing, Gatekeeper, she is tasked with a dangerous mission to the Earth’s core and that’s about the point where the story fizzles out. From that point on there really isn’t much mention about what you are doing and why you are doing it, and it ends in a vague way that leaves you scratching your head. The bits of dialogue each boss offers don’t help much either. Their words are often generic and hardly motivating to the player. One striking example of this is a certain boss that starts his encounter by stating “I’m a rabbit, deal with it!!!” The story had a good start but lacks the proper execution to make that matter.
Daydreamer: Awakened Edition came a long way from being a Kickstarter failure to be available on a home console. It’s a shame that the game turned out to be have more style than substance. While those looking for a game with interesting art direction may be able to find something here, those that want to relive their enjoyment of Gunstar Heroes and Alien Soldier or are interested in a story set in a world dominated by alien forces will have to look elsewhere.
When not reclaiming the earth from alien invaders as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.
Developer: ACE Team | Publisher: ATLUS || Overall: 6.5
Ever date someone? Yeah… me neither, but let’s play pretend. Let’s say they’re nearly perfect for you. The type of person that not only tolerates, but even shares your hobbies with a pleasant personality; no shortage of devotion and enough physical beauty to put the Greek’s description of most gods and goddesses to shame. In short: the perfect fantasy. Now, let’s say with all their apparent assets there is still one thing about them that gets on your nerves; a single stain among the canvas of perfection that is your potential lover. You try to ignore it but it pops up in every conversation, and when you try to accept it, the very thought of encountering it again causes a sharp chill to run up your spine. Despite all their positive qualities, you can’t help but notice their one glaring flaw and have it mar the relationship entirely until you’re forced to break up with them. Don’t you think that sort of thing is a tragedy?
It’s not you, Laura. It’s the way you chew your food.
Taking a stab at the Roguelike subgenre, the developers at ACE Team have teamed up with the good people at ATLUS to give you Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition. A 2D side-scroller and an updated edition to the Steam and Xbox versions for the PS4, Abyss Odyssey is a game about swords and sorcery that takes place in Chile. Yeah, that’s right, I just said Chile. *Add wink and boastful head nod here.*
One of the few countries that actually looks like what it’s named after. If you twist your head and blink.
A huge departure from most games in general, Abyss Odyssey takes place in a fantasy version of 19th century Chile. The backdrop serves as the ambiance to a rather mystical and dark setting for the tale. It borrows heavily from Chilean lore to infuse the game with monsters ranging from the macabre to the downright menacing, even as the setting may change drastically from floor to floor. The further you go into the dungeon, the more apparent it becomes that the developer, ACE Team, is very familiar with Chilean lore — it is probably a happy side-effect of basing a game in the country where their headquarters is located. The playable characters do not fall far from that aesthetic either, and feel like they were plucked right out of some dark fantasy painting hanging in the corner of some alternative art house. This all comes together to make it feel like you are traversing through some sinister nightmare… because that’s exactly what you are doing.
The story in Abyss Odyssey is a simple one but it does small and effective things to bring it to life. Though the tale of a nightmare becoming reality is a common one, this is the first time I’ve become so enthralled with the concept. Most of the story doesn’t take place in grand cut-scenes but is instead hinted at through character dialogue and the various documents enemies drop. Once you get the whole story, it brings new meaning to previous interactions and sometimes provides motivations for the main characters. Furthermore, Abyss Odyssey does an excellent job of integrating the game’s mechanics into the story. Wonder how the main characters keep coming back to life? Well, it’s because they are also part of the nightmare and, like any dream, they can be reimagined. Is it odd that the dungeon changes with every play through? Not so much if you consider it a part of a person’s nightmare, ever-changing and malleable to the dreamer’s will. These traits in the story already warrant high praise but that isn’t even the best part.
Every character has a story. From the main characters to even the lowly NPCs, Abyss Odyssey takes the time and effort to give them a reason for existing outside of the gameplay mechanics that they are there to represent. One of my favorite examples of this can be seen in the dying soldiers that can be randomly encountered throughout the dungeon. They are there as a fast and easy way to give the player a chance at more loot but each comes with a story all their own. Sometimes the story is courageous, other times it’s heart-breaking, and can even be downright embarrassing, but each story helps make the world of Abyss Odyssey feel real. Those dying soldiers weren’t there solely for the player’s benefit, they had dreams and aspirations all their own.
Protip: When you die, you really don’t. Before even reviving at the beginning of the dungeon the game gives you control of a random mook. Make it to an altar and you’ll be instantly revived from death.
The music does a fine job of complimenting the nightmare aesthetic. Each theme is a haunting melody of classical beats that wouldn’t seem out of place in your nightmares… only if you were more cultured and/or educated… you swine! Though, the way the game interacts with its music deserves some credit. Often times it can be used as an audio cue of what is nearby, and other times it can ratchet up the intensity of specific encounters. There is a certain enemy whose theme overtakes the current music whenever you find him. This sudden musical clash makes his appearance all the more terrifying during the fight. These sorts of “reactionary” musical queues make the music feel almost as alive as the setting.
So, by now you are probably wondering why, despite all of accolades I gave this game, it has a big fat 6.5 under its review score? You’re probably also wondering why I would start a video game review talking about dating? Well, that’s because I have a good reason for each. First, the combat sucks. Second, allusion is a pretty awesome writing device. To put it plainly, at its worst, the combat is a clunky and unresponsive mess and, at its best, it is a poor man’s version of Smash Bros. The shielding, dodge-rolling and fighting mechanics seem mostly there, but what isn’t there is the polish the titular party game has gone through over the years. So while the game may have the know-how coded into the game, it doesn’t possess the necessary grace to pull it off properly. The rigid animations and unresponsive controls lead the player to fight against the stage and controls instead of the monsters in front of them. So much so, that I began to dread every encounter because either my attacks would whiff past enemies or my controls would randomly not function the way they were intended. This also applies to the game’s competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes, both suffering from the same bad combat mechanics. It’s really quite the horrible stain on what could have been a great game.
Okay guys, as usual. No items. That weird-eye-lion-thing only. FINAL DESTINATION!!!
I could have forgiven Abyss Odyssey for anything other than the combat. This tragedy could have been avoided if the music was lackluster, if the story was bland or if the graphics were 8-bit. Instead, the game falters on its most important aspect, the combat; it drags everything else down with it. Instead of enjoying the world this game takes place in, I’m forced to drop it like an annoying girlfriend. This game could have easily gotten a 9.0 or 9.5, instead it’ll have to do with the 6.5 I gave it. It just wasn’t meant to be.
When not writing reviews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at email@example.com.
Developer: ACE Team | Publisher: Atlus USA || Overall: 8.5
B-Movie science fiction is always characterized by its low-budget charm. You could see right through the awful costumes, terrible props, and strings the monsters would hang off from — all of which added to the fun. The Deadly Tower of Monsters seeks to recapture this aesthetic of effects supplanted by computer graphics… by replicating them with computer graphics.
ACE Team, the developer of The Deadly Tower of Monsters, did an amazing job in recreating the B-Movie feel as you play, keeping it interesting throughout. The set up for the story begins as if you are watching the “movie” on DVD with commentary by the belligerent director, Dan Smith. As you defeat stop-motion monsters, while completing missions across the sprawling tower, Dan Smith will acknowledge and give background on certain aspects of the production — breaking the fourth/”fifth” wall, reminding you that you are “watching a movie” while playing the game, or rather listening in on the recording session for said commentary. There are a lot of layers here.
Though the game is not usually laugh-out-loud funny (there are a few great jokes), it is entirely tongue-in-cheek. Throughout, they introduce new elements that kept me consistently amused. The attention to detail adds to the goal of being a successful B-Movie homage and the commentary track spreads a layer of cynicism about the film industry on top. It is important to listen to the commentary while you play, as it is an integral part of the story, and the uniqueness of the game. Your typical gaming tropes are also explained away using movie tropes, such as blaming watching deleted scenes for when you die and the director “intentionally” wanting the actor to stand still for five minutes “because it is artistic” if you decide to idle for a while. Some of these tropes are less clever than others, but the narrative essentially includes all of your deaths and “mistakes” as part of the experience.
The visuals and art style are very important to the successful execution of the B-movie homage. A stop-motion frame-rate effect is used on many of the monsters and is one of the best effects used. Since most of the game runs at a higher-frame rate than an actual movie would, the most “filmic” part of the game comes with the stop-motion effect and serves to distinguish it from the rest of the “movie” quite well. Homage is paid to practically every genre of classical sci-fi, with obvious references to Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and others including dinosaurs, bugs, an evil scientist, giant robots, clones, and a galactic emperor among a wide range of other characters and monsters.
The level design of the tower is essentially a humongous and vertically sprawling 3D platforming level. You will go for what seems like miles in mostly one direction: up. While the prevailing theme is space technology, on the ground-level you will encounter things like mutant insects and dinosaurs. As you climb, the tower is very elaborate and changes themes more meticulously within science fiction. You will encounter aliens, disembodied brains, space slugs, and other fun monsters. All parts of the tower are fluidly accessible, and there are no loading screens unless you warp around to checkpoints.
The tower is used to the game’s advantage occasionally. You are usually tasked with shooting enemies from below in reverse-Space-Invaders style. At any time you can be knocked off the tower, sending you into a free-fall towards the bottom; mistiming your platforming will also have the same result. To counteract the annoyance of having to re-scale the tower you can easily warp to any checkpoint, or use an “Air Teleport” button that is available if you haven’t landed on another platform yet. You also take fall-damage and have a very low amount of jetpack fuel to adjust and break your fall. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to control the camera very much, which can be annoying at times, but it wouldn’t make sense in the context of watching a movie to be able to switch an angle at any time. On the plus side, the platforming is designed well enough where this isn’t usually an issue. For similar reasons, the game is very linear and there isn’t as much exploring to do as you might expect in a 3D platformer.
Combat gameplay is fun and light, and the weapon variety is also great. Enemies and weapons alike keep the “B-Movie” aesthetic, where you can plainly see re-purposed household items or other everyday items, such as a vacuum cleaner or a puppy, being used as space-age weaponry and monsters. As you have access to three different characters, their real difference comes in their special abilities. Dick Starspeed is able to use landmines, Scarlet Nova has a running speed ability, and The Robot is able to use a time vortex ability. All of the characters will gain more unique abilities you can use during combat and only cost a time-based cooldown, whereas your energy weapons deplete from an energy bar.
Upgrading weaponry, skills, switching characters, and other gameplay systems are accessed via in-game computer consoles. While they show up often enough, it can detract from the “joy” of playing around with the progression systems and possibly even the “movie” aesthetic. The systems aren’t very complicated, but it is sort of questionable why they give you 16 different weapons, but only allow you to have access to four at any given time before switching around at a console. It would have felt better to be able to switch out weaponry through a pause menu (a prop closet?) since in-game consoles aren’t necessarily used in an intriguing gameplay fashion other than to be more props to put in the levels. The in-game consoles bring up a game-based UI regardless, so the argument for being immersive doesn’t hold very much weight. It might have also been more convenient to halve the variety of weapons and allow you to use them at all times; instead I just keep four random weapons and rarely trade them out. Despite that, the variety of weaponry is still a nice part of the game.
Difficulty and challenges in the game are not too bad. If you die, checkpoints are usually pretty close to where you could possibly die. That isn’t to say you don’t need to play smart (as health is hard to come by), but the only real punishment for dying is wasting time. Puzzles aren’t too trying on the intelligence and there’s only a few situations where you need to use one of your special abilities to get items or into certain areas. There are also miscellaneous missions that aren’t easily earned on your first trek up and will require you to backtrack certain parts of the tower to complete. One fun side-quest is jumping off the tower and skydiving into floating hoops, using the tower’s height to the game’s advantage. The game can be pretty short as well, but its nice to be able to get through a whole game in a couple of days.
If you are a fan of classic film and games, you will get a blast out of The Deadly Tower of Monsters. Even if you aren’t knowledgeable about older sci-fi film, it is a light, fun, and short game that is visually pleasing and humorous. It is available now on Steam at a sale price of $9.89, and regularly priced at $14.99.
Telepathy, telekinesis and psychometry are pretty legit. Pryokinesis, cyrokinesis and healing are stretching things a bit but are acceptable. Though, I absolutely refuse to believe that super-strength and teleportation are proper manifestations of psychic force. Super-strength is the supernatural ability to exceed the physical limits of natural strength and thus is regulated to the body and not the mind where psychic abilities dwell. Teleportation is the ability to instantaneously move from place to place without any of the travel in between and is centered on spatial manipulation rather than the power of the mind. Psychic sympathizers would have you believe that just because they could involve a conscious effort that they must be placed under the oppressive umbrella of a psychic power. Nay! Rise up against these ability oppressors and embrace superpower diversity!
“Behold! The world’s greatest psychics!” – Ability Oppressors
Well, that’s enough of that…
Developed by Lancarse, and published by ATLUS, Lost Dimension is a Strategy Role-Playing game (SRPG) that borrows various ideas to give you a game about a group of psychics climbing an enigmatic tower. Shades of video games like Dangan Ronpa, Valkyria Chronicles and Persona, as well as other media like A Certain Magical Index (To Aru Majutsu no Index), Tokyo ESP, Arkham Horror and more are used to make the psychic SRPG soup that is this game. Though, what really sets Lost Dimension apart is a traitor mechanic that has you offing a member of your party at each floor. It all combines to make quite the familiar product with a diversifying gimmick that captures the attention.
Also includes elements that will interest the school girl fetishist out there…
At first glance Lost Dimension looks like a rather by the numbers SRPG. A simple romp where you’ll move characters across a map and eventually level your way to the top of the tower, but with the borrowing Lost Dimension does from other games it proves to play better than it looks. Much like Valkryia Chronicles, the movement is freeform instead of grid based. This usually translates to the characters having a full circle of movement and is especially useful when characters have movement abilities, like teleportation, that lets them completely bypass some obstacles on the map. Borrowing an aspect from Fire Emblem, the game’s Assist attacks reward good positioning by giving inactive units a chance to do a follow-up attack if they are close by. While this all usually plays out rather fluidly, the occasional mid-attack load screen does disrupt the flow. Though despite the minor inconvenience, both of these aspects give the game charm where there otherwise wouldn’t be any.
The story won’t get any awards but fits as an acceptable excuse for the game to play out. Thrown right into the story with very little frame of reference, you find yourself as confused as Sho who just so happens to have amnesia like the rest of his group (and every other protagonist from a JRPG). The group tasked with 13 days to climb a mysterious tower and stop a dangerous terrorist from ending the world, the most aptly named final boss in video game history, The End, thrust them into a malicious game where their trust will be tested and their allies will be killed by their own hands.
He also forces them to wear skinny jeans and listen to the bad poetry he wrote.
The characters, on the other hand, help to make the story stand out a bit more. In a Persona-like fashion, Sho can speak to his teammates between missions to build bonds of trust with them. Small conversations eventually lead to more meaningful talks as Sho’s teammates reveal their history, concerns and even their motivations. This not only fleshes out the character, but can give you different and more impactful dialogue during certain scenes. Also, the character designs deserve some note, they’re all reminiscent of a style found in 90’s anime as opposed to a more modern approach, which some might say is “Da bomb!”
The only way for this to be more 90’s is if this was brought to you by the same company that brought you LA Gears.
In terms of strategy, it never really evolves past taking advantage of the Assist attacks mechanic to add on extra damage. On the other hand, I did find that the difficulty increased at a fair and steady rate. In particular, the Berserk mechanic grew increasingly difficult to control and proved to be quite the double-edged sword. Much like in Arkham Horror, each character is outfitted with a Sanity meter that decreases with every special move and attack they receive, and unlike it, once depleted causes the character to go Berserk and out of control. Now other than the obvious detriment of having a character go out of control and attack both ally and foe alike, the mechanic can also turn the character into quite the heavy hitter. Time and again, I’d send a character far and away from his allies and deep into enemy territory to purposefully deplete their sanity and then immediately hit with another attack for about 2x or 3x the usual rate. Of course, if I didn’t position them wisely, my characters would be given the same treatment. Though, it was a shame that you couldn’t use the mechanic to figure out the traitor.
See those bright blue letters over the character’s face? They mean you’re playing the game right.
Every floor up the tower, Lost Dimension tasks you with voting for who the traitor is among your ranks and “erasing” them from the party. If the traitor is found, they’ll be eliminated. If not, an innocent teammate will be killed instead and the traitor will then betray you some time later. Usually there are three suspects every floor with a single traitor between them that you will fish out by way of an after-battle cutscene where the main character, Sho, will read the thoughts of his teammates. Then through a mixture of careful positioning and a Vision Point system that allows Sho to dive into the minds of his teammates to discover their true intention, the traitor can be exposed. Once armed with that knowledge, Sho is able to sway his teammates by way of simple dialogue choices at the end of every encounter. Overall, being the games defining gimmick, I didn’t find it exactly inspired but still enjoyable. It gave the game an almost Dangan Ronpa-esque feel to it whenever it came time for a judgment.
…or all of you could be innocent, regardless prepare to have your privacy invaded!
Though an interesting gimmick, the fact that the traitor is chosen at random (except on the first floor during the first playthrough) still means the party will lose a playable character at random. This can be a bit disheartening, considering that every character plays completely different from the other. Still, Lost Dimension does it’s damndest to soften the blow. Even if a character isn’t used in battle, they get about 80% of the battle exp and, when erased, leave behind an equippable item containing their abilities for someone else to enjoy. The equipment also proves useful in unlocking combination abilities that tend to be quite powerful. Still, random is unpredictable, so your favorite character might get “erased” or you might end up with a rather sexist play-through like I did, where the game killed off all of the women to turn it from an ensemble piece to what I pretended was a buddy cop film with way less cops and way more buddies.
“I’m taking away your badge, Sho!’
“I didn’t want to be a psychic cop anyways!”
With the Playstation 3 now at the end of its lifespan, I found the graphics in Lost Dimension acceptable for a budget RPG. My only real complaint is that the “budget” part of the game showed during a few of the special attacks, some of them having rather big build-ups only to finish lackluster. The music was a slight step above the graphics with mysterious melodies that complemented the environment and narrative. Overall it is a pretty standard job on both fronts. The same could be said for the Vita version that has an expected reduction in graphical quality and frame rate.
Speaking of the Vita, I found the battles in the game to be much shorter than is usual for the genre. Unlike battle-heavy games like Fire Emblem and Project X Zone, the encounters only last for about 15 to 30 minutes, making it perfect for gaming on the go. Adding to that, Lost Dimension is also compatible with PlayStation TV which should make all five of you that bought both systems rather happy.
Lost Dimension was enjoyable, even if it was marred by the mid-attack load times and attacks that seemed to reflect the game’s budget price. Overall, it’s a mixture of several fun elements that make it a fun game. The borrowing it does from games like Dangan Ronpa, Valkyria Chronicles and Persona as well as other media like A Certain Magical Index (To Aru Majutsu no Index), Tokyo ESP and Arkham Horror elevate the game up to a higher bar than one may initially expect. And if you understood all of those references, you should definitely give me your number ‘cause I think we should marry.
When not writing reviews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A reviewable copy of Lost Dimension was provided to Squackle.
Warning: This review has spoilers since the game is like 5 years old at this point.
If ever a game has attempted to be Shakespearean in its story delivery, it is Odin Sphere. Odin Sphere is a side-scrolling action beat-em-up game starring five different playable characters. The story and how it is presented is very much the forefront on what is “unique” about this game, but the mechanics involved are also very robust and allows for a challenging experience whether or not you want one.
Without doing much research or knowing much about the game beforehand, if you dive right into it, you’ll probably be a little bit confused. Confused because you start out the game as a little girl in the attic of the house she presumably lives in. You’ll see a book, and then you’ll see a cat named Socrates. Nothing really happens unless you start reading the book at which case you’ll begin the story of Gwendolyn, the daughter of the Demon Lord Odin.
My personal experience with the game began 2 or so years ago. I had played the game quite a bit but never actually beaten Gwendolyn’s storyline, so when I had actually gotten through her book, it was quite intriguing to see the oh-so-dramatic events and the ending for Gwendolyn.
For the first 5 books, you will play characters who are somehow connected to the royalty of the world of Erion. The five different characters go through the events of the story from their points of view, and will occasionally fight or interact with other characters you have controlled or will control later on. Needless to say, the story itself is very non-linear and if you stick with it you will see an interestingly multifaceted story unveil before you. The only thing that detracts from this are the boss battles in which you defeat bosses in different areas or under different circumstances, but still the same fight when all is said and done. It feels kind of weird “killing” or severely debilitating the same dragon repeatedly, considering he had just been defeated or will be defeated again by another one of the characters you play in what seems like a day or two story-wise.
Besides the blatant “replay the same game 5 times” aspect of the game, which you really kind of do, they do toss in different mechanics for each of the characters you play with. The different weapons and characters all have unique and different feels, and it keeps the gameplay more-or-less fresh as you go and play through the story again. As for the mechanics itself, you will mostly be hitting the Square button over and over. Jumping and the direction of the analog stick while you press the Square button affect the type of attacks you do, and it is a pretty standard combo fighting system. There aren’t any huge combos to pull off, but most of the challenge in the game comes in the strategy in which you defeat the enemies that are laid out before you in each section. Almost every character is able to parry attacks and perform knock-backs. Gwendolyn, using a spear, can block and glide around the map. Cornelius, using a sword, can block attacks and do a spinning attack in mid-air. Mercedes, using a bow, can fly, charge her attacks, and use a unique magic spell. Oswald can activate shadow powers and make all of his normal attacks hit around twice as hard and twice as fast for a short period of time. Velvet, using chains, can attack all around her, charge an attack and swing across the map. Using each individual character’s strengths to your advantage is vital to defeating the challenges presented.
Each character has the same repertoire of magic “Psypher” attacks, but they are earned in a different order. The essential purpose of these Psypher magics are to make the game easier for you — you will need to use them to defeat tons of enemies or defeat a boss you just had enough of instead of just spamming your basic attacks. Basic attacks can also only be spammed to a certain point, as they are limited by a POW gauge. The POW gauge will decrease as you use your basic attacks and then you’ll have to run around or stop attacking for a few seconds for the gauge to fill again. If you fully deplete the POW gauge you will stun yourself for a good 4 to 5 seconds waiting for the gauge to fill to 100% again before being able to move. A lot of the strategy you employ during the harder fights in the game rely on a careful balance of your attacks and trying to be conservative in your spams. The game mechanics are fairly engaging and can be quite fun despite its simplistic approach.
What makes the game more of an Action RPG is obviously with its leveling and, to a lesser degree, alchemy system. Your Psypher and your Character each have independent levels. The main way to increase your levels is by the way you use Phozons. Phozons are magical orbs that appear after you defeat an enemy. You can choose to absorb the Phozons into your Psypher weapon or put a seed into the ground and after a certain amount of required Phozons, pick the fruit (or meat) that grows out of the ground. You also have a limited storage menu so you’ll have to constantly be managing it as you play through each section. The food that you can buy or grow in the game can also be used between levels to increase your hit points and gain more experience at a more efficient rate than just eating the food alone. When you are able to access the Pooka Village, you can visit either of the two restaurants and have them cook up something using your food and adding some permanent hit points. Using these restaurants are vital to increasing your characters stats — the natural hit point increases from leveling up are about half the amount you actually want to have by the end of each book… at least on Easy mode.
One of the things Odin Sphere has going for, or against it, is its difficulty. I started playing the game on normal, and ended up dying so many times on shitty trash (non-boss) enemies that I changed the difficulty to Easy. It was more-or-less smooth going from there, but there were still some tricky bosses that made me question whether or not I was still on Easy. The bosses at the end of the game were also quite difficult for an “Easy” setting, which makes me wonder how hard the Normal and Hard settings actually would be. It really made me question what kind of enjoyment people get out of dying over and over on games like this… it really isn’t that much fun to keep dying, but to each their own, I suppose.
The visuals are definitely one of the other unique aspects of this game. Vanillaware is known for their awesome-looking 2D hand-drawn visuals that stray from what you normally see in gaming today. They also like to draw chicks with huge boobs and sexy legs and little to nothing to cover it all. Girls with less-emphasized features also exist in the game, so it’s not that “one-sided” as far as it goes. Suffice to say, all of the chicks — even the queen of death — are all banging and who wouldn’t want to see these chicks getting ass-rammed with their boobs flopping around? There’s a lot of provocative fan-service animations and poses the female characters in the game do, as well.
The art style is also interesting because you will see giant men who have toothpick legs. Not all of the men in the game are that disproportionate, and there are a couple of different mythological races in the game such as Dwarves and Fairies. Most of the game is influenced by Norse mythology and mixes in with normal fantasy, and the art style definitely goes with what is going on, as it is essentially a “storybook” being read by the little girl in the attic every time you start up the game.
The point of the game probably won’t culminate into much of a cohesion until the end of the game, which all of the events that transpire in each individual character’s book leads to. The last phase of the game is a series of five difficult boss battles, and provided you leveled each of the characters appropriately and they have enough items to assist them in the final battle, you will choose one character to fight each boss up to the game’s ending.
The game begins to split its path when you choose the correct or “incorrect” character for a particular end boss. Each boss is to be paired against one of the characters you have played as “the prophecies state” that you collect while playing the preamble. There is a satisfying ending as long as you choose the correct characters, but there’s not a whole lot that is “plainly explained” in the context of the story. The purpose of the girl, which I believe her name is Alice, at the beginning is more-or-less justified, giving the story, which you thought as a “child’s story” to be something more of a sad, dark history of the world she lives in. When Cornelius and a Pooka-cursed Velvet appear in the attic she has been reading her books in, it affirms that the books her “grandpa loved to read so much” actually were real after all. The set of five books, including the Armageddon and Wheel of Fate books combined ends up being the “Odin Sphere” book written by an unnamed, unknown character whom we can only assume the identity of. It can be also be inferred that the writer is “you” since you were there at all of the events that had transpired.
I sort of wish that they would have added a little bit more of an explanation on certain things that were left open to interpretation in the game. The question behind who wrote the Odin Sphere book series is probably the biggest question, and how Cornelius and Velvet affect the world after they turn back into humans, and where the people of Valentine originally came from, and what the actual origin of the mechanically alien-like Cauldron is. The total rounding up of all the loose ends wouldn’t have taken much effort, considering they were more-or-less extraneous aspects of the story that were still interesting.
I spent a good 40 hours or so on this game, and I probably would have liked to spend about 10 hours less than I did, having to beat the same bosses over and over, in what seems like a forced fashion. They could have, and should have trimmed any of the “forced” boss encounters, especially considering you don’t even get any experience from those battles anyway. Once you complete a book, it’s nice being able to replay the story from the beginning, but all of the locations you opened up through your first time through should have been open as well so that people trying to grind up levels a little bit for the Armageddon didn’t have to go through the same stuff again.
The inventory UI, while having an interesting take, was probably the most frustrating thing about the normal gameplay. I wished so many times that I could open the bag view and use all my items there rather than having to use it through the swirly-circle-single-bag-at-a-time interface. I would lose items many times and just go through each of my bags not remembering or not knowing or not seeing where something went. Once all of the books opened up and I was grinding levels for the Armageddon, there is no way to change books without resetting the game entirely — that seemed like an oversight on the part of the design team.
Odin Sphere can be a real challenge to get through and see it through, but I feel like it’s worth it, since what the game set out to do is probably not going to be done again. I loved the art, I loved the way the story was told, and the game play was a good stylistic compliment.
Developer: Sting Entertainment | Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 4.0/10
Yggdra Union from Atlus has a seemingly awkward place in the PSP library. It’s practically a straightforward GBA-to-PSP port, so it’s quite obvious that it won’t be visually pleasing. Yggdra Union is essentially the GBA game with some voice-overs and possibly some other improvements that are harder to gauge.
Typically in tactical strategy games there are two teams fighting against each other on more-or-less even ground. One would expect there to be new challenges here and there, just as long as both sides followed the same basic rules of gameplay.
Not in Yggdra Union.
If there ever was a tactical strategy game that made me want to play on the enemy’s side, it’s Yggdra Union. It’s almost amazing to me how two different games are going on at the same time, with the advantage always (and I really mean it) going to the opposition.
Now, there’s lots of needless complication to Yggdra Union. Even after playing over 20 hours, I still have trouble knowing which button does what in the game. In light of the confusion, I’ll spare you a helping and get down to the basics. The basis of combat relies on cards. You get a certain amount of cards, which you use for moving and performing actions during battle. Once you use a card to move, or create a Union (the game’s term for a battle), the card becomes unusable for the rest of the current map you are on. The same does not hold true for your enemy, however. They have one card to use and they keep using it over and over. Okay, I’ll give them that. During battle, however, is where this difference becomes even more of a factor in the gameplay.
When creating a Union, you can enter into a battle with other units as long as they match the certain formation the initiator of the Union has. Why this matters, I’m not sure, but it adds some sort of strategy to the game in the long run. The map itself is also very restrictive as far as positioning units in strategic ways. There are no “extra” pieces of the grid to traverse and flank an enemy, as the current map you are on has a bare minimum of squares required to accomplish whatever the current goal happens to be.
During a battle, there is a gauge at the top of the screen that you can fill up by going Passive or drain by going Aggressive. The higher the bar is filled, the more likely it will be that you will win the battle. Of course, its not assured as other factors are taken into consideration. When you go Aggressive and drain your bar, the likelihood of you winning goes even higher, but only until the bar is drained before going to normal. Going Passive refills it, but your troops are then more susceptible to losing.
Here’s the kicker: Take everything I said in the last paragraph and throw it out. Your opposition doesn’t have to worry about that at all, since they have a “Rage” bar that constantly fills according to the amount of time you spend in battle. Not only that, any amount of Rage that is built up from the first fight in a battle is rolled over to the next fight to benefit the next unit. The gauge you build up does not roll over in the same fashion, as yours is seemingly random considering how well off you are against your enemy.
The only thing that your Passive/Aggressive bar and the Rage bar have in common is that it grants access to a special ability when full. Your opposition can use the card’s special abilities from the get go, while you have to wait until the seventh map of the game (about eight hours in for me) before even finding out why cards are named something. The inability to use special abilities until that point in the game is absurd, especially when the opposition is able to use their card’s special abilities from the beginning of the game.
Particular cards also have Ace Types, which means only a unit that matches the Ace Type can use the card’s special abilities (as long as all other conditions are met). There are three basic weapons – Sword, Spear, and Axe. Sword is better than Axe is better than Spear is better than Sword. Using that formula, you are able to sweep through your enemies, as long as you have the right units attacking against a weapon type that is weaker.
And then, to top it all off, three more types of weaponry are added in halfway through the game. Sword/Spear/Axe are all better than Bows (except when attacking, and you can’t counterattack against a Bow), Rods (better than Sword/Spear/Axe) and something that looks like a Rock that is just tossed in somewhere, which isn’t exactly explained plainly enough for anyone to understand.
Really, Yggdra Union ends up a Chess-style game in which the other guy can take any piece he wants whenever he wants and says “live with it.” There’s something random tossed in each level that completely messes you up without giving you any ability to counteract it. You are constantly put at a disadvantage, seemingly out of spite, with no real rewards for finally succeeding and beating the challenge. Not even the story’s progression rewards you with much of anything interesting or suspenseful.
There are lots of voice-overs, but voicing as a whole is conspicuously thin. The voice actors themselves aren’t bad, which is a boon to the already low production values of the title. Needless to say, the sound effects, graphics, and pretty much everything about the game look like a GBA game, but that’s because it is a GBA game. Watching battles unfold isn’t particularly interesting either, and even though there is a “HIGH” speed option available, its still not fast enough for me.
Yggdra Union will make you hate yourself for playing. It is a fairly unique game, but only in the sense that there are so many weird things about it that make you frustrated. Some friendly user interface additions would go a long way to at least making the game somewhat more pleasant. What it comes down to, however, is that Yggdra Union is a poor strategy game in its very bearings, with very little actual strategy to experience, and more fumbling around with cards and weapon types than necessary instead.
Persona 3: FES is the answer to any RPG gamer’s beckoning for a true, hardcore RPG. In recent years the non-turn-based “Action RPG” has mostly taken over the genre, moving away from the pen-and-paper games they originated from. Developed and published by Atlus, Persona 3: FES is the expanded version of last year’s Persona 3, featuring a whole new story arc and an ending to the whole storyline.
Separated into two parts (The Journey and The Answer), Persona 3: FES includes both the original game and expansion released in Japan on the same disc. Taking advantage of a re-release, Atlus added new Personas, events, and other small enhancements to the main game that you wouldn’t have seen in the original version. If you hadn’t played the original version, you won’t notice the difference at all. If you have a Persona 3 save, you’re able to import it into a new game of The Journey to play/replay it, or just skip it altogether and go right to the expansion, named The Answer.
Put simply, Persona 3 is a game about a group of high school students who have powers called “Persona.” A Persona allows its user to do lots of things like use magic, special attacks, and other stuff an RPG normally lets you do. Essentially, the game could be thought of as two separate but equally important parts: one part of the game, you are going to school, the other part you are fighting monsters.
While at school, you are able to build relationships and gain more power for your Personas with Social Links. Social Links are basically little storylines with particular people you meet. About 20 Social Links are available to explore, and you’ll have to tread carefully as going out with two girls at the same time might lead to putting one of those Social Links in trouble. Make a wrong decision in any of your Social Links, and they’ll be stuck in a rut. In addition, you have three types of statuses: Education, Charm, and Courage. You’ll have to build them up to an appropriate level to discover new Social Links. The most interesting part about this part of the game is that you literally go through every day and choose which events to partake in, just like a normal high school student in Japan may. There is about one year of time to play through, which means nearly 365 days to experience. On the average, it takes me about 10 to 15 minutes to complete each day, not including trips to the dungeon.
The real meat of the gameplay is certainly in the dungeon crawling, which happens during The Dark Hour, a time that most humans are not aware of. With a maximum of four people in your party, you will climb ever-higher in a massive tower called Tarturus, trying to solve the mystery of the tower and the existence of The Dark Hour. The goal at large is to defeat the enemies called the Shadows, who are wreaking havoc on humanity in the local area but could escalate to posing a threat in a larger scope.
You journey through Tarturus, gain more levels, complete mini-quests (called Requests), find loot, and beat the ever-living crap out of all the enemies you encounter. That is the game in a nutshell. Similar to the other Shin Megami Tensei games, you have control over “monsters,” but in this case they are called Personas and are your allies in the struggle against the Shadows. The key to victory in any battle is finding and exploiting your enemy’s weakness and defeating them as fast as you can by using the appropriate skills. There is also a Persona Fusion system, which you can use to create new Personas. Fans of the series will find that this is pretty standard for the series and not that hard to grasp. Every time there is a full moon, you’ll encounter a unique boss fight that breaks up the pace of the game a little bit.
Your main character is a more-or-less mute character that relies on the choices you make to communicate to the other characters in the story. Even further, the choices you make impact your Social Links and, at times, story as far as what other characters say. Usually you don’t have a second chance to choose what to say, so you’ll have to choose wisely.
The art in the game is pretty nice; you’ll feel as if you’re in an anime, as it’s mostly cel-shaded. Occasionally you’ll be treated to an animated cut scene, but they are few and far between. There are quite a few “events” where story takes places, as well as voice acting. The voice actors are almost certainly very enjoyable to listen to, except a couple who are just sort of lame-sounding. In particular, I don’t like the voice acting for the character of Ikutsuki, who is the chairman of the high school the main characters attend.
Music is somewhat of a concern, as it sounds Japanese Pop-like. It can get on your nerves since you’ll be hearing the same songs constantly over and over. Probably the worst part is that the songs you hear the most have lyrics, and if you actually listen to them, they are embarrassingly bad, especially the Battle Theme. There are some very cool tracks to listen to, however, so it’s not a total waste as far as the soundtrack goes.
A lot of time is to be had playing the game. The Journey itself probably would clock in at around 80 to 100 hours (or even more) if you take your time and enjoy it. With the additional episode called The Answer, boasting around 30 hours of extra playtime, the value is there, as long as you like the game to begin with. There is also a “New Game+” sort of thing, so you can replay the main storyline as many times as you like.
To explain what The Answer is without spoiling it, The Answer is a perpetual Groundhog’s Day, in which the main characters repeat March 31, 2010 over and over and try to figure out how to stop it after the events of The Journey. Since the same day is repeated, the whole “go to school” thing is pretty much eliminated from the gameplay and you almost exclusively dungeon crawl. Unfortunately, it seems like a few things you are used to from The Journey are taken out, I’m sure for the sake of the story, but in the end it feels like you’ve lost features.
Persona 3: FES is a massively enjoyable game that can be taken in small doses. A lot of time can be spent with it, and while it may be daunting to undertake a nearly 100 hour game, the hours will seemingly fly by since the fast-paced nature of the gameplay makes it seem like you’re actually in high school, developing friendships and hitting on the babes.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner is the newest RPG for the Playstation 2 from Atlus. While America doesn’t see nearly as many Shin Megami Tensei games as Japan does, recently there have been more games localized — SMT: Devil Summoner is actually the third game in the “Devil Summoner” spin-off series of SMT. Devil Summoner defines itself by mixing in real-time random battles with a mildly interesting detective story, all set in a large urban area in Japan during the 1920s.
As with any RPG, the story is the major factor that keeps the player going. Following a mute main character, Raidou Kuzunoha the Fourteenth, you are charged with protecting the “capital city” — a group of smaller cities in the same area of an early 1900’s Japan — from demons. Raidou’s job is to investigate any occurrences that happen in the city regarding demons, which are invisible to normal humans and live in a parallel dimension. The main story starts right off within the first half hour of play – Raidou’s detective agency gets a call from a girl asking for help, not saying much more than to meet her on the bridge. On the bridge, there is an encounter with a mysterious legion of red-cloaked soldiers who abduct the girl before anything can be found out. At this point, it’s up to Raidou to discover what happened to the girl, why she needed help, and who abducted her.
The story in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner, while interesting, doesn’t do itself justice to the world that is created. In Devil Summoner, there are two “dimensions” – the regular world and the “dark” world. The dark world, inhabited by demons, occupies the same space as the regular world, and occasionally crossover occurs. This is where most of the conflict arises in the story, not to mention all the enemies you’ll encounter. The story is pretty simple, to say the least, with details slowly added to make the story more and more intriguing. The only problem with that is that it can take a long time to actually get into the story and, by extension, the game itself. The story also progresses through segmented episodes to show that a period of time passes between each of the main events of the game.
World exploration consists of totally urban settings. As said before, you’ll go to all parts of a bustling city with random non-interactive people walking around to create the feeling of a populated city. While it can be fun running through the different parts of the city to find the next clue needed in your adventure, it can be quite a hassle, especially because of the random battles that seem to happen every fifteen seconds. I don’t know if it’s a theme in the SMT series, but out of the games I have played, there appears to be a lot of random battles happening in a short period of time.
SMT: Devil Summoner’s battle system is definitely a strong point, but is held back by its shortcomings. Being a real-time combat system lends itself to being able to have each battle be over quite quickly. There aren’t too many moves that can actually be done while in battle mode with the main character; a simple dash attack, charge attack, and normal strike are about as much as can be done by Raidou. He also has a gun that can shoot different types of bullets. As can be imagined, it doesn’t make battles too terribly exciting. The main variances that can make or break a battle is the type of demon that accompanies you into battle, and how you raise them.
The game’s demon system is definitely the most compelling element of Devil Summoner. Not unlike a Pokémon game, you can capture the enemy demons you go against during battle. Depending on the ever-present phase of the moon and Raidou’s current level, you can capture practically any demon, unless you’re told otherwise. You must use and maintain a stable of demons by leveling up, sacrificing, and combining them to fit your needs and increase their power, and in effect, yours. By combining two demons into one, you can create new demons, as well as free up another slot to fill with a new demon to use for your agenda. Demons also have extraneous skills that will help you during map exploration and solving puzzles, as well as getting vital information from a stubborn person not exactly willing to let go of the information you might need to progress.
The graphics in the game aren’t anything too special, but there are times that can still make you say, “Wow, the PS2 can do this?” The main agenda of Devil Summoner isn’t to dazzle with amazing graphics as it is to make an interesting world in itself to explore. The sound effects are nice, and every demon has their own little grunts or yelps, making it easy to identify a certain demon, if you ever needed to. The soundtrack is also very impressive, and captures the feeling of the areas you visit with accuracy. What is obviously most disappointing about the sound is that there is no voice acting. To me, it definitely leaves out a certain important feeling that a game like this really needs to immerse the player even more into the setting, especially when it’s one that is as unique as the early 1900s, as it’s hard for someone living today to really relate to how people may have talked or acted nearly a century ago. One thing that is very praiseworthy is the loading time. Battles take almost no time to load, which is a very good thing since they happen so often, but not only that, each part of the city that you’re in does not have to take time to load off the disc, as you can wander through a city with no pauses or ugly pop-ins.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner is a more traditional RPG for the transitional state of the genre itself. Integrating real-time battles with random encounters makes the game feel like a stopgap between action and turn based RPGs. While the story isn’t all that intriguing or remarkable, Devil Summoner ends up being a quaint adventure mystery title set in an uncommon setting with lots of random battles. Be that as it may, it is a solid title that hardcore RPG fans will want to check out as one of the last RPGs to hit the PS2 before the next generation rears its full might.
Createch’s Metal Saga, brought over to North America by Atlus, is an interesting RPG. While breaking the mold of traditional RPG storytelling, it’s more akin to the traditional RPG, in terms of gameplay, than most nowadays. Metal Saga is as “choose-your-own-adventure” as an RPG can be without any sort of adventure to actually be told. Put simply, you can venture through the world with little-to-no restriction; the only boundary is the level your characters currently are. Bosses are dispersed throughout the world, and can be taken down at one’s leisure, contrary to any regular RPG.
How Metal Saga starts out is with a choice: to become a Hunter or a Mechanic. Your dad is making a living as a Hunter and your mom is a Mechanic. Your mom tells you about your dad, and hopes for you to become a Mechanic, as it’s dangerous to be a Hunter. Chosing the Hunter class means you will be able to explore the world and make money by collecting bounties and killing enemies. Being a Hunter is obviously what the game is about, as there are many different “endings” that are available through the game – of which choosing to become a Mechanic will show you. The different endings available throughout stress the open-ended aspect, allowing you to pretty much are able to finish the game at any time — sometimes unexpectedly. For instance, marrying someone will produce a few “story” scenes, but after those finish the credits roll. If you play your cards right you may actually be able to play this game as long as a regular RPG. The world of Metal Saga is post-apocalyptic – once a very high-tech world, a catastrophe occurred that created a low-tech society with high-tech items here and there. While the foundation of the game is based in its lack of story, there are times when I felt myself calling out for there to be a compelling story to be coupled with the things you could do in the world.
Your job as a (bounty) Hunter is to make money by defeating wanted criminals and improve your vehicles, which you find throughout the world. By equipping your vehicles with stronger weapons, modifying them to hold heavier loads, and by diversifying their offensive capabilities, you’ll make your way as a Hunter who is feared by all who cross your path. Unfortunately, battling is very boring. It can’t get much more ordinary than Metal Saga when it comes to a battle-system; very rarely will you really need to pay careful attention to what is happening in a battle, as you can “fast forward” through all the battle animations. This creates a fast-paced feeling while fighting through any enemies that you encounter. The only time you really need to focus on a battle is when you are facing off against a boss, or if you’re collecting a bounty – but even then you could skip through the battling animations to make everything go faster.
Through your travels you’ll acquire a few unique party members. You’ll be able to choose a mechanic to have by your side, but you can only choose one of two possible choices; later on you will even be able to pick a dog (out of a possible four) to travel along with your party. Having a dog with a bazooka strapped onto its back is quite silly considering you’re occupying a tank right next to it. Magic and abilities are not acquired through normal leveling up – rather, they are bought by visiting “masters,” who will train you in whichever art they are equipped with. Instead of using any sort of “magic points,” your abilities will deplete a certain amount of value from your funds as a price for using the ability. The game allows you to go back to where you selected your party members and trade them with another if you feel so inclined as to do so.
The audio-visual experience isn’t exactly top notch – the graphics look like they could fit in with PS2 games from a couple of years ago, so the game definitely isn’t trying to push your PS2 to heights not seen before. The most noticeable lack from the sound category is the lack of any voice acting whatsoever (not to mention the main character is a silent hero). While it could be seen as a throwback to a time when RPGs didn’t have any voicework, it’s just unfortunate to not have anything except for a few yells during battle. Otherwise, the sound effects in the game aren’t bad, but they can get annoying during battle, especially when one considers how often you have to fight. The soundtrack isn’t exactly large and diverse, but what is there is pretty nice. It really doesn’t make much of an impression, however, which could be seen as a negative – RPGs usually have some of the best soundtrack work.
What I personally didn’t like is that the game can get quite monotonous at times, especially when there’s an area of the world you want to go to, but can’t yet because you have to go through a hundred more battles to get to the appropriate level to get through the area alive. The required amount of experience can be very disconcerting given the repetition. The lack of story also causes the game to come across as unfocused. It’s not a good sign when you don’t feel compelled to go in any one direction or are at a loss for a general place to head towards. Events that you take part in as you play also create too limited an impact on the world around you, so it’s less rewarding than it should be to do much of anything. There are plenty of mini-games to be occupied with, however, so occasionally there is some difference in the gameplay. The humor that is written into the game is pretty cool as well, and can leave you chuckling or even laughing out loud, which is very welcomed.
Metal Saga takes traditional RPG gameplay to the point where the game itself could be classified as retro, despite its year of release. The game almost exclusively appeals to hardcore RPG gamers who want a throwback into the way RPGs were back in the day. Metal Saga delivers a unique experience though it is one of the most traditional games to be released in the genre for quite a while.
Atlus is known for delivering niche Japanese-developed titles and Steambot Chronicles is no exception. Developed by Irem, Steambot Chronicles is not really any one type of game that you can pinpoint directly – it is one part sandbox, one part mech game, one part music game, and one part RPG all mixed into each other. Combined with its certain type of charm and fantasy, Steambot Chronicles is a great little game that is hampered by control problems, graphical inconsistencies, and a weak story to boot.
The story starts out with the main character losing his memory, as he awakens on a beach. This prompts the main character, Vanilla, to find out whom he is, and what happened. Even though there is a huge ship that has crashed against the shore and smoking because of a fire, there is little to no acknowledgement of it by you or the person who found you, named Connie, which is a little weird to say the least. Given that the story is very simplistic in nature to begin with, its immediately apparent that Steambot Chronicles is really not about its story as you get into some real gameplay with little to no delay.
The girl who finds you on the beach, Connie, is a cute brown-haired girl who sings for a very famous band called the Garland Globetrotters., and if you play your cards right a nice relationship can evolve from knowing her. Constantly throughout the game, you are given choices for what Vanilla says or does, and the outcome of certain events will be influenced by such. You can be a bastard or a big softy – it’s really up to you. The very weak story of Steambot Chronicles basically encompasses Vanilla’s search for who he is while going on tour with Connie’s band. Other than that it really isn’t compelling – the world doesn’t have to be saved, there is no impending evil; you get the point. Along the way you’ll meet up with many people and discover new things to do in the world. The game itself is very non-linear and you don’t even have to follow through with the story at all except for a few key parts. An interesting way that the game influences you to try and talk to everyone in towns and cities is that their picture is added to a photo album in the start menu. This is very unique, to say the least, and gives you a feeling of “talk to all the generic characters I can find!” Pictures will be updated as you talk to more and more people, and important characters will get their own picture.
The main form of transportation and gameplay is something called a trotmobile. Think of a car with arms and legs and you have a trotmobile. Anyone who has played through Front Mission 3 or 4 will instantly grasp how to manage it in the backend system. Basically, a trotmobile’s body/legs can hold a certain amount of wight which will contribute to what kind of arms and “backpack” you can equip. Arms are mainly used for combat while the back attachment is more for the extra stuff you can do in the world. Possible types of arms include Sword Arms, Spiked Ball Arms, Cannon Arms and back attachments include a carriage for bussing people around and a flatbed for carrying stuff. This is all fine and dandy except for two very disappointing aspects of the game.
The controls for the trotmobile are very counter-intuitive because they use “Katamari” controls. Both analog sticks are required to move effectively which quite frankly blows because it doesn’t give you a free camera (you’re locked behind your trotmobile at all times) to use. This is very annoying when battling, obviously. Not to mention that movement would have been done just as effectively, if not more, with one stick. The other glaring problem is that there just isn’t that much actual combat to spend time on. Without any random battles, you’re forced to fight the same enemies over and over – they’ll pop out at you from the same place as you travel between towns.
Trotmobiles are also very slow, so you’ll be walking through fields, beating two enemies between each town (effortlessly, I might add) without getting much use of the effort you put into improving your trotmobile to begin with.
Boss battles happen every once in a while and are very fun, but they only last for maybe a minute or two before you’re given a load time to celebrate your win. Each town has their own “Arena” in which you can fight tough trotmobiles 1 on 1, but even these battles go by quickly. There’s almost as much loading as there is playtime (sometimes more if you’re good) during these Arena battles. Other things in the world to do include playing an assortment of instruments for different songs, bussing people from one town to the next, fighting in arenas and dungeons, digging up fossils to fill up a museum, and stuff like that. You’re allowed to do almost anything you please in the world that has been created. You’ll also have to maintain your character by eating whenever he gets hungry, and that’s just plain annoying.
As for sound and graphics, they are about average. The voice actors are alright but they can be annoying at times. General sound effect usage is good, and battle sounds aren’t very irritating even though you hear them over and over. The most bothersome sound effect would be the trotmobile’s walking noise. Music is very cheerful, and goes along with the mood of the game, but isn’t all that memorable. As for the graphics, the game has a cel-shaded look to it which promotes a cartoonish feel to the game – but maintains a more realistic look than most cel-shaded games. There isn’t anything special but nothing is particularly ugly except a few things that stick out like character animation. Load times also avert some of the pleasure that is delivered, which is unfortunate.
What I favored about this game was the open-endedness of it all. The game doesn’t tell you where to go; you tell the game where to go. It shows that GTA-style games don’t always have to be about 100% action or even have a strong storyline; it provides the person playing the game with many things to do at their own leisure with practically no bounds. By giving you choices in what to say or do throughout the game, it can also influence you to replay the game and see how it would be being mean the whole way through or being nice all the time.
Steambot Chronicles is a fun game that rides on you being interested enough to take part in the activities the world offers through its non-linearity. Besides the flawed controls and graphical discrepancies here and there, Steambot Chronicles is a light-hearted adventure game that isn’t hard to get into.
Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 is the direct sequel to Atlus’ Digital Devil Saga. DDS2 marks the first time I’ve experienced the series, so I didn’t know what to expect. Since I hadn’t played the game that had set down the original storyline and introduced the characters I actually play as, the beginning hours of the game left me completely clueless as to what was going on. There is absolutely no summary of the first game – DDS2 starts right after the original ends. DDS2 is an interesting RPG, nonetheless, and with a little research online you can catch up with at least some pieces of the story you’re already supposed to know before putting the game into your Playstation 2.
As mentioned before, to truly understand what is going on in DDS2, you’ll have to have played the first game. While the bigger picture might leave you in the dark if you start with the second game, you’ll be able to follow what’s going on to some degree. There are some seemingly random concepts thrown about, like “the Junkyard,” A.I. being implanted into soldiers, “The Karma Society,” cannibalism, “Nirvana,” a black sun that turns people into stone – the list goes on. Not much can really actually be said without spoiling both games. Non-battle gameplay consists of mazes and puzzles that you have to complete to get through levels.
DDS2 takes a few pages out of the classic turn-based RPG handbook. Random battles, magic, and experience points are just a few of the concepts in the game that aren’t new. What actually makes or breaks an RPG is how it’s implemented, and DDS2 does a great job at doing so, so much that it can actually be enjoyable to play through the tons of random battles you’ll encounter. The best thing about most of the random battles is that they go by very fast, especially when going against weaker enemies. An “Auto” function can really speed up the battles you enter when you just want to have your characters all use their regular physical attacks and beat the crap out of the enemies without having to press the X button repeatedly. You have five characters to fight with, and only three at a time can be active in battle. At any time (even when a character has fallen) you can switch out one character for another. The benefit of being able to get through battles faster means you can get more leveling up in less time, and in turn, getting on with the story at hand.
When it comes to regular battles, your characters assume the form of a demon called an Atma. Each character will have a unique demon to transform into, and can “revert” to his or her human form at any time. In their human forms, the characters will use guns as their weapons. Most of the time, you’ll enter the battle in your demon form, which allows you to use all your normal skills and magic. In the event you get ambushed, you won’t “have enough time” to transform, and be left to either fight in your human form or take a turn to transform into the Atma. On an even rarer occasion, you’ll enter battles in a “berserk” mode, in which your characters “can’t control their power” and are stuck in between transformations. Berserk mode boosts the attack of your characters immensely, but greatly lowers their defense. While in Berserk mode, a class of skills called “Hunt” will work the best. The Hunt skill class itself allows you to eat your enemies and gives you a large amount of ability points cleverly called Atma Points. AP is simply used to gain new abilities; to earn these new abilities, you have to buy a “Mantra” and download it. The different types of ways you can enter battle definitely makes the game more interesting when leveling up, because you won’t keep entering battles the same way hundreds of times and can take advantage of the different situations to give a feeling of more variety in the gameplay.
Most closely in relation to how the Sphere Grid worked in Final Fantasy X, a hexagonal grid called the Mantra Grid allows you to pick which Mantra (and in turn, abilities) that you want to buy. Once you master a Mantra, you download another one and the process repeats itself. Mantra can and will be very expensive down the line. Once a Mantra on the grid is mastered, the other hexagons around the newly mastered hexagon will “unlock” and allow you to buy and download them to gain their skills. The grid will expand as you move toward the outer edges, and unlock one layer at a time. There are also “locked” hexagons on the Mantra grid that must have all the Mantra around them mastered before they can be downloaded – as long as a character has mastered any of the hexagons around the locked hexagon, it’ll count towards unlocking it basically meaning all your characters can work together at unlocking a hexagon. Having the skills displayed on a grid makes ability earning a lot more interesting; there is a visual representation of what has been earned making randomly earning abilities seem more restrictive.
A ton of abilities are available to be earned, and with five characters there’ll be a lot of effort put into acquiring all of them for everyone. However, as time goes on, each character will inevitably end up diverging into different directions and have unique abilities. As if that weren’t enough to do with your characters, combos are thrown into the mix. If two or three characters have compatibly equipped abilities, they work together to make a more advanced skill to use together. The rest of the backend battle system doesn’t involve much more than ability management. The only thing you have to worry about equipping is ammo for guns that you use in your human form (which can actually be surprisingly expensive) and rings. Rings aren’t too complicated; they just enhance certain stats and if you combine jewels in the rings’ slots they’ll boost your stats even more. The extra layers of complexity are definitely aimed towards the hardcore RPG crowd, and it’s definitely nice to feel like you’re playing a game that actually takes some skill to play.
By far the most attractive aspect of the game will be in its general presentation and graphics. The game really looks like it’s an anime, though some parts might look a little stale or unnatural, it’s really amazing how it looks for the Playstation 2. The world they create is obviously science fiction, and there are some interesting concepts shown, as per its setting. The game is very pleasing to experience from a visual standpoint. The sound effects and soundtrack are also another strong part to the game. The music is very good, and sound effects aren’t annoying. Sometimes the characters will talk when you’re entering a battle, but their voices are so low you can’t really even hear what they’re saying. What drags the overall sound’s experience down is the curious lack of actual voice acting in anywhere except for CG cutscenes. During story scenes where it seems like there should have been talking, there just aren’t any, which is unfortunate and definitely takes away from the overall experience. As for the actual voice actors, none of them are annoying, and that’s really all you can ask for in an RPG. The main character doesn’t talk, so there’s no voice actor for him; it just gets kind of annoying during cutscenes when he looks at a character with a blank expression and seems to transfer all his thoughts on the issue at hand to the other person with no sound.
Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 is definitely an RPG aimed at the niche hardcore that enjoy Japanese RPGs and have played through the first game. In effect, DDS2 really is the second half of one game, and to really get the full experience this “side story” of the Shin Megami Tensei series has to offer, both must be played in succession. Otherwise, DDS2 is a solid RPG that is fun to play regardless of whether or not you understand the story.
Stella Deus: Gate of Eternity is Atlus’ new strategy RPG for the PlayStation 2. Taking place in a world where all the regular enemies you see fall into around 15 different classes (each class having only one sprite model so you’ll know what they are), you’re in for many long hours of strategy “fun.” Well, not really “fun.” Between instances of unfulfilling storyline full of bad voice acting, you’ll find yourself having to level up for about an hour, which definitely becomes a chore at times.
I’m not going to lie; I really thought the setup of the world and story in Stella Deus: Gate of Eternity was actually very interesting. Unfortunately, the game didn’t live up to my expectations. Maybe it was the bad voice acting or the excessive use of dialogue devices that annoyed me (including, but not limited to, just saying a name and having to guess what they mean by just saying someone’s name or trailing off in their speech and not completing it). It seemed like at times the story was written in a way that I had to read the storyteller’s mind to understand what they were trying to imply in the context of the events. However, the main fault of the story is that it took too many predictable turns, making the game seem more run-of-the-mill than it really should have been.
The graphical style used in the game more closely resembles Japanese anime than cel-shading found in most games that try to achieve a “drawn” look to them. While I didn’t have any real complaints about how the game looked like in this regard, my roommate gave his generous opinion and basically said it looked like crap, as if “some kid finger-painted that ****.” I can see how the art style might not appeal to everyone, but I personally think that the graphics are more or less nice to look at; however, you can tell the colors are kind of bland, and nothing really jumps out at you. Dedicated story scenes are most of the time delivered in still shots of characters with backdrops behind them. There are different pictures depicting interesting interpretations of emotions as well, for example, bugging out of the eyes when mad/disgusted. The character art is fairly well drawn, but you will never see more than one (if there is one displayed) character in a story scene at the same time, as the pictures will jump back and forth between the conversing parties. Not that this is necessarily bad — it just leaves out certain characters’ appearances through parts of the story and you’ll begin to wonder if they’re even there. Sometimes they’ll leave a character out of a whole conversation and then insert a part where that character pops in and has “…….” as what they say, just to give you the feeling that they are there and listening, I suppose. Sometimes you’ll see story delivered in in-game animations. There are practically no Full Motion Videos (FMVs), either.
When it comes to actual game play, Stella Deus doesn’t get much more generic. All the basic principles of strategy RPGs are there and not much more to build upon. Typically, you gain Exp and SP after each action you make in battle. Depending on your level and whatever formula the game has, you’ll gain a number amount anywhere from one or more Exp/SP for each action. Exp is used to increase levels and SP is used to increase abilities or gain skills. To achieve the next level for a character, one needs to gain 100 Exp, and it doesn’t matter what level you are. The amount of Exp you gain correlates with what level you are, meaning an action you gained ten Exp for at level five only gets you one Exp at level 10. A fault (or maybe it was on purpose) of the Exp system becomes apparent when you get closer to the 100-Exp-threshold. For example, if a character has 98 Exp and you defeat an enemy, gaining 62 Exp for doing so, you’ll in effect lose 60 Exp points, because once you get to 100 or more, you start at zero instead of having the Exp rollover and start at 60 exp. This is annoying to say the least. SP is gained in a similar fashion, but instead of the problem you have with Exp, you never have enough SP, making it a potential chore to have to battle a bunch of times, outside the course of the main story, to get enough SP to do whatever you wanted. SP is used to learn new skills, and to gain more base stats (if you ever wanted to waste them like that).
There are a couple of unique things that Stella Deus: Gate of Eternity brings to the table, however. The most unique, dare I say innovative, aspect of the game is how you are able to control your characters during battle. You have two choices in the options menu, one is “Command” and the other is “Direct” for your controlling preference. Command is the usual menu-based control scheme in strategy games that list all the possible things you can do (like Move, Attack, Item, etc.). The control scheme known as Direct takes these commands and assigns them to particular buttons on your controller, allowing you to conveniently accelerate the pace of the battle. Cutting down the time of each turn you have your characters take makes the game less boring, in a way. Other interesting aspects of the game are Team Attacks and Zone Skills. Team Attacks allow you to combine forces with another character in your party to deal some serious damage on your enemies. The game almost forces you to take advantage of Team Attacks, because the levels get progressively harder faster than your characters develop (without practicing in battles a lot). Depending on who is in the Team Attack (which seems like it could be up to five at a time), they do different types of attacks. Zone Skills are also an interesting part of the game, as you can affect the status of your characters or the status of your enemies depending on the skill you use. Possible skills include Healing (for your characters) or a chance of inflicting the status of Fear on your enemies, and as long as either is in your character’s “zone” they may take effect.
There are also some side-quests available in the town portion of the game. Seemingly, each town you go to is an exact copy of all the other towns in the world you visit, and every person looks the same, too. Actually, the “town” is just the same “town” you go to each time you go to the “town,” meaning there are no unique towns in the game. The side-quests break up the linearity of the story, and gives you something else to do than go to the Catacombs (where you practice your battling to gain Exp and SP, going to increasingly deeper levels with harder battles). You’ll find different quests that simply make you go somewhere with an item, have a battle somewhere, or do something that’s pretty much stupid. You can acquire interesting items and new party members (although they stem from the enemy sprite pool, but at least you’ll only get one character for each class of enemy) for doing the mini side-quests, and since they really don’t take that long, it may be worth your trouble.
When it comes to sound, it’s not the game’s strong point. While the music is OK to listen to, it can get kind of monotonous, especially when you constantly have to listen to the same song during battles, and you’re in battle 90% of the game; basically, not much to choose from. The sound effects are average at best. All of your enemies use the same set of voice-overs for their cheesy quips they say before and after an attack, and all the unique characters in the game (who don’t share the same character model as one of your enemies) have their own voice-overs that are equally as cheese-filled. When it comes to regular story voice-overs, the voice-overs are bad. There are a couple of main characters that have moderate or even good voice-overs, like the characters of Viper and Grey. It gets to the point where you can tell which characters have the same person doing the voice-over because they sound almost the same, or you can tell by their abilities as a voice-over actor/actress. While they do get the job done, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth sometimes. It also doesn’t help that a line of speech randomly has lower volume than the other lines being spoken. Though it doesn’t happen often, it happens enough to mention.
To veterans of RPGs and strategy RPGs, Stella Deus: Gate of Eternity may be an underwhelming experience, but it doesn’t go as far as to completely disappoint. Most of the elements that have made strategy games good in the past are present, and if you’re looking for a game to feed your strategy RPG yearning, Stella Deus: Gate of Eternity wouldn’t be a bad choice. The game can get rather involving to a point, and could spark interest as to where the game’s story will lead, but all in all, you’re not going to find anything else that is very different from most other strategy RPGs.
With red-hot popularity in Japan, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is any turn-based RPG gamer’s dream. It plays much like the other turn-based “Tactics” titled games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, where you control individuals in a set area and take turns bludgeoning each other’s skulls with swords and axes, but there’s something else this game adds in to the mix to spice it up: there is virtually no level cap. You can level to your heart’s content. While there are other additions, this lack of level cap is insanity. Stack on random battle map generations and bosses with a million hit points, and you got yourself some replay value. How will it fare, when replay value is what most gamers nag about? Let’s find out:
You are Prince Laharl, heir to the throne of the underworld. The game starts out as your subordinate, Etna, is thrashing your little body around in hopes to awaken you from your two-year slumber. As you awaken, you find that your father, King Krichevskoy, has died, and the residents of the underworld are in chaos fighting for the title of “Overlord”. As claiming the title of overlord, you go on to kill off any of the opposition to the throne with the help of Etna, your badass lil’ penguins called Prinnies, and anyone else you hire/pick up on the way.
The game has many funny sequences. Spoofs on Power Rangers, lots of screaming, Prinny humor (Dood!), plenty of irony, Flash Gordon spoofs, and lots of sexual and other crude humor. Not to mention a nod to President Bush’s accident with a pretzel (King Krichevskoy died that way, as far as you know). Laharl’s favorite taunt to his female companion’s is “flat chest-ed”. Guys and cooler girls will like this game. Cool girls as in: a girl who would be looking at a game site. Congratulations if you’re a chick!
In the tradition of turn-based RPGs of the Playstation, Disgaea uses 2D characters on a 3D map. The sprites are very nice, and detailed enough for their size. Most characters are designed well (Majins are the definition of badass design) and have many animations that fit the part. Characters’ special moves have some 3D flair; lots of explosions and ultimately cool looking moves. Dragon Ball fans rejoice: brawlers do a Dragon Ball-ish move: “King of Beasts”. Spells and the lot are nice effects, but nothing special. Map detail is bland at best. There is nothing really engaging about the environment, especially when you get to the randomly generated maps. Eventually, you’ll feel like you’re playing the same maps constantly because of how boring the levels can be. The drawn art in the game which accompanies the “scenes” are adequate, but one animated sequence for something would have been nice. Side note: if you love large anime breasts, you are playing the right game. Tons of them, and lots of humor on it as previously stated.
The music is nice, and it fits the game. No gripes here; some of the music can even be catchy. The dubbing is very nice. All of the voices are professional (or at least sound that way) actors. You may even recognize Prince Laharl’s voice as Barbara Goodson of anime dub fame. Most units only have basic voices, like the male warrior’s pretty cool voice (Be gone!), etc. I actually find the English voices much better than the Japanese voices. The Japanese voices are so squeaky… ugh. Perhaps that’s sexy in Japan, but I couldn’t bear it and switched it back to English. Sound effects are decent, nothing really stands out. Just stay away from the Japanese voices. For the love of Pete.
Gameplay Disgaea will be nothing new to fans of the genre, nothing really out of the comprehensible for veterans of Final Fantasy Tactics or the like. Movement is very nice in regards to the other games. All units move in the same phase, meaning, you can move all the units at once instead of waiting for each unit to get to its own turn. This is VERY handy when it’s the computer’s turn, as all their units will move in a big mass as opposed to 20 units taking turns. Attacking is much the same as other “Tactics” games, but one difference–you can combo if there are units one panel adjacent to you. Combos not only look cool, but often will do a lot more damage. If normal attacks aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of special moves with any of the seven weapon types, in addition to unique character skills (Such as Laharl’s “Blazing Knuckle) and monster skills. The moves can’t combo like normal attacks can, but most special moves affect an area, or hit more than once, perhaps even knocking the enemy to another panel as some do. You’ll also be pleased to know that classes can use and gain skill with any weapons they wish, but they are very proficient with some specific ones. In example, mage/skull classes are proficient with staves, which also enhance their spell range if they practice enough. Using a weapon will increase the skill with that weapon. When you reach a certain level with a weapon, new moves will become unlocked, and your proficiency with the weapon becomes even greater. There are no staff moves, but with increased skill comes enhanced spell range. Without staves, your range will barely go 3 tiles. While there are many skills, I found myself wishing there were more special moves for the weapons seeing as how there’s only 7 weapon types.
Combat is nothing difficult, and very easy to get used to once you gain a grasp of things like geo tiles, colored flashing panels with effects that match what geo crystal you put on them. For example, putting a geo crystal with the effect of “+100% EXP” on a blue tile will make all geo panels of the same color increase EXP by 100% if a unit is killed on that color. Geo panels can also be changed by way of breaking a different color geo crystal (The color of the geo crystal only effects what the color tile it’s on will change to when the crystal is broken) or with the “Change Geo” move of the Scout unit. Get used to lifting other units/geo crystals with your units, as it gets to be extremely useful. While some units will be indispensable, many like the Rouges, Scouts and Knights are just not useful in the slightest. Many other units can do what they do, and much better. If you really want a warrior that cast spells, overlook the Knight and instead give a warrior a mage pupil. When the warrior learns spells from the pupil (One tile away you’re able to share moves with a pupil) she/he will be much more effective than a Knight would ever be.
Also to note is that there’s a deep system for leveling. There is no level cap, and you’re able to reset your characters to level 1 with much enhanced stats. Not only that, but you can alter your weapons, which carry “residents” who enhance the power of the weapons they are on. By entering a weapon, you can raise its base stats with each level you descend in to the weapon, and by subduing residents from other items and putting them on the item of your choice. On top of this, add in many unlockable levels, classes, and items, and you’ve got yourself a couple hundred hours of game play if you are a perfectionist.
While it is fun, and a very good game, is not exactly all that deep. The story is nice, but short. There’s plenty of gameplay, but sadly, it’s just not deep enough for how much you may end up playing. If the story were longer, or if there were more special moves/things to look forward to as you level higher besides stats, my opinion would be much different. While it supports the capacity for high level characters, it doesn’t seem to do that in anything more than no level cap, and one supremely hard secret boss. I do very much enjoy this game, and I have purchased it, but I have hopes that a sequel will come along and add more depth to this game and its fun and quirky story.