RUINER – Cyberpunk madness

Ruiner turned heads when it was announced last year and I’d been instantly smitten with its chilling, cyberpunk aesthetic and action-driven gameplay. Drawing inspiration from anime like Akira and movies like Blade Runner, Reikon Games has successfully created a violent, dystopian world where murder is currency and trust is obsolete. The year is 2091, playing with people’s lives has never been easier.

In contrast to its bombastic trailers, the game boots up without much fanfare to reveal a simple, but slick menu. Upon starting the prologue, I was quickly given control over the nameless, mask wearing protagonist who’d just broken into a factory. It was then that the portrait of a grim faced man flickered into existence. “Kill Boss,” the mysterious man demands. Without much choice, my character was forced deeper into the factory, where he stared down the barrel of a countless guns, armed only with a steel pipe. As the game succinctly puts it: The only way out is through.

Combat in Ruiner can be frustrating at first. It teaches the basics and leaves you to figure out the rest. Even playing on easy mode is, ironically, no easy feat. I died countless times and spent most of my first playthrough brute forcing my way through battles and thinking, yeah, that could have gone better. I was riddled with bullets, set on fire, vaporised, my hacker ally egging me on with words dripping with thinly veiled amusement.

“That’s a good boy,” she would say, after I eviscerated an enemy with a meter long blade. “Get up, puppy,” her snarl would echo in my ears after an agonizing battle that ended in my death, “Your brother needs you.”

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But despite being punishing, Ruiner is fair. How players make use of their skills is key. The game allows skill points to be refunded and it makes experimenting a welcome task. My second playthrough was leaps better; having learned what worked for me and what didn’t. What was once frustrating became rewarding. Accompanied by a pulsing soundtrack, battles intoxicated me with a certain, frantic energy and left me craving more.

Between levels, players will find themselves spending time in Rengkok South. The amount of care and detail that went into crafting this hub world is apparent. The city is a melting pot of different cultures; its citizens speaking English, Japanese, and Korean. Flashing neon signs are peppered throughout, acting as the only lights in an otherwise dark city. Thugs can be found crouched between dilapidated buildings. Seedy looking shops line the streets, their entrances guarded by hulking bodyguards. Prostitutes flaunt themselves, reeling in vulnerable souls with sultry croons of ‘annyeong-haseyo’ which translates to ‘How are you?’ in Korean.

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However, like any game, Ruiner is not without flaws. Despite how well realised the city is, Rengkok South is only skin deep. There isn’t much to do after a brief period of exploration and although players can undertake side quests from several NPC’s, the rewards don’t make much of a difference. It’s a shame the characters aren’t fleshed out beyond several lines of dialogue because it feels like there’s more to discover – but their possible backstories remain just that. A possibility.

There’s also the matter of controls. Keyboard controls are non-rebindable, which might not sit well with some. For reference, skills are activated with the spacebar, E, and Q keys while movement is controlled via WASD. The mouse is mainly for melee/gun attacks and chaining a series of dashes. The developers have stated the controls are hard coded, so it’s highly unlikely there’ll be any updates to fix it. The game does have full controller support, so using a controller might be a good alternative.

Overall, you can’t go wrong with Ruiner. It’s a game with stellar graphics, addicting combat, and atmospheric soundtracks. Players who love challenging games will feel right at home with it.

8/10

Good puppy.

*This review was also posted on GameLuster.

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Revisiting Terraria

I only got into PC gaming after I turned seventeen. It was around the time I graduated from my country’s equivalent of high school, gaining a brief taste of freedom after studying for most of my life. My three month break before college was spent working to fund what I had desperately wanted for years – a proper gaming desktop.

I also discovered Steam around the same time. I had several older friends who were avid gamers and they introduced me to the wonderful world of online game distribution. There were games the likes of which I’d never seen and it isn’t an exaggeration to say it blew my mind.

My family’s shared desktop was an old relic from the 2000’s and the only other option was to game on my mother’s laptop. Unfortunately, her laptop was geared towards media consumption and office work, which made playing some games a waking nightmare. I can still recall getting frequent headaches while exploring Skyrim, the laptop chugging as it tried keeping to a solid thirty frames on low settings. Other less demanding titles fared decently, but I’d describe the overall experience as subpar. My dream of a decent pc that could run games at the revered sixty fps remained just that. A dream.

Until I received my pay, that is.

A week later saw a custom ordered desktop placed safely in my room. It wasn’t anything fancy. I can’t remember what its exact specs were, but I do remember the seller reassuring me it was able to run Skyrim at ultra or high settings. It didn’t deliver on that promise, though things ran fairly well for the most part. Soon, my library of steam games grew. After Skyrim came several others, the most notable being Mount and Blade: Warband, which has become another favourite.

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A little over a year later, Terraria joined its ranks. Due to my propensity for motion sickness, Minecraft didn’t hold the same allure for me since it was played in first person. But I knew Terraria was special when I stumbled upon its store page. It was about fifteen dollars back then, and it was affordable enough that I didn’t think twice about clicking the ‘add to cart’ button.

Needless to say, Terraria proceeded to smash my expectations at every turn. I’d always loved the idea of eking out a living in an untouched world, plundering abandoned areas full of treasure, and building a home from the materials the land provided. The game fulfilled what I’d craved for the longest time, carving a solid place in my heart, never to be forgotten.

I racked up 70 hours before growing tired and branching out to try other games. That happened towards the middle of 2015, my steam account helpfully recording when I was last seen floundering about in Terraria. Fast forward to 2017. After finishing Caveman Warriors, I was suddenly hit by the familiar urge to build something. After several minutes of contemplating, I ended up reinstalling the game.

My old saves were strangely nowhere to be found, so I started a new character and created a new world. As I waited for the game to load I was slightly anxious about needing to learn everything from scratch. But similar to riding a bicycle after years of not doing so, instinct and familiarity kicked after I started playing.

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My character was dropped into the newly generated world and I set out to gather resources. The game gives you a broadsword, an axe, and a pickaxe when you first start, so you don’t need to punch trees to get wood.

In a matter of hours my exploring turned up some pretty neat items. My beginner character was squishy and could be killed by a cleverly placed dart trap or even a couple of slimes, which made exploration hazardous. This was where bows came in handy – arrows are surprisingly useful, both in range and in damage. And even better, they only require wood and stone blocks to craft. Cave bats, zombies, and multi-coloured dungeon slimes fell prey to my archery and were dispatched without trouble.

The grind slowly set in after the three hour mark. This can be attributed Terraria’s procedurally generated world as not all underground caverns are conveniently linked. For someone like myself whose mantra is “Just a little more,” forcibly digging through dirt and stone was unavoidable, especially if I catch sight of an empty area near my position.

This is the part I dislike, because it can feel like a chore if you’re constantly digging. Patience is not always rewarded. I could spend fifteen minutes digging my way down, only find an empty cavern and a couple of pots. Ugh. It’s easy for people to drop the game and proclaim it’s boring if that’s all they do in their first playthrough, and I can’t blame them. This is a common problem in open world games and depending on how forgiving you feel, it might be cause to stop playing.

I’d say to give Terraria a minimum two to three hours. If you still find it boring after that, it’s probably not the type of game for you. For around ten dollars (at the time of writing this) I’d recommend people to try it out. The game also goes on sale for a steep discount during Steam sales, those willing to wait can probably grab it at a measly 2 bucks.

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I’m on my eighth hour currently and everything still feels satisfying. I’d thought my interest would wane after a while but I still seem to be going strong. For newer players, I’d recommend doing different things if you ever find yourself getting bored. Terraria is also unique in that it has different biomes – with bosses that you can summon and defeat.

My personal favourite is the Eye of Cthulu, mostly because he’s the easiest out of all of them. There’s also the Slime King, but he was pretty unmemorable especially after you get a good set of gear. Another boss I managed to kill was the Eater of Worlds and I had to do quite a bit of preparation for that. I’d been looking to go against it in my current playthrough but unfortunately, I got the crimson biome instead of the corruption one.

Despite playing for 90 hours and counting there’s still a truckload of content I haven’t gotten to yet. Terraria has endless replay value and for the price, it’s practically a steal. There isn’t a game like it, despite numerous efforts to replicate the visuals or general gameplay. I’d confidently recommend this game to anyone regardless of what genres they like. It might be something they would eventually come to love.

Why You Need to Play Butterfly Soup

For all the money big-time publishers’ pump into their triple-A games the final product can often come out lacking what indie titles have in spades. There’s a simple charm to games made dutifully and lovingly by one man teams or small studios, and it shows. What they lack in budget and polish is made up with heart and creativity. I’m aware not all indie games end up this way – like Ark: Survival Evolved or the countless early access titles which never get off the ground – but I believe it holds true for the majority.

I went into Butterfly Soup with low expectations. I’d heard good things about it and decided to give it a try, since I’m a fan of romance visual novels. The trailer certainly helped. It demonstrated a quirky sense of humour, with several references to internet memes that had me laughing hard enough to wake the neighbours.

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Butterfly Soup is about Asian girls falling in love and is both complex and breathtakingly simple, as romance often is. There’s baseball sprinkled in, though the main focus is ultimately the budding friendship/relationships between the characters. The main cast consists of four girls: Diya, Min-seo, Noelle, and Akarsha, the main coupling being Diya and Min-Seo. I found it easy to relate to them, being an Asian myself.

Each girl is wildly different in personality, background, likes and dislikes, down to the way they speak or act. Interactions between them can be ridiculous, disastrous, downright amusing, or sometimes all three. I found it refreshing. It lends an element of unpredictability to Butterfly Soup, making it feel exciting yet still grounded in reality. The game is also sprinkled with a generous amount of internet memes and group chats, but successfully uses them instead of coming off as trying too hard.

The length of this visual novel is on the shorter side. It takes around three to four hours to finish, but does what visual novels lasting up to 10 hours fail to do. I was completely enthralled with the story from start to finish, alternating between deep, bellowing laughter or grinning like an idiot. It’s not the sort of laugh which has you replying ‘lol’ to a cute gif. It’s the sort which bubbles over and erupts, where your voice hits a pitch that you never thought was possible.

I lost count of how many times I had to hunch over to calm down because one of the characters said something to set me off.

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The writing is amazingly fun, practically dripping with personality and wit. The game flaunts how over-the-top and mischievous it can be, while still managing to touch on problems that aren’t exactly family friendly. Those moments never felt forced. They were handled carefully but never shied from speaking the truth. It also never felt overtly preachy or self-righteous. I’d never expected this kind of depth in what was supposed to be just a fun, romance visual novel.

Butterfly Soup also has sweet visuals to accompany its story. Simple backgrounds draw attention to adorable looking characters, and there wasn’t a single one I disliked. There’s plenty of variation in their expressions and poses, my favourites being Noelle’s face palm and Akarsha’s fake gasp. Another point in the game’s favour is the easy to navigate UI. The main menu is a tooth sweetening affair with Diya and Min-Seo in the background, and wanting to save mid-game is as simple as pressing the ‘esc’ key and clicking on an empty save slot.

With a heart-warming story about growing up, lovable characters, and a sense of humour, there’s nothing to dislike about the game. I actually consider it to be among of the best games of this year. Butterfly Soup is the perfect example that visual novels, or games in general, don’t need an overwhelming scope, big budget, or jaw dropping visuals to be great.

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I can’t recommend it enough. You can get it for free here, which I did at first, but I went back and paid for it after I’d finished. I sincerely hope more people give it a chance because it’s a game you really shouldn’t miss.

*The original post can be found on GameLuster

Caveman Warriors – Hitting both highs and lows

There are few platform games that have succeeded in carving a place in the hearts of gamers. Unlike RPGs, platform games lack the means of telling an engaging story and it’s an uphill battle to endear the characters to players. Efforts to do so can go either way. One famous example of a beloved platformer franchise would be the Super Mario series. Nintendo perfected the art of a platformer and made Mario into a household name and nearly everyone, gamer or otherwise, has heard about the Italian plumber.

On the flipside, the most recent and infamous example would be Mighty No. 9. Ignoring the kick-starter debacle, the game is a mediocre platformer, its problems exacerbated by bad voice acting and dull characters. The main character, Beck, is as charismatic as a block of wood. Mighty No. 9 might not have been badly received if the game was good, or at least, enjoyable. But it didn’t perform in the aspects that mattered, and was gutted for it.

Caveman Warriors is a game brimming with personality. Character and enemy designs are varied, interesting, and does well to endear themselves to players. JanduSoft has created a lively, prehistoric world to play in. The story is barebones but charming enough to keep players invested, and though the focus is on its platforming, I liked how effort was put in to make the game more than just a boring platformer.

cw 3.pngIn Caveman Warriors, players can choose between four playable characters. Each have different skillsets and special abilities, and their uses are gradually explained as you progress. We have Moe, a devilish blue haired man who uses his bongo to deliver short blasts of sound or air. Liliana, a fiery spear wielding woman with a pet snake. Jack, a balding man who uses his dog as a toupee and wields a stone axe. Finally, we have Brienne, a muscular mountain of a woman who uses a cooked drumstick like club. My personal favourite was Liliana since her special ability came in handy for dispatching opponents at a distance.

The use of a controller is recommended in the game, and I played entirely with my trusty dualshock 4. Switching between characters is easily done and the game eases the player into juggling different characters through rock monuments and wooden signs placed throughout each level. The unobtrusive nature of the tutorials really set the tone for the game, and I never found myself overwhelmed or needing to pause the game to check up on the controls. Caveman Warriors does well in guiding the player, but never coddles them. Other than minor handholding in the introductory levels, the player is left alone to discover the other aspects of the game, aided by the clever use of environmental clues.

I remember being pleasantly surprised when I was awarded with health items and bonuses when I broke a coconut. It was the same feeling I’d gotten an hour later when I took out several enemies by jumping on them in quick succession – much like what Mario would do when faced with a conga line of Goombas. There’s always a rush of delight at these discoveries, and it reminded me of how I bumbled through platform games in the Game boy era.

cw 1.pngCaveman Warriors often strikes a good balance between being challenging and fun, but there are times where it falls short. Like any game, the difficulty increases as the player progresses. Early levels and their bosses hit the sweet spot of what I felt was challenging, yet extremely fun. The later ones however, would either be a cakewalk or mind numbingly frustrating. The latter has several moments where I felt things were made difficult for the sake of it. Unfairly placed obstacles would have me dying when I least expected it, or there would be no way to avoid getting hurt. Similarly, there would be some bosses that felt spectacularly unbalanced, and I liken the experience of trying to beat them to plucking teeth.

Boss battles in Caveman Warriors are the most creative ones I’ve ever come across. There isn’t a single boss that resembles the other, save for maybe one, and this made battles especially tense since I didn’t know what to expect. A giant ravenous plant, a caveman clad in leather riding a T-Rex, and even a yeti – I was constantly surprised by the bosses that appeared at the end of each level. I usually died more than once before managing to clear a level. The ability to switch between characters definitely made things easier, since some characters have ability to counter a boss.

cw 2.pngFor those worrying about content, Caveman Warriors has two modes, Normal and Arcade. I finished Normal mode in five hours, but playtime might vary between different players. Arcade mode is unlocked once the main campaign is finished, and while the levels are identical, they are much harder and less forgiving. Falling into water or into pits will deduct one life out of the three you’re given, unlike playing in Normal where your health is merely cut down.

It makes things more intense, especially when there are enemies lobbing projectiles from hard to reach spots. Extra levels can also be unlocked in both modes by using ‘batteries’ collected throughout each level. Most of them are hidden, so players should keep a sharp ear out for the faint buzz of electricity as they play.

Those looking for a challenging platformer would get their money’s worth in Caveman Warriors, and while the game can be unfair at times, I enjoyed my time with it. There’s much fun to be had regardless of whether you’re playing by yourself or with friends.

7.5/10

Club thumping fun

 

*This game was provided by the Developer.

*This review was also posted on GameLuster

 

Root Letter – All fluff and no meat

Root Letter is the first title in the Kadokawa Game Mystery Series with contributions from key staff who worked on Konami’s Love Plus+ series, like character designer Mino Taro. When it was first announced, I found myself drawn in by the gorgeous art and knew I needed to play it. Other than its art, Root Letter also further held my attention with this line:

“I’ve killed someone. This is farewell…goodbye.”

Almost everyone who read it would find themselves gripped by curiosity, and like me, decided to give the game a chance. This was reflected in the sales for Root Letter, which had exceeded expectations and sold over two hundred thousand copies, the head of marketing of PQube describing it as ‘Phenomenal’ success.

Unfortunately, for all the excitement and intrigue the game generated from the art, summary and trailers, Root Letter ended up disappointing me. As someone who has played a number of visual novels, Root Letter is merely serviceable, failing in both story and its attempt at a mystery.

For the uninitiated, a visual novel is an interactive game with static graphics, most often using anime-style art, with minimal gameplay, consisting predominantly of narration. Many visual novels are similar in that they have multiple endings that are determined by the choices of the player, and Root Letter is no different in this regard.

For the sake of making this review less confusing, I will be referring to Root Letter as a game throughout the review.

Story

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The story puts you in the shoes of an adult man in his thirties, who discovers old letters from his pen-pal he regularly wrote to fifteen years ago. He finds an unopened letter with no post mark and to his horror, discovers it contains a confession where she claims to have killed someone. His curiosity bubbles over and sends him packing to Matsue, the town which his pen-pal, Aya Fumino, lived in.

The first chapter is a glance into what you can expect from the rest of the game. Throughout the story the main character is only propelled from place to place by vague reasons that makes absolutely no sense, playing detective and generally being a nuisance to the Matsue community. The premise of Root Letter is promising, but is badly executed and poorly written.

One example of this, is the reason the main character sets out to search for his pen-pal. His motivation for doing so is laughable. He decides to search for her just because he was curious, not even bothering to form any sort of plan. It’s a lazy attempt to justify why he sets off on a wild goose chase, and had me scratching my head.

From there it’s just a series of poor coincidences and random discoveries that pushes the story forward. The pacing is choppy, with the main character going from place to place with no rhyme or reason other than the game needing him to be there, and it really hinders the atmosphere of mystery and anticipation Root Letter is aiming for.

As you attempt to solve the mystery, you’ll run around Matsue and confront people who vaguely resemble the friends your pen-pal talked about in her letters, and wonder why your attempts to wheedle information out of them ends in hostility. The main character lack tact and comes off as a wannabe detective, constantly relying on brute force and wild guesses. There was a scene where he walks into a high school, searches the premises, and is surprised that the staff and security haul him in for questioning!

Root Letter feels like the writer scribbled down a bunch of vaguely interesting ideas and strung them together, lacking the coherence a proper story should have. I could only play it in short bursts because my attention would inevitably drift away, bored out of my mind as I read painful lines like:

I made a reservation at the Matsue Inn.

I have arrived at the Inn.

“This must be the Matsue Inn which I made a reservation at.”

Thankfully, Root Letter doesn’t last longer than ten hours, because I doubt I’d have completed it if it were longer.

Characters

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Root Letter’s characters fall into either category: interesting and thoughtful, or plain obnoxious. You’re given some backstory on each character as the game progresses, and how their relationship with Aya Fumino shaped them, and for the most part, they are decently written. Being able to compare the characters’ past and present selves also made the game interesting. There’s something bittersweet about seeing how far they’ve come, or how far they strayed from their dreams.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the main character. He’s bland and uninteresting, the only thing resembling characterization is his obsession with his pen-pal, Aya. What Root Letter is doing, is giving us a blank canvas to project ourselves onto. This is a common tactic in visual novels as it gets the player to feel more invested in the story.

However, the failing of Root Letter is that it forgets the player has no control over the actions of the main character. The only thing you have a bearing on is how he replies to Aya’s letters, which determines which of the five endings you’ll end up with. This is a problem because when the main character does something thoroughly unlikable, doing something you wouldn’t, it creates a dissonance between the player and the game.

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Root Letter’s only saving grace is its art. Each location in Matsue is beautifully drawn and brought to life, the clean and crisp backgrounds giving my eyes plenty of things to appreciate while searching for clues. Characters are also tastefully designed and gorgeous to look at, with none looking similar to the other. The game could have been so much more, but ends up falling short because of bad writing.

Overall, Root Letter isn’t the worst visual novel I’ve played and there are people who played and liked it. But I can’t recommend it unless it’s on sale, simply because there are better ones out there to spend your time on.

6/10

Meh.

 

*This review is also posted on GameLuster.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey – Weird, wonderful, and amazing

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With the announcement of Deep Strange Journey, I thought it appropriate to play the original game. I’d gotten a used copy of SMT: Strange journey a year back but due to being somewhat of a compulsive buyer, never got around to actually playing it until now. As a fan of Shin megami tensei and its spinoffs, I was eager to see what the game would be like.

Strange journey has captured my heart with its mature storyline, well-written characters, and challenging gameplay. This game absolutely floored me, and I’m more excited for the remake than ever. A game like this deserves a new lease of life and needs to be experienced by 3DS owners who have never gotten the chance. In short, missing out on a gem like this would be tragic.

Story

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The game begins with a piece of horrible news being delivered.

The earth is at risk of annihilation as a black void called the Schwarzwelt, rapidly expands and consumes everything in its path. You play as an officer who get drafted into the Schwarzwelt Investigational Team at the request of the U.N to find a solution. The intense prologue inflated me with a sense of urgency and importance, and was a glimpse into what to expect from strange journey.

The story only gets more interesting from there. The journey through Schwarzwelt proves to be a hard, but not impossible, feat. Everything from the setting to the story is beautifully written and handled. I would sometimes feel I was reading a sci-fi epic rather than playing a game.

In strange journey, you can choose to side with three different alignments. Law, neutral and chaotic. Your reactions to different events in the game will determine your alignment and the ending you will reach, so think carefully when presented with a decision.zelenin.png

Choosing a side is up to personal tastes or whoever you think is ‘right.’ There isn’t a side which is inherently right or wrong which makes it harder for the player to choose, and once you do make a decision, it can feel like you’re merely picking the lesser evil.

Strange journey doesn’t hold back with its subject matter and subtly expands on topics like morality, consumerism, and religion throughout the game. You know, typical SMT stuff.

Other than the main story, you can also choose to complete side missions. Known as Ex-missions in the game, completing those awards you with items and in-game currency known as macca. You get to experience more of the Schwarzwelt and its demon inhabitants. My favourite side mission was helping a demon find out who ate his meat, titled FOOL EAT MEAT.

Most of the side missions are quirky and make the game more charming. The occasions where I found myself bored while doing a mission are extremely rare. There is always content to keep you busy.

Gameplay

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Strange journey is slightly different from mainline SMT games. It still retains the tried and true turn based battle system and allows you to exploit demon weaknesses, but instead of giving you extra turns when you attack a demon’s weak point, you get to do a co-op attack instead.

If the demons in your party are the same alignment as you, you can launch a devastating co-op attack to deal extra damage. I like this mechanic because it gives you the chance to deal damage even if your party members are weak. It comes in handy when battling bosses or when individual attacks do little damage. This mechanic takes some getting used to, but once you get a hang of it you’ll realise how useful it actually is.

One thing players have to take note of is how difficult Bosses can be. You have to plan for boss battles and go through some trial and error to find a good strategy, but you will eventually defeat them. Exploiting weaknesses, using buffs and debuffs is a good way to keep the enemies in check and prolong your survival. Strange journey is challenging but with the right demons and some practice, you’ll find yourself enjoying yourself immensely.

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Strange journey also makes use of first person exploration. As a fan of dungeon crawlers like Etrian Odyssey I got used to it fairly quickly, and the game helps you along by automatically mapping where you traverse on the bottom screen.

The dungeons in the game are unique and are fun to explore, each filled with different types of demons. However, they can be ridiculously complicated at times. Some dungeons are rich with floor traps that decrease your HP, while others can afflict you with status effects, poisoning your party for example, and leave you vulnerable to demon attacks.

Exploring them also requires a bit of luck. You will either reach your destination quickly or end up lost and frustrated. Thankfully, there are plenty of guides to ease your pain and it’s a good idea to consult them if you’re stuck.

Overall

I can wholeheartedly recommend strange journey to gamers who’ve played SMT games but not so much for newcomers. If you’re someone who dislikes hard games or occasionally grinding for EXP, Strange Journey might not be the right choice.

This is just my personal opinion, of course, so you’re welcome to take a shot at it if you’d like. But if you looking to enter the Shin Megami Tensei series, I would recommend SMT IV over this one.

10/10

Here be demons

 

Why I never finished: Gravity Rush

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I really hoped to finish this game. Even writing this now, I can’t help but feel bad. Despite everything good about Gravity Rush – the bad parts eventually became too difficult to ignore and became the deciding factor in forcing me to stop playing.

Like most games I never finish, Gravity Rush is not a bad game. It has something of a cult status due to its charm, and was obviously popular enough to get a sequel. The story it tries to tell is pretty interesting, and the protagonist, named Kat, is bursting with personality.

This game feels experimental, and it shows. The clunky controls, a repetitive and largely uninspired battle system, drags down what could have been a good game and made it mediocre.

Gravity Rush tells its story through a series of chapters. Every chapter begins with events playing out in a comic style panel. This was a really nice touch and I found it quite charming. While cynics may see it as cheap replacement for animated cut scenes, I think this style of presentation suits Gravity Rush to a tee. In addition, character dialogues are witty, and the reliance on character interaction keep things interesting. There was never a dull moment with Kat.

It’s unfortunate that the bad aspects of the game overshadow the good. One example which encapsulates my experience would be this:

I would be flying Kat around the city when she suddenly flies straight into the building. The camera would shift erratically,  forcing me to go through a series of manoeuvres to get her back on track – inducing a headache in the process. This problem also occurs during battle, where the player is expected to tightly manoeuvre around the battlefield. This can get extremely annoying if the enemy constantly dodges, forcing the player to stop upside down in mid-air and try again, hoping the enemy would stay still.

I’m a person who gets motion sickness if the FOV isn’t wide enough, or if the camera moves too fast, so the horrible camera and poor controls were a deal breaker for me. Seeing Kat spin uncontrollably in the air, or attack a constantly moving opponent can make me nauseous enough that it breaks the immersion.

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The main character,  Kat

There are also things I love about this game. The main character is one of the more interesting protagonists I’ve come across. Kat is the right combination of funny and sassy, unafraid to deliver her personal brand of biting sarcasm to idiots around her. Despite being a shifter – a term used in the game to describe those with the power to control gravity – I feel Kat is the most relatable even among the entire cast.

While the game’s controls are annoying and makes playing it difficult, one thing Gravity Rush nailed was how the player controlled gravity. What I enjoyed most in the game was having Kat fly over the city, an unforgettable experience bolstered by the ecstatic rush of being free and seeing buildings rush by in a blur.

Kat doesn’t lose health falling from extreme heights, and it merely inconveniences her. The quick travel mechanic in the game was something I rarely used, preferring to fly Kat to her destination instead of taking something as mundane as a train, or airship.

Overall, I might have finished the game if I wasn’t prone to bouts of motion sickness. But as it stands, torturing myself to finish ten more chapters doesn’t seem appealing, especially when I could be playing something else.

Fire Emblem Echoes – A remake fit to knock your socks off

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The revival of the Fire Emblem is one of Nintendo’s greatest accidental achievements. No one anticipated Awakening to be the hit smash of 2012, and even less would have guessed the franchise going mainstream with the release of Fates.

But despite the success of both games, many old-school fans were vocal about disliking new the marriage system. The arguments against it consisted of worries that it was turning Fire Emblem games into ‘waifu simulators.’

In a stroke of genius, Nintendo decided to remake a game that was never released outside Japan. A remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden.

The news of this remake titled Fire Emblem Echoes was met with rabid excitement from both new and old fans. The game would be released to the world with new art and additional content. For the first time, the entire fanbase looked forward to the game’s release.

The great news?  It did not disappoint.

After playing Awakening twice and all three routes offered by Fates, I felt burnt out from Fire Emblem. A change of pace is exactly what I need, and what I’m guessing many players need, to revive our love for the series.

This was partly the reason I was looking forward to the release of Echoes. It was once regarded as the black sheep of the franchise due to its odd gameplay mechanics, which includes allowing players to roam/explore dungeons.

Story

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Alm and Celica

The story follows two children of fate, Celica and Alm. At the start of the game, we learn that Celica is the princess of Zofia. Due to the schemes of a power hungry man bent on ascending the throne she flees the kingdom and with the help of a loyal soldier, is hidden in Ram village. This is where she meets Alm.

They get along splendidly and become as thick as thieves. They also bond over the identical mark on the back of their hands.

Unfortunately, they part ways soon after Celica’s pursuers find them, as she is no longer able to stay in Ram village for fear of getting captured. Celica and Alm promise to meet again, not realizing that their eventual meeting is destined to be far less happy than they hoped.

The game has five chapters, or acts, in total. The player gets to control both Alm and Celica’s armies as they march toward their individual goals, both of which involve different ways of stopping the war between Zofia and Rigel.

Each army has different aims to accomplish and both routes are well-written. Despite the problems of pacing when going back and forth between the two routes, I found that it ultimately suited the game due to the type of story it tries to tell.

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It might seem strange for the game to make you play two differing perspectives but it helps a great deal in fleshing out the story. Thus, Echoes delivers a far more intriguing narrative than previous two games. There are people who described the plot as straight forward, but I disagree. The story isn’t complicated but to say it is straightforward would be doing it a disservice. Overall, I loved it, despite the clichéd end boss.

Other than the main story, the player can also choose to do side quests – which comes in the form of helping different characters/villagers you come across. Rewards differ, some giving helpful items or weapons while others allow you to recruit new characters once the quest is fulfilled.

Echoes lacks a marriage system but still has supports between characters. Most of the supports are thoughtfully written, I would say they were more enjoyable or on par with Awakening’s.

My gripe is that not all characters have supports with each other, as the pairings follow that of Fire Emblem Gaiden. It limits the immersion of the army and makes the ‘interactions’ feel more artificial then it should be.

This is only a minor nit-pick but I felt I should point it out for newer fans of the franchise who expect a similar system to previous games.

Characters

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The overall cast of Echoes was great. They were varied and interesting, some with their own interesting backstories. But the ones who stole the show were Alm, Celica, and Berkut.

Alm evolved from a whiny brat to a level headed leader, while Celica grew into her eventual role of a princess. There were times where their dialogue bordered on being ridiculously cheesy, but other times really brought the best out of them and allowed individual traits to shine through.

One complaint I have about Alm and Celica is that they seem to lean too closely towards anime tropes.

There are times Alm behaved like the classic hero protagonist, who could lead soldiers or people and do no wrong, while being relentlessly optimistic. Likewise, Celica could come off as the damsel in distress despite the fact she could defend herself very well. Her decisions were sometimes mind bogglingly stupid. But the game tries its best to steer away from those tropes and leaves us with a balance of good characterisation and clichéd ones.

The protagonists – Celica and Alm – were everything I hoped them to be. What I did not expect was one of the antagonists to be as interesting. Or perhaps even more than Celica and Alm were.

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Berkut and Rinea

Introduced in chapter 3, Berkut steals the show in every scene he appears in. The nephew of Rigel’s Emperor, he is every inch an arrogant noble he portrays himself to be. His mannerisms and traits are cookie cutter, and I bet you’ve seen variations of his type of character in other games or anime.

But instead of just having him be a forgettable obstacle on Alm’s journey, the game chooses to develop him extremely well. There’s more to him than just being ‘the noble who belittles everyone’ and underneath the bravado, Berkut is a fragile, egoistic man with an unquenchable thirst for strength. Like a cracked glass which cannot be filled.

Accompanying him in most scenes is his wife, Rinea. Other than his disdain for commoners, his love for his wife is also plainly seen. In contrast to similar antagonists, he genuinely loves and cares for her. I began to see him not as just the man Alm needs to defeat, but also the man who defends his country and wants to see it prosper. The game does well to remind us that despite his faults, Berkut is human.

Echoes would not be as memorable without Berkut. It would have been good. But not great.

Sound

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The Emperor of Rigel

The soundtrack for Echoes is amazing. Every track is memorable and fits the scenes they are played in extremely well. Dungeons sound ominous and creepy, battles are intense and exciting, and rest areas do well to soothe and relax. Even exploring a drab area can feel delightful because of it. 

Another great thing about this game is that almost all dialogue is voiced. In my opinion, the English voice actors knocked it out of the park. The voices for every character felt fitting, and emotional scenes really knock the wind out of you with the heartfelt performances.

Some people might complain that the game lacks the option to switch between Japanese and English voices, but to them I will pose this question: Why do you need it? I would honestly rather play Echoes in English than in Japanese. The voice acting is superb, not a single line ever stuck out to me as being weird or bad. I feel like the definitive way to play this game is with english dub.

Conclusion

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Both newcomers and veterans of Fire Emblem will find something to enjoy in Fire Emblem Echoes. An enjoyable battle system and fantastic narrative will be a real treat for anyone who felt previous Fire Emblem games fell short of their expectations. This game will be a permanent fixture in my 3DS library and I hope it will be in yours.

10/10

Brilliant

Refunct – Soothing? Check. Fun? Check.

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Refunct is a short platformer that caught my eye during Steam’s Summer Sale. It was originally on my wishlist because of its ‘overwhelmingly positive reviews.’

It’s rare for games to be that well received on Steam, which pushed me to get the game when the price dropped. I picked it up for less than two dollars but even without the sale it had a pretty affordable price of around three dollars and fifty cents.

I didn’t know what to expect other than getting a brief but pleasant experience which many steam users claimed to have had.

Upon loading, I was greeted by a minimalistic looking screen that drew me in with bright colours and a simple art style.

The game runs buttery smooth. Refunct sells itself as a casual open world platformer with no tutorial, no death and relaxing visuals. I’d say the game was interesting, combining the feeling of freedom that comes with an open world game with a playful and calm atmosphere of walking simulators.

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The platforming is fairly easy. There were few times I was stumped when trying to get the collectible items littered around the map, but it was never to the point where I’d consult a walkthrough or quit halfway.

One thing I found really cool was that when I jumped from surface to surface, the places I’d stepped on changed from white to green and had a nice texture that reminded me of carpet grass. It added to the overall atmosphere, and there was a certain childlike joy that came from jumping to a new platform and seeing the ground turn green under your feet.

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In addition, you are surrounded by water as far as the eye can see. I was also surprised that I could dive in and swim under the platforms. Refunct stays true to the developer’s promise of a seamless and dynamic experience.

There is also a night/day cycle in the game, but I found it to be unnecessary since it didn’t add to my overall experience. Considering it only took half an hour to complete, a day/night cycle felt unneeded.

Overall, you can’t go wrong with this game. If you’re craving for a short but fun platformer and don’t want something ridiculously hard, Refunct is the perfect game to sink your teeth into.

7/10

Time to kick back and relax

PS Vita Ports: Risk Of Rain

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I’m always looking for games to add to my small, but darling library of vita games. It’s a sad fact that Sony has abandoned the handheld console outside of Japan. Despite that, I wouldn’t give up my vita for anything in the world. While it doesn’t have a strong library as say, the 3DS, it still has its share of great games which need to be played.

Another really good thing about the vita is that it has a decent library of indie titles. It’s more expensive than buying them for your PC, but that’s the price of portability.

Risk of rain is one such title that I’ve been going crazy over lately. I bought it when it first came out and didn’t play much of it, only unlocking a handful of what the game had to offer. I started playing it much more regularly this year and have finished the game several times over since then.

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Risk of rain isn’t a very demanding title. It runs great on my computer and fairly smoothly on the vita.

Something I’ve noticed is that the vita version feels significantly smaller, each generated level is easy to find your way around and you stumble along a generous amount of items on the way. It’s not that the game is easier, it just feels like the spawned items could be found with little effort.

During each different playthrough, I also felt it was easy to get more than ten drones within a small timeframe if you had enough coins. It wasn’t as easy for me on the pc version, which had me scouring the maps endlessly for the exact same thing. I guess they had to make concessions for the port since the vita is limited by its hardware.

In terms of content, the PC and vita versions are the mostly same. Same achievements, skills, items, nothing is cut from the original game. The only thing missing that affected me was the option that allowed me to zoom in.

One downside to this port, however, is the occasional frame rate drops. Risk of rain requires the player to hoard whatever items they can get their hands on and with different items come different effects.

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Some effects are very flashy, which by itself isn’t a big problem. The problem comes when you find yourself surrounded by enemies with large bosses spawning left and right.

The longer you play, the more difficult the game will be. Monsters that spawn after the half hour mark often feel like damage sponges. You can kill one and four more would pop up in their place, each more aggressive and tanky than before.

There were several times the game began stuttering when there were too many enemies on screen. It didn’t have a big effect on me but I found it annoying since it broke the immersion being a badass character slaughtering everything in their path.

There were times where an item’s effect would make the fps drop horribly, though it wouldn’t remain that way for long.

The ‘Happiest mask’ was one such item. I loved this item since it would spawn a ghost for each killed enemy which is a big help when dealing with a swarm of monsters while using a character who doesn’t have Area of Effect damage.

But whenever I killed a large amount of enemies, causing their ghosts to spawn, the game would inevitably lag for several seconds. Enough to make me annoyed but not enough to cause me grief.

Conclusion

I would recommend this port to those who liked the game on PC and want to have it on the go, but if you had to pick between the vita port and the PC version, I would highly recommend the PC one instead since it gives players a better experience overall.