Ratchet and Clank

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Ratchet is a young Lombax that has always dreamed of joining the Galactic Rangers, but is rejected personally by Captain Qwark himself. When a robot he names Clank crash lands near his garage with crucial information, he gets a second chance. It turns out that the Blarg are working with Doctor Nefarious on an evil plan including the destruction of a number of planets. Ratchet ends up getting sucked into things and becoming a part of the rangers, where he along with Clank, travel across the galaxy to stop such a disaster from occurring.

***

This is very much a tried and true Ratchet and Clank game. In terms of game play its a solid blend of action shooting and platforming, wherein the sequences where both are required are it’s highlights. There are a pretty large number of diverse weapons that assists with combat, many of them being quite strange, such as the sheepinator. While a tremendous amount of thought isn’t required, because while using the right weapon in the right situation does work better the other weapons can essentially be forced into working quite right as well, it’s still fun to play around with them in different combinations. This combined with situations that change the combat tremendously, such as the jetpack, end up making the combat feel pretty fresh. So in regards to combat the only complaint I have is that there weren’t many boss battles, though the final boss I thought was pretty good. In terms of platforming, it’s solid as well, with lots of gadgets that slowly add to it. Furthermore, they also allow reaching new places a lot of the time, which incentives coming back and exploring old locations, which adds a lot to the various planets. There are also other side games, such as ship combat and board racing that help with pacing, though all in all it still felt like there needed to be more, because the core game play felt like it dragged on a bit too long while overall the game still felt a bit short.

In terms of plot, it was decent  and enough to hold up the game, though there wasn’t much to it. An area it felt lacking however is in the relationship being built up between Ratchet and Clank, which happened way too quickly and felt like there could have been, or rather needed to have been, a lot more to reach that point. Because of that, in a way it felt like a key part of the story was missing. The worlds and atmosphere were all still on point being very exciting, cheerful, and comedic.

The graphics and art style were incredibly good, though the scenes taken from the movie were still quite obvious, and to be honest it felt unneeded because the in game graphics were good enough and the transitions were somewhat awkward. The soundtrack was pretty good and very much fitting the series.

A very solid entry in the Ratchet and Clank franchise that stays very close to the core formula.

8/10

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Fairy Fencer F Advent Dark Force

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Fang is an incredibly lazy guy simply wandering around when he comes upon a sword in the ground. He hears that the sword is called a Fury, blessed by the Goddess, and that if he pulls it out, he’ll be granted a wish. Fang thus pulls it out, causing a Fairy named Eryn to appear, who tries to explain who she is and what’s going on, but is interrupted by Fang immediately demanding food from her. Due to Fang’s strange personality, things get a bit awkward, and he even ends up in jail, but in the end Fang come to understand that getting just one Fury isn’t enough, rather he needs to get all the Furies in order to fully release the Goddess and be granted a wish. To help with that, obtaining a Fury has made Fang a Fencer, who can wield the powers of Fairies to assist in battle. However, Eryn seems to have lost all her memories, so she doesn’t entirely know how to go about finding the other Furies, but believes that if they continue on with this quest that she’ll get her memories back. Hence, Fang decides to help Eryn and go around obtaining Furies.

However, he’s not the only Fencer looking for Furies, and they meet a number of friends and foes as they go about their quest. There’s Tiara, an arrogant girl, stubborn, and somewhat masochistic girl that wants to use the wish to create world peace, who’s Fairy is the adorable pet Cui. There’s Harley, who’s a scientist that often goes too far for the sake of her research and doesn’t seem to care about anything else at all, leaving all housework and suck to her reliable fairy partner Bahus. There’s Galdo, a pretty childish guy that gets caught up in going with the flow too easily, and hence relies on his mother like Fairy Marissa to take care of him quite a bit. There’s Sherman, a guy obsessed with purifying the world of evil in the memory of his long lost sister, who has the robotic Ryushin as a Fairy. There’s the incredibly strange Pippin, who’s goal is social reform, who works with his butler like Fairy Soji. There’s Ethel, a girl who was raised in a harsh environment, and hence only knows how to say the words “Kill”, but has a kind fairy named Karin that wants her to experience living life as a normal girl. There’s Apollonius, a man who strictly follows the ways of the blade and cares of nothing else, who fights along side his dragon Fairy Seguro. There’s Lola, a seemingly too young information dealer who is completely obsessed with money. There’s the witty and high class lady Marianna, who wants to take over and rule the world for the sake of improving it for all who live in it, who is partnered to the bat like Fairy Khalara. And there’s Noie, a man with the sole goal of working hard in this life in order to be reincarnated as an insect in the next one.

Fang and Eryn along with their various allies and enemies push forward towards obtaining the Furies to awaken the goddess, though things may proceed in more complicated directions.

***

This is a game with a lot of good aspects, but in many ways there are elements that cheapen that in a way. For example, the overall plot line featuring Dorfa trying to take over the world along with the Goddess and Vile God background is pretty interesting, as was the time loop mechanic. However, there’s a system where the story can branch down three different routes, and while I felt that this was good in concept, the end result felt incredibly forced, with the plots going in random directions arbitrarily, and with the entire Vile Goddess route feeling incredibly random with some aspects such as Glados torture feeling incredibly out of place. They were all interesting routes on their own, but placed alongside each other, it felt like they were arbitrary, and hence that reduced their impact. The cast of characters were incredibly great, Tiara and Ethel I especially liked. They are a pretty diverse set of characters that mix well together both when getting along and not. There’s a lot of great skits that develop their characters. And furthermore, the time loop mechanic and different routes allows each of them to be developed in different ways, which further helps develop their characters. However, the time loop and multiple route mechanic also brings up the issue in that it also seems that a lot about characters is completely arbitrary, in that their personality and which side they’re on changes at a drop of a hat. Furthermore, the new characters introduced in only the Vile Goddess route felt tremendously underdeveloped. And lastly, it felt like all the ending were a bit weak, in that they seemed to be based on single choices with not much build up. So overall, the cast of characters themselves is fantastic, but everything else surrounding them felt a bit weak.

The battle system wasn’t especially innovative but was still solid. The various aspects of it, each character with a unique ability, abilities in Fairize form that utilize HP instead of MP, guard breaks, combos, etc. worked pretty well together to form a pretty good and enjoyable system. It wasn’t perfect, rather it was somewhat rough with having too many abilities that were useless or entirely similar to others as well as a lot of bosses being incredibly cheap, but it was still decent and never felt cumbersome. The growth system was also very solid. It had something pretty unique in that there was a card system with collecting Fairies that could be equipped to provide stat boosts and abilities. However, ultimately that simply came down to being equipment that can grow in stats and abilities as it is used, which while not that interesting, I still definitely enjoyed and felt this was a really cool implementation of such. The rest was standard leveling up and allocating points to stats and abilities along with equipping armor found in the field, bought, or synthesized, etc. Ultimately a system that was incredibly standard and a bit rough but enjoyable.

In terms of exploration, there was a A LOT OF reused dungeons, enemies, and bosses. To complete all of the story in the game, you will go through most dungeons six times, not to mention there are duplicates of dungeons that look very similar. In part it makes sense due to the time looping and separate route structure, but there were moments that felt like it was clearly cutting corners, like the final dungeons for the Vile God and Vile Goddess route being the exact same despite story wise being different locations. Still, this was much less of an issue than other RPGs facing the same problem, because dungeons in this game are incredibly short. Like it’s possible to complete many of them within 5 minutes if you really try. Part of that involves using boost to dodge around enemies, which is cool. Hence, because it’ll almost never feel like you’re underleveled except during a couple points that you can easily grind in, it’s a perfectly acceptable strategy to try to go through entire dungeons without fighting any mobs, using boost to dodge around them, which is a lot more enjoyable than I expected, and while that’s clearly not what they intended most likely, I found it quite entertaining and hence despite the other issues with dungeons, made dungeon exploring quite enjoyable for me.

At a technical level, I have a complaint in that the museum with CG, songs, etc. was tied to a singular save. It would be a lot better to be more like normal VNs where it gets tied to the global save. The reason for that, is that I would like to have been able to see more than one ending per play through, not for completely different routes, but different characters in the same route. As it seemed to come down to a single choice anyway it feels like that should be fair, as having to play through the game many more times I think is taking things a bit too far. Alternatively, at the end throwing it back to before the final boss or choosing to do a NG+ should have been the option after winning so you could keep going doing the other options until you wanted to cycle through again. This or the gallery I think would have been a major improvement.

In terms of art, the designs were great, especially the character and fairy designs, both in CG, and sprites. The sprites I should note were also incredibly well animated. The graphics were lacking, but there were only a few cutscenes using the in game graphics, so this mostly wasn’t an issue as during game play the game looked nice enough. The music was decent and the OP/EDs were pretty good, with the ED of the Vile God route being something I especially liked.

Kind of rough and cheap feeling at times, but for what it is it’s still an incredibly solid JRPG.

8/10

Assassin’s Creed Unity

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In 1776, while in the palace of Versailles, France, a young boy’s father is mysteriously killed. This boy, Arno, is then taken in by a witness to the scene, De La Serre. Thirteen years later, Arno continues to live under De La Serre, and develops a very strong relationship with De La Serre’s daughter, Elise. However, De La Serre is also murdered, with Arno being the only witness and in part due to his negligence. He is convicted of the murder and thrown in jail. However, that’s simply the beginning of his journey. In jail, he meets a man named Mallec, a friend of his father, who tells him about his origins as the son of an Assassin and invited him to join the brotherhood after their escape. He further learns that De La Serre and Elise are Templars, creating a rift between him and Elise. Still, he is determined to determine who is responsible for De La Serre’s death and to take revenge on them. And thus he joins the Assassin’s Brotherhood. However, as he delves deeper into the matter, he discovers a vast Templar conspiracy that ultimately amounts to a civil war within the Templars, one that Elise has essentially lost, thus pushing him to put aside the natural order of the Assassin’s to look out for someone he cares about.

***

Assassin’s Creed Unity is a not so well received entry in what was for the most part an annual series. There were numerous issues with the game, with it mostly getting panned for technical reasons. I played the game on PS4 Pro however, so I didn’t really encounter any of them. Graphics were quite a nice improvement, though sometimes I wish they had pushed for a higher resolution instead, and the crowds were huge, though that didn’t really seem to add much most of the time. However, I still had problems with the content of the game itself. Unity is a game that completely feel into the cookie cutter fatigue inducing pitfall that Assassin’s Creed had been crawling towards but so far successfully been avoiding.

The first reason for that is the the story was completely pointless. In terms of the Assassin’s vs Templar conflict, Arno’s not really an Assassin, as he just wants revenge. And Elise is not really a Templar, as she was essentially replaced. Hence there wasn’t really much development at all on that side of things.  Arno not being a very Assassin like character was an interesting idea, and though similar in concept to Black Flag it played out quite differently. It allowed for a lot of solid character development in Arno and Elise, who were both cool and had a lot of great moments together. The romance between the Arno and Elise was honestly pretty good for the most part. However, I absolutely was not satisfied with their ending, because in the end it showed that they hadn’t developed as characters at all, and hence all of that that felt pointless. In terms of history, the plot of the game got involved with the actual revolution very little, rather everything happened mostly in the background, so not much in terms of that either. In terms of setting, the French Revolution was interesting, but of all the setting so far I would say it was the least suited for Assassin’s Creed, at least that’s my impression based on the execution, and though it was interesting in terms of a general historical tourism of the era, the events didn’t come through that well. Most major historical character fell flat, and though Napoleon was at least somewhat interesting in the main game, he got a jarring character change in the DLC. Furthermore, the impact on the overarching present day was also null, and the precursors and Abstergo played almost no part in anything whatsoever. So in the end, there really didn’t feel like there was a much a point to any of it. It felt like they were trying to make a game that ultimately would have absolutely no impact on the franchise as a whole, hence allowing them to continue cranking out new ones, but that makes it quite a bit difficult to make something that a player can get invested in, and they failed to do it completely.

The mechanics were very similar to previous titles. There were a couple core changes, such as the more complex assassination missions, which were somewhat interesting. There were also a bunch of smaller changes. Some mechanics such as whistling were dropped and new mechanics such as disguises added. The gear system was more complex, but crafting also disappeared. There were various changes, both good and bad, but at the end of the day the game felt like  the standard bread and butter of the series without anything much more to it at all. It was decent enough in terms of quality, though with the always persistent jank, but fatigue set in really hard for me on this one, especially as there wasn’t much variety to the game play at all. Now I should provide the disclaimer that this in part may be because the co-op multiplayer was a key feature pushed for this game, but I generally hate multi-player for games like these, so I didn’t utilize it at all.

In terms of content the game was the exact opposite of what I want. The story content was decent enough, my problems with the story excluded. And there was a ridiculous amount of side content, so much so that the map looked downright dumb with how much stuff was on it. But almost all of this content was tremendously lacking. There wasn’t much story to most of them, and almost all missions played exactly the same and basically the same as the main missions. It felt very much like a quantity over quality thing. There were a couple things that were different from the standard missions, the only good one of which was the Helix rift system where there was platforming and such in other times. However, there was also the Nostradamus riddles which were ridiculously dumb. How the hell do you do those without a guide? There were also murder mysteries, where Arno solves various murders, but they got old fast, especially as a lot of them seemed to be random, where even after collecting all the clues, it didn’t feel clear at all.

The graphics as mentioned were quite good, though the resolution suffered for it. The soundtrack was decent but forgettable with not really any incredibly memorable tracks, wherein I thought that previous games often had at least one.

A game that is the culmination of a lot of problems Assassin’s Creed had been developing over it’s annual entries.

6/10

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

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Edward Kenway left his home and wife in Wales behind to pursue fortune as a privateer on the high seas. He planned to only be gone for two years, to do what he needed to do, and return home a wealthy man. Things did not go as planned however. While he planned to be a privateer, he quickly fell into being a pirate. After a ship he was on ended up shipwrecked, he and another man he was in conflict with, Duncan Walpole, end up on a deserted island, where Kenway ends up killing Walpole and taking his things. These include his clothes, a letter, and a bag of goods. This letter indicated that Walpole was making a deal with the Governor of Cuba, Laureano Torres, where he would give him information on the Order of Assassins, in exchange for a reward. Kenway, smelling a quick chance for wealth, pretends to be Walpole, and turns in this information to Torres. However, not only is he quickly found out, but he is also quickly embroiled in the conflict between Assassins and Templars, who are fighting over a man dubbed the Sage and a path into some mysterious place called the observatory. This ends up landing him as a prisoner on a fleet. However, with the help of a fellow prisoner, Adéwalé, he not only escapes, but manages to commandeer a ship, which they dub the Jackdaw, and he becomes its captain with Adéwalé as his quartermaster. Hence, he continues delving deeper into the conflict between the Templars and Assassins, primarily motivated by his dreams of fortune, but also learning more about their convictions, and slowly growing his own.

Also, all of this occurs from within the Animus, a machine to dive into memories, from within Abstergo Entertainment, a subsidiary of Abstergo Entertainment. At first glance it appears to be simply the production of a pirate themed virtual experience, but of course its quite a bit more than that, with the conflict between the Templars and Assassins still ongoing, and furthermore, possibly a third faction related to Juno in the mix.

***

Black Flag is an entry in the renowned Assassin’s Creed series, which has come to be known just as much for it’s large open world full of high content and collectibles as it is known for its stealth. This entry differs from previous ones, in that it has a tremendously large open world, though most of it is traversed by going around on ship. This is similar to the naval combat from Assassin’s Creed III, however it plays a much more pivotal role, because the setting is primarily oriented around being a pirate.

Black Flag like most Assassin’s Creed games has a very large amount of things to do, so its somewhat difficult to describe. There’s the main story that had a decent amount of all the main game play mechanics. In addition there are story oriented side missions called Templar Hunts that also go through the majority of the key mechanics. Within both of these, one of the key types of missions involves finding and killing a target or multiple targets, preferably stealthily. This is a pretty standards Assassin’s Creed mission, and works pretty well. The free run controls that allow easily climbing buildings, trees, and other obstacles while occasionally incredibly finicky, generally work pretty well during these missions as even if there are slight mistakes they’re easy to recover from. These mistakes will often end up with  Kenway in combat with a number of soldiers. Combat, unfortunately, for lack of a better way to explain it is still terrible, feeling completely luck based and incredibly random, but thankfully it doesn’t get in the way too much. There are a number of tools such as sleeping darts that can be used to assist in preventing being found while finding the target, as well as tools such as the rope dart that assist in killing them. These core missions are generally pretty good, and my favorite type in the game. In addition to the story based content involving these, there are also a large number of Assassin’s Contracts, that involve performing these missions without any involvement in the story or any sort of side story and offering monetary rewards. The other major land based mission is stealthily tailing someone, often while remaining within a certain distance in order to eavesdrop. These were far more annoying. These can be incredibly annoying due to the fact that Assassin’s Creed systems in general are generally pretty imprecise and these often have very strict completion parameters. Kenway jumping in the wrong direction or making a wrong turn can result in instant failure. Hence, these missions while fine a certain amount for pacing purposes and such, I would very much preferred that there be less of them, because it felt like there were far too many.

The other major game play mission type is naval combat. This also has two major types. The first is ship to ship. This involves finding a ship or multiple ships and taking them out, often by boarding them once their health reaches a certain point which involves the more standard land based game play, though obviously on a ship. In addition to having these in the story, there are Naval Contracts that have such missions without any story and also offer monetary rewards. The other naval mission type is fortress combat. This involves destroying the defenses of a fortress through naval combat, and then essentially boarding it, the crew waging a full on battle within the fortress as Kenway kills the fortresses leaders and takes control. There is quite a bit of charm to sailing on the open seas. The naval combat too while taking a bit to get used to, actually controls pretty well and is really cool. However, as it went on, getting around on a ship felt quite slow, even including the fast travel points. Furthermore, the naval combat game play felt like it got old pretty quickly, unlike the land based game play which still doesn’t feel stale to me even after all of these entries. So while I certainly appreciate the mechanic and feel that it adds quite a bit to the game, it felt like it overstayed its welcome quite a bit, and I don’t particularly feel the need for it to be included in future entries.

In addition to these, there are a number of other types of missions in the main story and Templar Hunt side stories, such as defending a person or ship, skinning a certain amount of animals, pick pocketing someone, etc. There are also a large number of other things to do outside of the story, such as raiding warehouses for cargo, gambling, hunting animals at land and sea, diving into shipwrecks, clearing bar fights, sending captured ships on trade expeditions, as well as a number of collectibles in the form of Animus Fragments placed around each area and Shanties that fly around each area, and Mayan Stones that involve solving simple puzzles. Furthermore, there a number of upgrade systems in place, many of which involve money, such as upgrading Kenway’s cove home base, but many which also involve skin pelts for Keway or the metal/wood cargo types for the Jackdaw. Overall, as with previous entries, Black Flag has a ridiculous amount of content, but in general I get the impression it doesn’t expect you to go through all of it, but rather only the parts you like, which is a fine approach by me.

And that’s not even getting into the modern story, which involves walking around in first person and hacking into computers, cameras, and servers through three types of mini games. The first plays pretty much like frogger, though obviously themed completely differently. The second is a bit strange and hard to describe in that it essentially involves traversing a maze on a sphere where it is only possible to stop at edges in order to stop on a green line circling the sphere. The third involves determining which series of prime numbers results in a number they specify, which is actually the closest I’ve seen to a hacking mini-game being close in subject matter to the real thing, though with the obvious differences being that the real numbers used are so large they’re impossible to determine mentally and even with computers generally impossible to force brute. There are a number of these that are required, though only a small number, and they’re generally pretty easy, though there are quite a few additional optional ones that give story material. I’d say they do a decent job at helping pacing, though the first transition into the present day setting was incredibly jarring.

In terms of story, it was actually really cool. The pirate setting is one that surprisingly isn’t used very often in games, so it felt quite fresh. Furthermore, Kenway was an amazing character that was tremendously likable, and had a solid character arc where he grows tremendously leading to a tremendously solid conclusion for him. There were also a number of other interesting and likable characters, such as Adéwalé and Anne. The core story involving the conflict between the Templars and Assassins was also pretty decent, being more solidly entrenched than past entries around both the romantic notions around pirates and their love of freedom, as well as the Observatory and all that it can offer. All around, it came together for a pretty memorable and solid story for Kenway. The modern story however, was quite bizarre and strange, and made very little sense, as it often does.

The graphics were pretty good and the tremendously large world came out looking pretty nice. The soundtrack was fantastic and very much fit the pirate and exploration themes.

8/10

 

Tales of Zesteria

tales of zesteria

Sorey is a human raised by the Seraphim, a mystical race of spirits that watch over the world. They are invisible to most humans, but because Sorey was raised by them from birth, he is able to see them. He and his close water seraph friend Mikleo spend their days exploring the ruins near their home and reading about everything amazing beyond that, as they have never left their home of the mountain town Elysia before. However, one day they find a young woman named Alisha passed out in the ruins, who turns out to be a princess. It seems the the world below had come to be affected by an era of chaos, and that she had come in search of its cause. Its not to be found there however, so after resting she leaves. Not long after an assassin named Lunarre appears who’s come to target Alisha. Furthermore, this assassin is a Hellion, a being corrupted by Malevolence. He gets chased off due to the interference of their powerful grandpa. However, Sorey isn’t willing to leave things as they are considering Alisha is still in danger. He secretly sets off from the mountain, though finds Mikleo following not long after. They arrive at the city of Ladylake, where Alisha lives. However, they run into Lunarre again, though he gets whisked away by the rest of his guild of assassins. They meet up with Alisha at a cathedral, however, things take a turn for the worst as due to various circumstances, Malevolence had been building up, leading to a very dangerous situation. However, within the cathedral was Lailah, a seraph of fire, who has the power to make a pact with a human to turn him into a Shepard, a being in tune with spirits who would fight against the Malevolence. Sorey takes up the pact, fighting off the Malevolence, and taking up the mantle of Shepard. And hence his journey to purify the Malevolence of the world begins.

However, that’s only part of the situation. Just as he exists as a being to stop Malevolence, so to exists a being to spread and grow it, the Lord of Calamity, currently a powerful man named Heldalf. Furthermore, he isn’t powerful enough to beat him on his own. Hence he enlists the aid of a seraph of Earth, Edna, and seraph of Wind, Dezel. He also recruits a squire, a girl named Rose, who is first seen as a member of the merchant guild Sparrowfeather. However, this comes with a number of issues, as the various members of the party have their own issues, with Lailah having an oath she must keep that seems to relate to keeping information secret related to Heldalf, with Edna having the issue of her brother being completely corrupted by Malevolence, with Dezel having a strange attachment to Rose and a strong desire for revenge, both of which have something to do with their past. And Rose as well has issues in that her Sparrowfeathers are quite a bit more than just a merchant guild. Furthermore, Heldalf isn’t simply waiting for Sorey to grow more powerful. To spread Malevolence, he has been slowly pushing the two major nations Hyland, where Alisha is a princess, and Rolance towards war, with Sorey caught right in the middle, hence giving him a major problem to deal with before even beginning to deal with the Lord of Calamity.

***

This game has potential, but in the end it was rather disappointing.

In terms of story, it has a good varied cast. However, the way the plot ends up playing out, the cast isn’t developed as well as they could be. That in part has to due with how it sort of switches out party members in ways that feel rather forced. And it also has to do with how the plot overall is pretty bad. There are two main plot threads, one relating to the war between Hyland and Rolance, and one having to do with facing off against Heldalf. The issue is that they don’t meld all that well together. Looking at things very broadly, the plot is pretty interesting, with a hero that’s trying to hold it together despite being pushed towards malevolence, with people trying desperately to stop a war even as others push towards it, with a pretty solid back story to everything and all characters. However, the implementation is terrible with weird pacing that makes everything feel incredibly forced and random. All of that ultimately leads to an ending that makes little sense and seems to just have a bunch of random scenes without a point.

In terms of game play, the combat for the most part was reasonably solid. The fusion/armatization mechanic and swapping mechanic being the core of combat worked tremendously well. Abilities also felt diverse and well structured. It also had a good variety of interesting enemies, and some really good epic battles, primarily the dragon battles. But it had a bunch of issues that prevented it from being good. The main one is that it can end up being completely broken quite easily, and does do quite often. The combat at higher difficulties is heavily based on keeping enemies staggered and dodging their attacks. However, in any instance where you’re fighting bosses that come in pairs, due to the AI not being all that great, this becomes impossible, resulting in battles that feel kind of broken compared to how mechanics work in the rest of the game. On top of that, there were bosses that simply seemed broken mechanically. For example, there were a couple bosses that required depleting a certain amount of health before they could be staggered, but they began using a one hit KO move that can’t be blocked or dodged before that. These were tremendously annoying, and required a level of competence that felt ridiculous. Furthermore, while status ailments in Tales have always been pretty punishing, here they go to a whole new level, where the status ailments themselves are a lot more annoying, they completely prevent any healing, and furthermore are a lot more difficult to heal with most characters only being able to deal with one. Hence requiring you to switch characters around, which can break the flow of battle, or in worst case of the character being knocked out can just make things a complete slog. The parts where it randomly switched party members out was also quite annoying as it completely screws up your strategies. There were also points that completely screw with how you traditionally deal with battle, such as when they remove your partner or swap in Alisha who can’t armatize, requiring you to go about combat in ways that are very different from normal and you aren’t built up for at all. So all in all, a good combat system in terms of concepts, but a terrible implementation.

The growth system was complete unredeemable garbage. Leveling gives very little in terms of stat boosts, with most coming from consumable herbs or equipped items. However, the way to optimize in terms of items involves essentially matching up abilities on the items in such ways that they stack or are next to each other on a certain board, which is incredibly strange. Combine that with how the abilities on each items are completely random and you have no control over them results in a growth system that’s tremendously unwieldy. On top of that items can be combined for boosts, but that can end up combining abilities in completely unpredictable ways, also leading to a major pain. All in all, it felt ridiculous and tremendously annoying to have to deal with.

Now, to a good degree, you can get over all these issues by playing at lower difficulties, but at that point most battles become a cake walk, which is an issue for it’s own reasons, and really isn’t an excuse for bad design.

In terms of exploration and the world, zones are much larger than previous Tales games. However, this quickly becomes a pain. Zones may be huge, but the world isn’t tremendously diverse, and it gets boring quickly. Most dungeons too feel very samey. There are some major exceptions to that, such as the trial shrines and the final dungeon. But overall, exploring the world just wasn’t as interesting as prior titles. And while fast travel is available to avoid having to slog through the same area multiple times, it costs 6% of your total money, hence making you feel bad every time you use it, which will be often because there’s a lot of back tracking and its still better than having to slog through the giant zones.

In terms of the art style and designs it’s pretty solid, better than some Tales games, worse than others. In terms of soundtrack it is pretty solid, with Zaveeds theme and the trial backgrounds being pretty amazing. The OP removes the vocals in the English version for reasons that I don’t know, and that greatly decreases how good it is. The Japanese version is pretty great.

There was one, relatively story DLC expansion released for Zesteria. You might be tempted to think that this is the perfect way to tap into the potential in the main game and deliver something more solid. Apparently not,  because the DLC is everything wrong with the game in one condensed package. The main character is Alisha, who I am fond of in terms of story and character arc, but she can’t armatize so it makes all the combat all the way through the game a pain. Most of the locations you go to are old or at least look incredibly similar to old locations, with most of the DLC being in one long and annoyingly structured dungeon. And most of the major fights in said dungeon revolve around fighting two bosses at once, which is still just as annoying as before, and gets even more annoying as at point it involves having to defeat both enemies at the same time for it to count. The soundtrack, was decent, but was very not fitting for said dungeon, and even got a bit grating despite being a pretty good track. The plot itself explains the ending of Zesteria better than the main game, and the cast is still likable, even though Rose ends up behaving quite awkwardly. But the plot goes in a completely random direction and opens up more plot threads that are never resolved, mainly in that it teases another showdown with Lunarre and more related to Symone, but then it just ends, hence leaving everything feeling random and unfinished once again. If this was a solid improvement, I may well have a bit more of a fond memory for this game, but as it was even worse than than the main game, Zesteria overall leaves a pretty bitter aftertaste.

A game with a good cast that has a good amount of potential for its story and combat, but that completely wastes all of it resulting in a game that is quite frankly a pain to play through.

6/10

I’ve heard the anime is good, and considering it’s by Ufotable it probably is. I plan to watch it at some point. Hopefully that’ll leave me feeling better about the franchise overall.

Astebreed

astebreed

PS4 Version

The governments of Earth unite under the Terran Coalition as they begin their colonization of Mars. However, their Mars colonies are invaded by a force of machine like alien invaders known as the Filune. The humans counter attack, bringing the fight to the Filune on Mars, however they fail and are mostly wiped out. One of the few survivors, Grato Nono, continues onwards, however he discovers that the Filune have the power to teleport entire cities and furthermore have brought his home city to the battlefield. Furthermore, the souls of the humans in this city have been utilized for the creation of what is dubbed Lucis technology, a technology that freely alters space time. The souls used include those of his two daughters, Fiona and Estina, however their souls seem to persist on in two mechs. With their assistance, he manages to steal a mech, and Fiona along with it, bringing it back to Earth, however he succumbs to injuries and passes away. With the first assault being an utter failure, the Terran Coalition plans a second assault, with the mech that Grato brought back as it’s key component. This mech, the Xbreed, is piloted by Grato’s adopted son and protege, Roy Becket, alongside the embedded navigational assistant Fiona, who has the goal of rescuing her sister Estina. However, Estina who was left behind has had to put up with a terrible burden, and furthermore has come to realize many hidden truths surrounding the last assault on the Filune, robbing her of her sanity, and making Roy and Fiona’s goals much more difficult.

***

Astebreed is an incredibly well designed SHMUP. It’s very short, however it plays incredibly well with very intense involved game play, too much perhaps as as playing for long periods of time made my right hand hurt. The core abilities include shooting in a straight line, shooting in wide arc, sword slashes, and a dash attack that also assists with maneuvering. In addition, there is also a relatively unique lock on mechanic as far as I know. Rather than simple hitting what is locked on once, enemies that are locked on to have Lucis sent after them, which continues to attack them until they are destroyed or after a time period in the case of bosses. Furthermore, this is done with each enemy having a lock on gauge that increases over time as they are targeted resulting in more Lusic being sent their way and hence more damage per tick. This gauge can be filled by two types of lockons, pointed and circular, where the pointed type has to be directed manually but has the gauge fill faster or circular where all enemies surrounding the player are locked on to but the gauge fills slower. There is also an EX gauge, which when filled up allows two types of special moves, if a single enemy is locked on to, then it does a powerful attack against just them, but if multiple or none are, it does a wide ranging attack against everything around the player, and also gives the player a temporary shield against all enemy attacks. There are three types of main enemy attacks, purple, yellow, and red. Shots take out purple attacks and sword attacks take out both purple and yellow, but red attacks are impossible to defend against other than the shield from using the wide EX special attack. All of these combined overall result in a SHMUP that has pretty unique mechanics from my point of view, though I’m not that into SHMUPs so I may be wrong about that. There are only six levels and six bosses essentially, however there is still a good amount of diversity across these from a game play perspective and there is also a good amount of variety that requires becoming familiar with and using all of the mechanics well, especially in hard mode. There is a good amount of variety across levels in other ways as well though in that they differ artistically a lot and also are often very different in terms of camera, which works incredibly well.

In terms of the art style, the game doesn’t look high budget, but art style wise it nails things perfectly with great designs and also looks immensely clean. Furthermore, the art style for CGs was also quite good. The soundtrack too is quite nice, and actually reminds me quite a bit of Gundam SEED. The story itself is somewhat lacking in that it’s quite cliche and even somewhat random, though I did like the ending. However, the story is told with CG that is excellent and with really good character designs, so despite that, I still got quite attached to the characters, and though I still can’t say the plot is good, the world, characters, and everything surrounding that I think were quite great and overall hold up the game well.

I should note that there are two modes, an original mode and arrange mode. The arrange mode was designed for the PS4 and plays better with a controller. Original mode is the same mode as the PC release. I by far preferred arrange mode, as it played tremendously better, as should be expected. I did find it strange however, that each of them had different endings, with the original mode ending having more plot to it, but the arrange mode ending being better in terms of emotional impact, and my preferred one overall.

A very well designed SHMUP that’s also incredibly stylish and cool.

9/10

I feel I got a lot of terminology wrong here, so apologies for that.

Sleeping Dogs

sleepingdogs

Wei Shen’s family moved away from Honk Kong when he was a kid. His sister had been lured into becoming a drug addict by the triads, specifically the Sun on Yee, and her mom was hoping that a change in environment would help her. It didn’t. She died of an overdose not long after. Many years later, Wei Shen returns to Hong Kong, with a vengeance against Sun on Yee. And furthermore, he has the means of accomplishing it. He’s come back as an undercover cop, with the goals of navigating through the hierarchy of the Sun on Yee, gaining power within their ranks, and using it to bury them.

***

The best part about Sleeping Dogs is that they created an amazing world, and then showed off the world with a thoroughly amazing main character. I have little knowledge about what Hong Kong should truly be like to be quite honest, but the Hong Kong in Sleeping Dogs is an incredibly vibrant city with a multitude of distinct areas, from slums to high rises. It has rich business people walking around in some areas, while super sktechy things go on openly in others. And there’s a hell of a lot going around everywhere, from festivals to terrorist attacks to business dealing to gang wars. For lack of a better way to describe it’s a city with a great amount of character, and exploring it is incredibly enjoyable in its own right. This game throws you into that world from the perspective of an undercover cop with a vengeance. This is an amazing way to experience the city, because it lets you see things from two distinct perspectives, of the police and of the triads. Furthermore, as Wei is very heavily emotionally invested, even though he does act like a cop most of the time, his emotions can definitely take over resulting in him going far than he should. And even beyond that, it’s not like he’s a perfectly upstanding citizen that even wants to always act like a boy scout, and as he’s an undercover cop that means he’s fine with going outside the rules sometimes purely for the hell of it. This results in an anti-hero type character, but one that isn’t really edgy at all, but rather one that is incredibly easy to empathize with.

Sleeping Dogs is an open world game, that like many other open world games has the core gameplay aspects of driving, physical combat, and shooting. The driving was a bit lacking, with a lot of vehicles feeling like they handled kind of weird, though driving the supercar was kind of amazing. There are times that feature shooting alongside driving, which can get quite finicky at times unfortunately and I usually wasn’t a fan of. There is also a good amount of street racing, which is exactly as you’d expect, but was overall a bit too easy for all races, and combined with the handling feeling kind of off overall wasn’t that much fun. So in and of itself the driving wasn’t all that great as a pillar of the game, though as a means of exploration and running from the police it definitely sufficed. The physical combat was quite great, especially as Wei’s arsenal of moves expanded. It starts off quite simple relying on signaled dodges with one button, light attacks with another, heavy attacks by holding that same button, and grabs that can be maneuvered into a multitude of interesting environmental attacks. However, as Wei’s arsenal expands a bunch of different combos are unlocked, as well as a face meter that upon filling up gives Wei a power boost and makes enemies more passive making it easier to go through crowds easily. The combat flows incredibly well and was tremendously satisfying, which is great because that’s what makes up most of the combat. The gun combat was a bit lacking. It’s pretty much basic third person cover based shooting with a bullet time mechanic. There’s only a small amount of guns and encounters aren’t that great in general, especially compared to the physical combat so this aspect felt a bit lacking.

In terms of missions, there is the main story which is composed of main missions and cases, and a plethora of different types of side content. The main missions are related to Wei’s main job of being an undercover cop and taking down the Sun on Yee. The cases are Wei using his position as an undercover cop to assist an inspector named Teng with a number of cases she’s working on. Hence, proceeding with the plot involves acting as both a cop and a gang member. In addition there are a multitude of side missions, primarily face missions and cop missions, that are like side stories for the triad and police respectively. However, there are also a bunch of other side missions, such as street racing, date missions, fighting clubs, and quite a bit more. On top of that, there are collectibles in the form of statues, which are the main form of gaining new combat maneuvers, and drop boxes, which have items and money inside. So the city has a tremendous amount to do which helps you immerse yourself into it quite well. These missions give you growth separate in the forms of Triad XP, Police XP, and face. The main missions are the only things that give you triad XP cumulatively at the end, which is earned through doing triad like things, like brutally breaking bones, throughout the mission. Police XP can be gained from the main missions as well as police missions, and is the opposite of triad XP in that it starts out maxed but is lost by doing unpoliceman like things, mainly hurting bystanders. Face is gained through pretty much everything else. In the end, I was lacking Triad XP. I had way more Police XP and face than I needed pretty much half way through the game maxing it out, but I wasn’t able to max out triad. If it just involved grinding I might have done it, but the only way to get triad XP was to redo old missions and get higher values of triad XP on them, but you only got the difference between your old value and the new value, which made it feel too annoying to complete. In addition to that there’s a hell of a lot to buy in terms of clothes and vehicles, so there’s quite a bit of fun from that as well.

The story was decent. It was very down to Earth, and there was quite a bit going on with great likeable characters and very hateable villains in a setting with a great atmosphere. But it still felt only decent. It felt sort of haphazard at times with a lot of things such as deaths and the whole police/gangster duality didn’t play out that well at a lot of points, especially towards the end. It was a good vehicle for the game play and showcasing the main character and city, but in and of itself it was only decent.

The soundtrack was pretty good most of the time, though they were a few parts where it synced up perfectly and felt amazing. The graphics are OK for the time. The art style was also OK, but I felt it was a bit lacking when it came to some designs and such.

I played the definite edition, which had a lot of the DLC integrated in. I’m not entirely sure since I never played the original, but I think they did a good job as nothing really stood out as not integrated. The exception to that were two pieces of DLC that were completely separate. I wasn’t a fan of that, as it meant losing all your moves, clothes, and vehicles. Still, I felt Year of the Snake was quite good, going more into the policeman perspective and a good addition, however I felt that Nightmare at North Point was lacking not really adding much and making the combat, one of the best parts, quite a bit more annoying.

An open world game that stands out due to it’s amazing world, amazing protagonist, and strong combat.

8/10

Shame we’ll never get another one.