Saturday, 7 July 2012

Darn Atlus Sale, Stop Tempting Me!

This is the logo Atlus has used for years.
I'm really trying to behave myself right now, and not splurge too much on video games, but Atlus just had to go and have a half off sale for most of their games on PSN.  It's not so much the games themselves that are getting me, but the fact that it's getting me thinking, "Maybe I should get a Vita..."

Up until now, I've resisted getting one as I'm not keen on plunking down several hundred dollars for it, memory cards, and a few games.  I'd just assume track down physical PSP games to round out my RPG collection on a Sony handheld for now.  Still, it is kinda tempting to take the plunge.  Atlus has a lot of my favorite handheld RPGs, but I'll do my best to avoid it.

Here's to hoping that I can hold out until the Christmas season before getting a Vita, or even a 3DS XL for that matter.  Patience is a virtue and all that!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Guild 01 Post of "I Wonder If It'll Get Released Outside Japan..."


2012 looks like it will be the year that the 3DS really starts to strut its stuff with regards to third party releases, especially when it comes to RPGs.  Up to this point, pickings have been very slim for fans of the genre, with Devil Summoner Overclocked, and Tales of the Abyss being about the only games to choose from to get our role-playing fix.  However, in the coming months there are a deluge of new RPGs hitting the 3DS in Japan: Rune Factory 4, Etrian Odyssey IV, Heroes of Ruin, Code of Princess, and several others.  One that has caught my eye in particular is Level-5's Guild 01.

Granted this game isn't 100% RPGs, as it's a compilation of four separate games, with only a couple of them being in the genre.  Nevertheless, it's a very interesting package, and it certainly has itself an impressive mix of individuals working on it.  At the top of the list for me is Yasumi Matsuno, most well known for the Ogre Battle series.  Here he's making what looks to be something very much based on old school pen and paper RPGs with Crimson Shroud.  It's a very interesting thing to see in games because we don't really come across this often, and about the closest that I can think of off the top of my head for a similar sort of game is the Culdcept series with its board game elements.  Other than that, PnP RPGs don't really manifest themselves in a way like this on consoles or PC.  So, I'm very interested to see just how well this will come together.  Can the game stand on these elements alone?  I know one of the big draws to PnP games is the fact that you're at the same table as your friends playing these games.  That aspect won't be here for this game, so I am a bit curious how that will impact the experience.


The other RPG on the compilation, Rental Bukiya de Omasse, I'm not quite sure what to make of, really.  It's being headed up by Yoshiyuki Hirai, who is a comedian, and someone that I'm not familiar with, so I really have no idea what to expect.  I'd imagine given his comedy background that silliness may well ensue in the game's story, but other than that, who knows!  I'm always up for a game with a sense of humor, though, so I'd like to take it for a spin nonetheless.

Then we have the other two games on the compilation, Kaihou Shoujo and Air Porter, neither of which are RPGs, but that's fine.  I do play other genres besides RPGs after all (I just choose not to blog about them here!).  Both look interesting, but I can see myself playing Air Porter more if only because I do like me some puzzle games now and again, and from what very little I've seen of the game in action it looks strangely appealing.  Kaihou Shoujo will still get some love from me, though, if for no other reason than it being a Suda51 game.


I guess the big question will be whether this collection of games even sees a Western release.  I haven't heard anything of the sort just yet, but I really hope it does.  It has a bunch of interesting games that I'd love to spend some time with.  If not, I guess I'll finally have to start looking into getting a Japanese 3DS to import along with this game.  I figured that day would come eventually, and maybe it's almost upon me.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Super Robot Taisen OG Saga Endless Frontier


This is probably the longest named video game that I've ever played, but what a fun, long named game it is.  I'm just going to be referring to it as "Endless Frontier" from here on in for brevity, okie dokie? :p  Anyway, this is a sci-fi RPG from the folks at Monolith Soft, the same people that brought us the Xenosaga series, and Xenoblade.  What I found particularly interesting about this game is how much of an about face its story is compared to the other titles that the developer has put out.  Just look at the Xenosaga games.  Such serious fare, with so many straight faces and such somber storytelling.  Then you take a look at Endless Saga, and it's a jolly interplanetary romp full of boob jokes, flirtation, and an almost harem like anime quality to it.  The game really feels like it was a chance for Monolith to let its hair down and do something fun, and silly for a change.

There's more than a good story to be had here, though.  The battle system is pretty snazzy too with timed attacks, juggling, combos, and cool looking special moves.  All and all, this game feels like one of the better, yet tragically overlooked, RPGs on the DS.  With that, lets take a closer look at Endless Frontier. ^_^


Story and Setting

As the game's name suggests, players are thrust into the world of the Endless Frontier.  It's a group of worlds connected together via a series of devices called Cross Gates that allow travels to cross between the dimensions to visit these places.  A little over a decade before the events of the game, there was a massive war between a number of these worlds that left a huge amount of destruction in its wake, and everyone is now trying to recover while still being a little standoff-ish towards one another.  With that, players control Haken Browning, a young bounty hunter, and his busty android partner, Aschen.  What starts as their usual treasure hunting, and bounty fulfilling adventures spins off into them exploring the causes of the war, and learning that a lot of what originally started the thing is still around, and up to no good.  Also, seeing as this is a Super Robot Taisen game, don't be surprised if you come across a fair amount of mechas along the way (though not quite as many as in the strategy games in the series).

From here the two set off to try and understand all of the mysteries behind the war, and stop a new one from beginning, as well as learning about Haken and Aschen's own mysterious pasts.  Along the way they are joined by a large cast of characters, and this is really where Endless Frontier's story takes off, because it's the characters that make the game's narrative so enjoyable.  Players will quickly notice that Haken is mostly joined by attractive young ladies that he thoroughly enjoys flirting with, and many of the villains are also well endowed lasses.  It's the interaction between all of these people that makes the game's story so fun.  There is a lot of humor, and moments that make one want to smile, as conversations go by.  I really liked this, especially because so many RPGs take themselves soooooo seriously.  I'm usually pretty okay with that, but sometimes it's nice to have a little fun, and goof around a bit.  Endless Frontier provides this.  Bare in mind, though, that the game does seem a bit more geared to gamers of the lecherous male persuasion, so if you're not into that sort of thing, consider yourself warned.


The whole story plays out in an extremely linear fashion.  You'll be coaxed from point A to B to C back to A over to D and so forth the whole way as you go to new areas, revisit previous ones, and unearth the mysteries of that war of the past.  The game leads you by the hand the whole way, so don't expect much in the way of exploration outside of the occasional wayward corridor in a dungeon that likely leads to an extra treasure chest full of loot.

Graphics

Endless Frontier isn't going to set the world on fire with its visuals.  The world map and battle screens are about on par with what one would expect from the 16-bit era.  Perhaps a tiny bit nicer than that.  It's a very functional sprite-based approach that gets the job done.  There are some nice monster designs, and the mechas that you'll come across look nice.  However, there are still plenty of monsters that are just color swaps of one another.

One area where the game's graphics do excel is through its use of a number of portraits for each of the main characters in the game, as well as important villains, and supporting characters.  Not only is the detail on these pictures really nice, but the artists did a fantastic job of nailing a variety of expressions that fit so very well with the conversations these guys have.


Finally, there are the special and overdrive attack animations, which are quite the site to see.  These are a combination of your characters' sprite-based selves doing crazy attacks on the enemies with some anime-quality animation on top of this making for a spectacular flurry of blows that easily rival many of the fancy-shmancy summoning attacks one will see in other RPGs.  What makes these even better are how silly they can be, like Suzuka's dancing with a disco ball, or the game reminding us how bouncy Kaguya's breasts are, or Aschen shifting into "fun mode" (she's much more powerful in that mode, if a bit ditzy).  It's a strange mix of the bad assed with the hilarious, but it works.


Sound and Music

Like its visuals, Endless Frontier's audio experiences aren't anything spectacular.  They just do their job without drawing too much attention to themselves.  The sounds are quite functional, and the music is alright, but I didn't really find there to be any stand out tracks or even memorable tunes.  I could hardly blame anyone for wanting to turn the game's sound off while playing.  It's all largely forgettable.  There's a bit of Japanese voice acting when characters attack or enter / leave battle which I guess may be useful for anyone studying the language, but by and large there just isn't anything terribly praiseworthy about the game's audio experience.


Gameplay

So, the meat and potatoes of the game.  What really makes this game work is its battle system.  Without it Endless Frontier would just be an extremely linear visual novel.  On a very basic level the game uses a turn-based system with timed attacks, but what makes the battles so great are a combination of managing various gauges in the game, putting together combo attacks, and learning how to juggle your opponents.

As I said, at its core, the game has a turn-based battle system with timed attacks in it.  What this means is your characters turns will come up just like in so many turn-based RPGs to come before.  Here you can choose to cast spells, use items, run away, or get down to the business of bonking enemies.  Once you begin an attack phase your character will be able to do a maximum of five attacks, where each is initiated by the press of a button.  As the end of one attack approaches, press the button again to smoothly go into the next attack until you've completed all five.  Very straightforward.  While doing this you can even call in back row support characters to do a quick attack alongside you, or even give up the rest of that character's turn to allow your next party member in the queue to start an attack phase (you can't do this if the next person to attack is an enemy, however).  On this level, battles are quite easy to learn, but things really start to get interesting when you factor in the game's various gauges, combos, and juggling.

So, lets discuss these gauges.  Besides the usual health and mana-like gauges, there are two very important ones that players will need to keep an eye on here.  The first is the COM gauge.  This is basically an energy gauge that dictates how many attacks each character can do per turn.  Different attacks consume different percentages of the COM gauge.  As characters gain in levels, they'll slowly learn more of these attacks, and players can select up to five of these attacks to put into said character's attack queue, being mindful that the attacks don't consume more COM than they have available to them.  Not only do you need to think about how much COM gets eaten up, but you also need to consider how much damage these attacks do, how well one attack leads into the other for juggling purposes, and how well these attacks fill up your Frontier Gauge.


Which leads us to the other gauge, the Frontier Gauge.  This is the bar you want to fill up in order to unload crazy strong attacks.  This fills up at varying rates depending on the attacks you have your characters doing, as well as incoming damage from enemies, bringing in support characters for a quick attack, transitioning to the next person in your party whose turn it is to attack without letting a turn end, and also from cancelling some of your own attacks.  Cancels are very important in the game, as they usually boost the Frontier Gauge by a good 10% every time you use one.  However, it also means cancelling a regular attack, and it also requires some timing, as they can only be pulled off at certain times during an attack.  So, here you really need to learn your characters' attack animations and figure out at what point to launch your next attack, thereby cancelling your current one.  This just takes practice, but once you get the hang of all this, you'll be able to fill the Frontier Gauge plenty quick for a steady flow of big, big attacks.

Lastly we need to take a look at the role of juggling in combat.  Players want to get enemies airborne and keep them there.  This builds up big combos for fun and bragging rights, but, more importantly, letting enemies get near the ground can allow them to initiate a "Forced Evasion".  These are bad, bad, bad!  First, this will end the rest of your character's attack and cancel any further incoming damage from an attack in progress.  Second, the enemy can use a counterattack after doing one of these.  So, players really need to stay on top of keeping enemies in the air.  Know what attacks work best for launches, when to call in a support character to help get enemies higher into the air, and how to adjust the timing of their attacks if an enemy is getting worryingly close to the ground.  All of this is easier said than done, but very important to learn.  It can be particularly tough to do on enemies with high defenses who are able to guard against a number of blows, thus not going into the air.  When you finally do get through those defenses and send them into the air, it can be very tough to get them to a safe height.  Sometimes they'll even go into a Forced Evasion the second their guard is broken, and there's not a whole lot you can do about it.  Some bosses, and robots are particularly notorious for this.


As you can see, there's a lot of really neat stuff to keep track of while fighting in battles.  With a constant stream of number crunching, deciding how to manage COM and Frontier gauges, and when to make use of them, coupled with a bit of twitchiness thanks to the timed attacks, there is a very well put together combat system in Endless Frontier.

One thing I do want to mention about the gameplay that I found irksome before moving on was that the game would force you to fight certain bosses multiple times during the game.  It's all part of the plot as Haken and the gang come across certain villains again and again through the course of the game, but it's just so tedious to have to keep fighting them over and over (I'm looking at you in particular, Koma >:-(    ).  I'd have liked more variety in the bosses that I fought.


Final Thoughts

For me, Endless Frontier was a breath of fresh air.  I don't mind serious storytelling in games, but it can wear a person down after a while constantly being subjected to it.  I really appreciate the lighthearted, humorous nature of this game.  It's a nice change of pace to the "serious business" attitude of a lot of other RPGs out there, and with the game's snazzy battle system, Endless Frontier is more than just a good story.  Overall, it's a game well worth spending some time with.  Giant robots may not play as prominent of a role here as they do in the more strategy-oriented installments of the Super Robot Taisen series, but it's not the end of the world.  Really, though, you may come to the Endless Frontier for giant robots, but you'll stay for the boob jokes, innuendo, and combat.

Friday, 6 April 2012

PSO 2 Character Creater / Benchmark is Out!





 Above: Here's some footage of the software in action

Continuing on the Phantasy Star Online 2 discussion from my last post, Sega has released the game's character creator and a hardware benchmark program for players to try making characters for the game as well as testing to see how well their PCs can handle running the thing.  The best part of all is that you don't need to be in the closed beta to use it, anyone can download it and fiddle around for a bit (I'll put a link to the download page at the bottom of this post).  Everything is in Japanese, though, so if you cannot read the language you'll need to experiment a bit to figure out how to do anything.

I've had quite a bit of fun just fiddling with the character creator.  There's actually quite a lot of control in what you can do here.  Tons of tweaks can be made to height, weight, facial features, and accessories, so in those areas I can see a lot of variation coming about amongst the community in terms of the characters running around.  There don't seem to be a huge number of costume types, though, with only about a half dozen-ish in many cases being carried across different races, ie.  Numans and Humans wear similar clothing.  You can customize the clothes' color schemes, and add decals to them, but there is still a lot of overlap going on there.

The music is nice too, and it's really getting me excited for this game.  It just seems so much like PSO is running through this game's DNA.  In my last post, I mentioned how I wasn't sure that the game would see a release in the West, but I'm starting to get a little more optimistic about it if only because so many English files were found in the alpha version of the game (why put those there if there won't be an English version of the game), and apparently Spiral Knights has been doing reasonably well for Sega, so they may have more incentive to further pursue free to play MMOs with PSO 2 down the road.  Anyway, fingers crossed.

(Here's the link to where you can download the character creator / benchmark: http://pso2.jp/benchmark/download/ )

Monday, 2 April 2012

Hype Rising for Phantasy Star Online 2


I was a pretty big fan of the first Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast.  It was some of my first exposure to online gaming outside of a brief stint in Everquest where I barely lasted a month, quitting after my character died between zones somehow, and lost all of his stuff.  PSO, though, was pretty darn fantastic.  It had a really nice pace to the combat, the classes really appealed to me, and I liked the missions that I could be sent on.  Oh, and mags were pretty darn awesome.  So, there are a lot of fond memories for me of that game, and now I'm getting quite hyped for the sequel.

Oh course, I should be careful here because I don't think there's been absolute 100% confirmation that the game will be heading to the West, but I will remain cautiously optimistic nonetheless.


What's been announced for the game so far looks great.  I'm definitely getting a good feeling from what I've seen as there's a bit of a PSO aura hovering around the game.  It just looks like it's staying fairly true to the original.  The initial trailer was titillating and all, but it was probably the combat footage in the forest that came along a while ago that really started getting me interested in the game.  It's just so reminiscent of the first game with obvious graphical, and gameplay tweaks tossed in on top (especially how good the TPS aspects of the game look).  That stuff just got me really excited for the game.

Another thing that I'm glad to see is back is the music.  PSO has by far one of my favorite game soundtracks of all time.  It strikes a really good balance between good musical composition and instrumentation.  The whimsical synth-i-ness of it all is outstanding.  I think the only games that have even come close to this are the ones in the Senko no Ronde series.  From what I've seen of PSO 2, the game looks like it's doing a fantastic job of picking up right where the last game left off in terms of the music.


About the only area that I'm a bit apprehensive about is that it looks like there's a full-blown story mode in this game.  I wasn't a fan of the more recent Phantasy Star games' stories, so I'm not inclined to put a lot of faith in this game having a story that holds my attention.  (I'd love to be proven wrong though!)  The first PSO did have a story but I never found it to be too terribly in your face.  If PSO 2 does go with a story mode, I'm hoping it can pull off something similar to that.

I am quite happy to see that the game is coming to the Vita, though.  This is a handheld gaming blog after all. :p  PC is fine too, but I like the idea of PSO 2 being playable on a system that fits in my pocket, albeit a large cargo pants kind of pocket.  Not sure if I'd bother with the iOS versions of the game, though.  I'm not big on using mobile phones, and haven't taken the plunge on a tablet yet, so I don't see myself using that version of the game any time soon, but the more exposure that the game can get to different people, the better, I say. :)


Another interesting tidbit that can down the pipe the other day is that we'll be able to take our friends characters along with us on adventures while they're offline.  The characters will act as NPCs, so we aren't going to be controlling them directly from what I can understand.  From the looks of things, it seems like Sega may be doing something similar to the pawn system that is being implemented in Dragon's Dogma here.

So yeah, I'm seeing plenty to be hyped about so far.  I just want some absolute, firm confirmation that we'll be seeing this game in the West.  There will be a lot of very sad gamers if this only sees a Japanese release.  If that happens, I'll have to brush up on my language skills and get that one.  Still plenty of time before the game is released, and with that plenty of time for Sega to confirm a western launch.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Bravely Default is Starting to Look Interesting


As details begin to come to light about Bravely Default Flying Fairy, I'm actually starting to get pretty interested in the game.  When I first heard about it I raised an eyebrow simply because the name sounded like random words pulled from a hat, but I think that I'm not the only one who felt that way.  Thankfully there seems to be some meat getting applied to the game's bones, which is causing me to get a bit excited out it.

First, the visuals look pretty darn nice.  The game looks like a painting, and I really love that aesthetic.  Going all the way back to Saga Frontier 2, and how it looked like water colors, then all the way to the present with games like Ni no Kuni I absolutely adore games that feel like they were drawn or painted.  It's such a nice change of pace from all of the other games out there that constantly chase after photo realism, dragging along their space marines, and zombies for the ride.  But yeah, the graphics in Bravely Default are looking amazing so far.  Really loving the art direction.

Then it recently became known that Squeenix have tapped Naotaka Hayashi of Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate fame to handle the story for the game.  I really liked those anime (never read the visual novels or played the games though), so learning that he's involved with this project is good news indeed.  Apparently the theme of the game is examining when it's okay for someone to abandon duty in order to fulfill their promises, which should prove interesting.  The notion does come up occasionally in games, but it's more something I've seen in anime series, so I'm happy to see that this game will be trying to tackle some meatier issues rather than clinging too much to tropes.  Or at least I sure hope so!

Even how Bravely Default will hark back to more classic RPG elements like random, turn-based battles, and incorporating a job system are most welcome.  I just like that retro throwback.  There's not much more to it than that.  I actually find those sorts of experiences kind of relaxing, especially if the battle system itself is fairly robust.  As long as the random battles aren't obnoxiously frequent or anything, I don't see myself having any problems with that set up.  As far as job systems go, I can never get enough of those.  The more jobs the better, I say!  I'll probably just grind them all up to max level anyway at some point (I can get strangely obsessed with that sort of thing...). :p

About the only thing I'm not so sure of is the whole augmented reality thing.  This is probably mostly due to my not being familiar with the technology anyway.  Some of my friends with Vitas have had nothing but good things to say about it from their experiences with Uncharted there, so I'll give the tech the benefit of the doubt for now, and see how it goes with this game.

Anywho, things are looking pretty darn snazzy with Bravely Default Flying Fairy right now.  I'm really looking forward to the game, and it's certainly one that will get me more interested in picking up a 3DS down the road.  Anyone else looking forward to this game?