Vanillaware: A Truly Fantastic Game Company

What makes a game company good? Is it the quality of the games they put out? Is it how they treat their customers? Is it how frequent they can release solid entertaining video-games? I think it’s a mixture of all of these things, which is what makes Vanillaware a truly great company. Vanillaware is one of the few companies that manages to consistently put out good quality games at amazing prices.

Vanillaware’s catalog consists mostly of RPGs, action RPGs, and the occasional turn-based strategy game. While they haven’t put out as many games as Bioware, Bethesda, or Obsidian have, they’ve still managed to release a fair amount of solid and entertaining games. The first game of theirs I’ve played was Muramasa Rebirth. At that time, I was pumped about the upcoming release of Dragon’s Crown for Vita and PS3.

I was fairly impatient and wanted into indulge in this amazing game right away! Dragon’s Crown was billed as this spiritual sequel to the Dungeons & Dragons arcade games, albeit with far better graphics and more in-depth RPG elements. While impatiently waiting for the game to come out, I bought the remake of Vanillaware’s previous game: Muramasa Rebirth.

Muramasa Rebirth was a game that I would always pass by in the game store. To me, it looked like some generic Japanese game, one that was probably released to cash in on the anime craze that was still going strong at the time. Once I had the game on Vita, I realized how wrong I had been all this time! Muramasa was a beautifully crafted side-scrolling action RPG, one with a heavy emphasis on Japanese folklore.

The visuals were stunning, the world was gorgeous, the voice acting was amazing, and the combat was slick! The ability to choose from over 100 swords was astounding, especially since most of the swords had their own unique special attacks! Couple this with two separate story modes, each with their own series of alternate endings, and you have a game that’ll take you many hours to complete.

Muramasa did more than just whet my appetite, it made me even more hungry for Dragon’s Crown! A few months later, this game hits store shelves and I am pumped. Dragon’s Crown is one of the few games I’ve ever pre-ordered, and I’m glad I did! It not only came with the game, but also an art-book with some amazing hand-drawn pictures inside it.

The game’s developer, George Kamitami, put an amazing amount of work into how the game looked. It was gorgeous 2D graphics, which made both the game and the art-book look visually stunning. Heck, the cover of the art-book was even designed to resemble a Dungeons & Dragons rule-book! Everything about the presentation was stunning, more so than any other game released at the time.

Despite the rather provocative designs of certain characters within the game (such as The Sorceress), the game managed to be a really good action RPG game. Dragon’s Crown was a side-scrolling dungeon crawler, one that was put together really well. No joke, I’ve probably played Dragon’s Crown more than most of the games in my collection! I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours I’ve sunk into this amazing game, it ranks as one of my favorites.

Despite all the hours I’ve put into Dragon’s Crown, I still haven’t beaten everything in the game yet! There is also an updated re-release for this game coming out exclusively for PS4, which may lead to the game getting some more updates! Oh god, imagine if they extended the level cap above 255…

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One of the few games out there where the in-game graphics look just as good as the box-art does!

So yeah, Dragon’s Crown lived up to the hype, in my opinion. I played the game on and off over the course of a few years, patiently waiting for the next Vanillaware masterpiece to be released! Come 2016 and Vanillaware decides to remake another one of their games: Odin Sphere. Released almost a decade after the original game, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir proved to be a stunning remake of its source material!

Unlike Muramasa: Rebirth, the new Odin Sphere managed to be a remake that updated more than just visuals and sounds. New moves were added to the characters, as well as adding a modified leveling system, complete with up-gradable skills. That’s not including all the other features added, such as sub-bosses and the ability to dodge. The game had essentially been remade from the ground up into something wholly unique!

The remake also let you play the original version with updated visuals, which was a nice bonus. Vanillaware made a legitimate remake of a game, instead of just simply making the textures high-resolution. This is something that is rare in the current games market, where games are remade to look and sound slightly better, while adding nothing new to the experience.

After play through all of Odin Sphere for the very first time, the waiting game once again began for the next title. So far, I had played through three Vanillaware games, all of which were extremely well-made! I feel that I got what I paid for with all of these games, which isn’t something I can say about major game releases nowadays.

Vanillaware eventually announced their next title, which was titled “13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim”. The game is set to launch next year, and will feature gameplay centered around mecha combat. That’s right, this Vanillaware game will let you pilot a giant robot! Not much is known of this game yet, but it looks pretty badass!

While waiting for 13 Sentinels, I came across another game made by former Vanillaware employees. Despite this not technically being made by Vanillaware, it feels like the kind of game they would make! I’m talking about “Grand Kingdom”, which bares an almost identical art-style to most Vanillaware games.

The game was directed by the same guy behind “Grand Knights History”, a Japanese exclusive Vanillaware game. In Grand Kingdom, you make an army of soldiers out of your own custom created characters. You then send them out on missions, or explore the world in a boardgame-styled isometric view.

Grand Kingdom was something I recently discovered, and I’ve been playing it quite a bit lately. I’ve definitely enjoyed what little I’ve played of the game thus far! So, that’s my history with Vanillaware and its games thus far. With 13 Sentinels just around the horizon, I feel it’s time to go back and play through my entire Vanillaware library. I want to be prepared for when 13 Sentinels rocks my socks off, and the best way to do that is by going back and experience this company’s amazing games once more!

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Power Stone Retrospective Review

If there was any console that died too soon, it was the Dreamcast. The Sega Dreamcast was a console that had a fair bit of really good games, but undersold on the market. The PS2 and Gamecube walloped it to oblivion, forcing Sega to stop making consoles. This really sucks, since the Dreamcast had some of my most favorite games ever: Skies of Arcadia, Phantasy Star Online, Shenmue, Crazy Taxi, Sonic Adventure, etc.

One game that I always enjoyed playing on the ill-fated console was the Power Stone series. What is Power Stone? Back in 1999, Capcom was on a huge binge releasing some of their best titles ever. I’m talking games like Resident Evil 3, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, and Dino Crisis. One game that stood out was the Dreamcast exclusive Power Stone, a fully 3D fighting game. This wasn’t just any normal fighting game though, since Power Stone developed into a small franchise and developed a rather large following. It’s mostly forgotten nowadays, but I still think it’s worth talking about.

Power Stone 1

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The gang’s all here!

Now, a 3D fighting game wasn’t anything new at the time. Sega had one of their own, known as “Virtual-On”. What set Power Stone apart from Virtual-On was its gameplay, and its focus on strategy. Power Stone puts you in a small arena, while pitting you against your opponent. You can use parts of the scenery as weapons, such as tossing chairs or pots at your foe. You can leap onto higher planes of the map and dive-kick your enemies, or even attack them with the various items the game gives you.

The thing that makes Power Stone so unique is the Power Stones themselves. Power Stones are these magic gems in the game, ones that can boost the ability of its users and grant wishes. While they only grants wishes during ending cut-scenes, they definitely change the flow of combat. Collecting three Power Stones allows your hero to transform, buffing them up into an unstoppable juggernaut.

Once you transform, you can curve-stomp your opponent into oblivion with ease, if you play your cards right. Sometimes, fighting over the Power Stones can be more entertaining than actually fighting your opponent! You see, when you collect a Power Stone, it doesn’t stay on you forever. Your opponent can knock the literal stones out of you, and then use said stones to transform.

As a result, the game becomes this mad rush to collect all three Power Stones, and obliterate your opponent. That’s where the strategy of the game comes in, as you can never be too careful while fighting your opponent. You have to factor in both your enemy’s abilities, the Power Stones themselves, as well as the various weapons scattered around the environment.

Unfortunately, this also brings up Power Stone’s biggest flaw: Balance. Certain characters such as the muscle-bound Gunrock, the martial artist with the porn-star name, Wang-Tang, and the two secret bosses are a bit too overpowered. Wang-Tang in the hands of an experienced player can really decimate the opponent, since a lot of his attacks are pretty dang fast. Gunrock is a beast who can who deal a ton of damage, and the two secret bosses were not balanced at all, even when the developers decided to make them playable.

Still, this wasn’t really a deal-breaker for me. Power Stone was a game that felt like it was always meant to be played at parties, not a Capcom fighting game you’d find at tournaments. The game’s inevitable sequel, known as “Power Stone 2” echoes this sentiment.

Power Stone 2

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Pro-tip: It’s usually not a good idea to have in-game models on the cover. Especially when the graphics will be dated in just a couple of years.

 

It was the year 2000, just a year after the first game when Capcom decided to push out a sequel. Power Stone 2 looked to do what the first game did, while amping up so many aspects of it. There were now more Power Stones, more characters to play as, new stages, new stage mechanics, new weapons, an item shop system, etc. Power Stone 2 was like Power Stone on crack, in my opinion.

The game now boasted a 4 player mode, meaning you and three friends could beat the snot of each other. Since the game-play now had more participants, this meant increasing the amount of Power Stones from 3 to 5. This means that a person could hoard 2 stones, even if the opponent transforms using the other three. Unfortunately, by increasing the amount of stones, the game decreased their importance.

Power Stone transformations now don’t do as much damage as they did before, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing in that it balances the game more, but it’s bad in that it makes the form changes far less special. The combat is still fairly entertaining, despite Power Stone transformations being somewhat less useful. Battle stages are now far more interactive, allowing characters to better utilize the stage’s artillery.

Each stage is now its own set-piece, complete with moving parts and obstacles for the player. As the battle progresses, the stage will take on various different forms. For example, in one part of a stage you may be on a battle-ship high in the air. Next, you may be high-diving from said battleship into the sky.

The sheer variety each stage brings is rather welcome in my opinion. Unfortunately, some stages do have a tendency to come off a bit too gimmicky. A good example of this is the stage with the submarines, which had turrets and mini-ships, along with all the previously available weaponry. It just felt too cluttered with options, in my opinion.

The biggest change to the game came in the form of the “Item Shop”. For those you have never played the game and don’t know what this is, there’s an in-game shop where you can earn various items. You can combine pre-existing items together to get new items to use in combat against your foe, or pieces of clothing that you can use to customize your character. You can also purchase in-game items using a currency you acquire as you play through the game’s various modes.

Item collecting was always the most addicting part of Power Stone 2. There were so many darn items to collect, most of which were pretty crazy. You can get a skateboard, a lightning sword, or even magical elemental cards. This feature offered so much replay value, which gave the player more of incentive to go back and play the game after completing it.

Power Stone 2 introduced 6 new characters, 2 of which had to be unlocked. You had the speedy cowboy Accel, and the crazy chef Gourmand. Power Stone 2 managed to build upon Power Stone 1, and add so much crazy cool stuff to it. The game went from being a fighting game that’s good at parties, to being a fighting game that felt like it was designed to be played solely at parties.

There was less of a focus on strategy, but the combat was still just as fun. The set-pieces the game brought were refreshing, even if the new boss fights were kind of lame. Still, Power Stone 2 managed to improve on the gameplay while still retaining most of what made the original had to offer. All was set for the inevitable Power Stone 3, which would rock our socks off!

Power Stone Collection

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“You know who’s got the power!”

Yeah… Power Stone 3 was never made. Capcom abruptly forgot about this game after its second installment, possibly due to low sales. As a result, the third game never materialized. Instead, we were given this compilation game released exclusively for the Playstation Portable. As the title would imply, Collection brought together the two games that made up the series. However, it also added a ton of new features as well!

The game has an art gallery, which includes all the various storyboard artwork and sound clips from both games. It includes promotional artwork, as well as allowing the player to see all the ending cut-scenes that they unlocked. There were new features as well! You could now play as characters who were exclusive to Power Stone 1 in Power Stone 2, and vice-versa.

This meant you could actually play as the overpowered monstrosity Valgas in the second game. Sadly, you can’t play as Mel and Pride Falcon in the first game, the latter of which is my favorite character. Power Stone Collection also expanded the features of the item shop, such as allowing the player to trade items with their friends. That’s right, Power Stone Collection added Ad Hoc multiplayer!

This meant that you can play with your friends whenever you wanted to! Sadly, there was no online multiplayer. Unless you had friends who happened to have PSPs, then you were completely out of luck when it came to multiplayer. Power Stone also introduced ad-hoc mini-games that you could play with your friends, but good luck finding other people to play those with you!

Power Stone Collection’s biggest feature was its portability. It allowed you to take these two amazing games on the road with you, which is something I did quite often in my teenage years. Power Stone Collection’s small additions were definitely welcome, adding a bit more meat to the bones of games that were over half a decade old at this point.

Conclusion

Power Stone is a game series that was truly amazing for the time, but probably wasn’t too enticing to most people. A lot of people just preferred 2D fighters, ones that were more tournament-friendly. It doesn’t help that Power Stone was released on a console that was doomed to fall into obscurity.

Still, Power Stone was a fun game series that stood the test of the time. Yes, it has not aged well graphically, there isn’t a lot to it mechanics wise, and it doesn’t do much at all with its 17th century setting. Despite this, the two games are still enjoyable romps for those who have never experienced them.

As the years went by, the series slowly became something of a cult classic. Like a lot of old games I really enjoy, I still find myself coming back to the series from time to time. Now, you’ll probably noticed I missed an entry in this franchise. That’s right, I didn’t say anything at all about the Power Stone Anime.

Well, I’m saving that for a later date. For my 300th post, I will watch through the Power Stone anime, and give an in-depth critique on what I thought of it. Despite the fact that I had watched the show in the past, I never finished it for some reason. However, I’m going to go through it episode by episode, and give my overtly analytical view on it. Stay tuned for that in the future!