Dragon’s Dogma For Nintendo Switch Review

Fantasy adventures are the best kind one can have, at least in my opinion. Nothing beats a good old swords & sorcery quest over an ancient land, while fighting off giant monsters and collecting tons of gold. I’ll take a good medieval fantasy adventure to a sci-fi space opera any day! That’s why I dig Dragon’s Dogma, because it’s an epic fantasy adventure in its purest form.

This was an open-world RPG that focused on having great action, characters, and lore. The game started off obscure at first, but quickly gained a large and dedicated fan-base. As a result, this RPG has been ported to every gaming platform imaginable! This resulted in the game being brought over to the Nintendo Switch, which is currently the hottest console on the market.

Dragon’s Dogma is a hard game to describe to those who have never played it, especially for people who just look at videos or screenshots of it. A person may be fooled into thinking that this game is some kind of cheap cash-grab RPG made in Europe, due to its dated graphics and low price-tag.

However, Dragon’s Dogma isn’t really like that at all. In fact, it’s one of the most immersive and entertaining modern Japanese Role-Playing Games made in a long time! It does have its faults, but they’re outshone by the amazing feats the game displays. I feel it’s time for me to do a detailed review of one of my favorite RPGs of all time. After all, I need to do something special for this 400th post!

So, what makes this game amazing? Well, let’s start off with the game’s plot. The game kicks off with your custom character living in an average fishing village. A dragon comes by and attacks your village one day, prompting you to rush to defend it. The dragon easily takes you out, rips out your heart, and devours it. You survive and awaken much later, now lacking a heart and cursed with a magical ailment.

With an army of expendable magical humanoids called “Pawns” now backing you up, you set off on an quest to defeat the dragon and reclaim your heart. The game starts off as your typical “Chosen One” story, but evolves into something much greater near the end.

I definitely dug the story, even if parts of it felt a bit too obtuse or needlessly dark. However, the true appeal of the game was in its gameplay. The ability to grapple onto monsters in combat adds a level of verticality that most games wish they could achieve. Leaping off a cliff and jumping onto a griffin’s back in order to attack it is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done in a game.

The amount of cool and interesting skills you can buy in this game is staggering, which allows for even more ways to customize your playstyle. Speaking of customization, there’s a ton of that in this game! You can customize your player character and your “Pawn”. The height and weight of your character determines their level of competency in the game. For example, shorter characters can run faster, and larger characters can carry more.

This is something that most games will never try with its customization. This means that that almost every character you create will have defined strengths and weaknesses, depending entirely on how you design their body. On top of designing your own Pawn, you can also recruit the Pawns of others to help you through the game’s various quests.

The pawn system is one of the most fun concepts introduced by the game, due to how unique it plays out. You’re constantly switching out new Pawns as you level up, while gaining many party members over the course of the game. It’s not uncommon for a player to have gone through hundreds of Pawns by the time the game ends.

One of the best elements of this game is its exploration. Being an open-world RPG, there’s a lot of locations to explore in this game. From giant caves to sweeping dungeons, there’s a lot of variety on offer here. It also helps that locations are well designed and most of them even have realistic layouts.

Dragon’s Dogma on Switch plays like all the other versions, but on a portable device. Being able to un-dock the Switch and bring it anywhere means that you can play Dragon’s Dogma on the go! Having the game finally be portable is definitely a great thing, since now I can play it on the John!

To me, Dragon’s Dogma is what I want in an action RPG. It has a fairly solid story, good characters, great customization, and tons of areas to explore. Sure, the graphics are old and dated, getting to places is annoying and frustrating, and there’s a lack of direction in the open hours. In spite of the game’s many flaws, it’s still one of the most engaging RPG experiences I’ve ever played. The fact that I can now take it on the go just adds to its greatness! This truly feels like the definitive version of the game.

Advertisements

Sweet As Syrup: Way of The Samurai 3 Review

Recently, I talked about a rather obscure series of Japanese action RPGs called “Way of The Samurai”. Specifically, I talked about the third game, which I enjoyed quite a bit. The more I got into this game, the more I fell in love with its quirky and odd world. I thought it was time to do a fully fledged review on it, since I haven’t done a game review in quite some time. With that out of the way, let’s venture into the world of Way of The Samurai, and see if we can carve our own path towards enlightenment.

Background Info

20180101154642_1.jpg
Gotta get back, back to the past!

The Way of The Samurai series is a series of action RPGs, which are made by the development team over at “Acquire”. Most of the games were also co-developed by the franchise’s publisher “Spike”. Way of The Samurai 3 was released in 2008 in Japan for both the PS3 and X-Box 360. It eventually made its way over to American shores the following year, only to be greeted by very little fanfare.

Way of The Samurai 3 was later ported to PC in 2016, over a year after the semi-successful port of the 4th game had been released for the same platform. The game was released directly to Steam, along with several pieces of DLC. For the purpose of this review, I’ll be looking at the PC version. This is the only version I played, since I lack access to a PS3.

Plot

20180114235233_1.jpg
Character customization gone horribly right!

The plot of  Way of The Samurai 3 kicks off with your custom hero being the lone survivor after an intense battle. As a nameless samurai, you are then tasked with carving your own path through the Sengoku period of Japan. You quickly learn that the land of “Amana” is home to three different factions, all of which you can align yourself with. You can align yourself with the power-hungry Fujimori Clan, the bandit gang known as the Ouka Clan, or with the local villagers.

By earning favor within these factions, you can then choose which to side with. By interacting with the various characters in each faction, you get more info on the story and what is happening within the world. Something that may be good or bad depending on how you look at it, would have to be how the game handles narrative structure.

After 11 in-game events, the game will thrust you into its finale and make you choose which faction to align with. The problem manifests when you realize that the full story can’t be experienced on just one play-through, it’ll take multiple runs through the story mode to fully grasp what’s going on. Thankfully, each run will only take you a few hours each.

This is both good and bad. It’s good in that it gives you a lot of replay value, but it’s bad because you won’t fully get what’s going on with just a single play-through. This is a game that requires a fair bit of dedication, especially due to how sensitive the dialogue choices can be. Selecting certain options can lead you to a radically different ending, which is something rather unexpected for a little-known Japanese title.

The game also boasts 22 endings, several of which ware just variations on pre-existing endings. Still, the plot allows for enough variety to facilitate repeat play-throughs. Working for one faction may boast a completely different ending, than if you were to align yourself with the opposing faction. The game always finds a way to funnel the player into one of its many available endings, even if said player has no idea what they are actual doing.

In a way, the variable storytelling present in this game is its strongest attribute. Being able to return to the game once you complete it, with everything you’ve acquired and obtained is really awesome. Plus, the various endings and special quest-lines present a ton of replay value. Of course, the story isn’t the best. Some may call it a fairly formulaic samurai story, but it does have a fair bit of heart to it. Thought definitely went into the story, and the concept of allowing the player to piece together the larger plot on their own is much appreciated.

Gameplay

What makes WOTS 3 so special is its gameplay, which manages to be immensely engaging throughout. The game’s combat plays similarly to beat-em-up or fighting game. Whenever you get into a fight with an opponent, you automatically lock onto them. You have a variety of different attacks available to you, and can unlock more as you progress through the game and acquire scrolls. Using these scrolls gives you new techniques, most of which are tied to your weapons.

Certain combat abilities are linked to your character though, such as martial arts and dual-wielding attacks. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of options when it comes to combat. That’s not even getting into advanced abilities, such as “Instant-Kill” and “Push and Pull”. I’d be here all day if I tried to list off how all of the intricacies attached to most of these abilities.

What I will say is that the combat flows well, with enough weapon and ability variety to allow the player to craft their own unique fighting style. On top of having a good selection of abilities and moves available to the player, the game boasts an impressive array of weapons to use. You can choose from a variety of ninja blades, two-handed swords, and even massive spears to do battle with! Heck, if you don’t like the available weapons, you can just make your own!

The game’s crafting system is insanely extensive, boasting over 200 individual weapon parts. Crafting is pretty easy to get the hang of. You just grab enough weapon parts to build a sword, go to a blacksmith, and then have him put the pieces together. This weapon creation system allows you to create the kind of weapons you want, which is something I always find engrossing in games.

The game’s biggest draw would have to be exploration, since this is an open-world after all! The game has 9 areas in total, some of which are actually fairly expansive. The game is far smaller when compared to most open-world games, but you’ll quickly find yourself getting lost due to the sheer amount of things to do.

The game is bursting with side-quests, mini-games, and entertaining events. The area of Amana is ripe for exploration, and there’s enough stuff to do to keep you playing for hours on end. Where the game begins to falter is in its design, as the game isn’t built to be very beginner-friendly. The game doesn’t tell you where to go, what you need to do, or how to use its more intricate systems.

Sure, you can talk to a NPC at the beginning of the game, but she only gives out a select amount of info on how to proceed. If you’re like me and playing this on PC, then getting a grasp on how the game is played can be difficult, especially without an instruction book. You’ll start off the game not knowing all that much about what you can and cannot do, and will most likely get one of the worst endings in the game by accident.

As previously mentioned, this is a game that’s meant to be played many times, in order to see all the endings and story choices. So, if playing through a 3-4 hour long story mode 20 times to unlock everything isn’t your cup of tea, I suggest picking up a different game. Still, Way of The Samurai 3 can be a lot of fun, especially if you’re looking for a zany samurai adventure.

Visual Stimuli

Let’s be real, this game looks like garbage. Despite being released for the PS3 and later ported over to the PC almost a decade later, the game still looks like its a console generation behind . This shouldn’t be too surprising, as the series got its start on the PS2 and the graphics themselves haven’t advanced past that, even in recent years. Backgrounds have a tendency to look rather bland, though some areas can look rather beautiful at times.

Character designs are good, with each character having a unique look about them that helps them stand out from all the other NPCs. Voice acting is solid in the Japanese version, while being fairly cheesy in the English version. To be fair, I kind of prefer the English version. The campy portrayals of most of its main characters make it feel like a poorly dubbed Samurai film, which is something I quite enjoy.

The game lets you choose between both the English and Japanese audio tracks, which I appreciate quite a bit. The game runs fairly well on most modern PCs, but is locked at 30 frames per second. Still, I very rarely experienced slowdown or glitches, so it wasn’t that big of a problem.

The game’s presentation is overall a mixed bag. While the voice acting and character designs are great, the game looks outdated in terms of graphics. The soundtrack is good, but you’ll be hearing the same songs a few too many times. The game also boasts ambient sounds during a few of the night-time maps, which adds a great layer of atmosphere to the mix. Despite the games fairly flawed presentation, it still manages to hold up decently well.

In Summation

Way of The Samurai 3 is a game that’s hard to recommend. It’s not beginner friendly, it looks terrible in terms of graphics, and it does a poor job on directing the player. Still, it’s a game that manages to impress due to its shear amount of things to do. The various endings, multiple factions, and insane amount of weapons provides a ton of content for the player to delve into.

Combine this with a fairly entertaining (albeit formulaic) story, a weapon creation system, solid character customization, and a strong sense of exploration, and you have a game that becomes strangely engrossing after a while. Still, it’s a game that isn’t for everyone. Heck, I didn’t really get into it at first, at least not until I had completed my first playthrough.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: You skipped the first 2 games in the series! Sad fact of the matter is that I don’t have easy access to WoTS 1 and 2. I hope the first 2 games eventually get a PC release, so I can experience them on Steam and see what I’m missing. If they’re even half as fun as WoTS 3 is, then I think I’ll have a good time! With that being said, I can definitely say that Way of The Samurai 3 is as sweet syrup, despite its many issues.

Sweet As Syrup: Dragon Ball Xenoverse 1 Review

You know what I love? Quests, epic quests that entangle our hero in a grand mission to save world, his girlfriend, or fulfill some kind of arbitrary task. Another thing I love is the Dragon Ball anime series. What happens when you combine epic questing with Dragon Ball? You get something akin to Dragon Ball Xenoverse, a game that is a mix between RPG, fighting game, and MMORPG. It’s a game that mixes several genres together in an attempt to make something wholly unique.

I’ve made it no secret that I love the Dragon Ball franchise. While I gave up on the series for a while, a couple years back, I found myself getting interested in it again. While I can definitely say elements of this show haven’t aged well, it’s still still an entertaining watch. The games are definitely where I find my interest in nowadays. So, I thought I’d take a look at Xenoverse, which is undoubtedly my favorite Dragon Ball game.

20170629095102_1.jpg
It’s Casper The Unfriendly Ghost Saiyan!

Background Information

Dragon Ball Xenoverse is an action RPG/ MMORPG / Fighting game made that was released on both the previous generation of consoles, as well as the current one. The game was original advertised under the code-name “Dragon Ball New Project” and was officially released in February of 2015. The game became a huge hit, selling over 3 million copies world-wide. It sold so well, that a sequel was released the following year.

Plot

Unlike most Dragon Ball games, which tend to retread the same old tired plot-lines, Xenoverse takes a unique spin on the formula. The game takes place in the future, over a hundred years after the end of the original series. The adventures of the Saiyan warrior Goku, as well as those of his family and friends are long over. However, an evil is stirring and starts altering history.

This results in major alterations affecting the primary timeline, to the point where several key members of the original cast end up dead. The time-travelling warrior known as Trunks has joined a futuristic police squad known as “Time Patrol” in an attempt to fix the altered timeline. The purple-hair warrior realizes that he’s in over his head and decides to call for some reinforcements.

Apparently, ordinary help is out of the question for Trunks. Instead of doing something logical like putting out a “Help Wanted” ad, Trunks decides to gather the seven magical Dragon Balls. Using these, he summons the dragon Shenron and summons your custom character to his time period. From there, you are sent out to various parts of the Dragon Ball timeline, in order to fix all that has been altered.

It’s not a super original plot, but it definitely is an entertaining one. All of the “What If?” scenarios presented by the game add some much needed variety to the game. After all, there’s only so many times you can tell the same Dragon Ball story-lines over and over. Considering this game was made in a time when Dragon Ball games were mostly rehashing the same tired plots year after year, it was a much welcome change of pace.

Thankfully, Xenoverse does mix it up quite a bit. It re-purposes elements from a game I previously review, which was Dragon Ball Online, and managed to do something unique things with it. Cut-scenes in this game are packed with all sorts of action, shenanigans, and surprise twists.

However, even though I enjoy the attempt at a new story, it sadly lacks the finesse of a common Dragon Ball arc. The story took me about 10 hours to beat, including grinding and sitting through all the cut-scenes. The story is just way too short, to the point where I felt that I wasn’t getting the full experience. Scenes from the show would play out in background dialogue, robbing me of the experience of viewing them through cut-scenes or game-play.

The plot is really nothing to write home about, but it does manage to freshen up the Dragon Ball franchise. As previously mentioned, Dragon Ball games had a tendency to play things a bit too safe. Having a game that at least attempts a new story is definitely something I can appreciate. While the plot feels like its written primarily for fans of the show, I thought it was definitely entertaining. Not good or fantastic, but enjoyable enough that I don’t often find myself skipping past cut-scenes.

20170629095143_1
Moral of the story: NEVER TRAIN WITH CELL!

Gameplay

This is the bread and butter of what makes people love the Xenoverse series so much. The gameplay on display is definitely entertaining, but not without its faults. Let’s go over the good first, that feels like the best place to start. Xenoverse plays like the fully 3D dragon ball fighting games that have come before it, most notably Budokai Tenkaichi 3. You control a singular character, and can have up to two allies fighting by your side.

However, some missions are special, and will occasionally pair your with three to four other allies in order to square against a really powerful enemy. Action unfolds in the third-person, and mainly focuses on a two button combat scheme. You can do light attacks and heavy attacks, and string them together to pull off some sick combos. It’s a stupidly simple system, but it’s easy enough for most people to get the hang of. Toss in things like grappling, ki blasts, and special attacks, and you have a simple system with a fair bit of complexity.

Unfortunately, combat can get super repetitive after a while. Sure, you have new moves and characters being thrown at you to spice things up, but I won’t deny the fact that it starts to feel stale after a while. The fact the combat feels like it relies too heavily on button-mashing is a rather large detriment to the game itself. It definitely doesn’t stop the combat from being fun, but it does water down the experience a bit.

What makes combat so fun is the insane amount of super moves you can pull off. Every playable character has his own set of special moves that he/she can use in combat. This can range from moving so fast you create a large blue hurricane, to even tossing miniature meteorites at your hapless opponents. Each set of moves is tailored to how that character fought in the show. For example, Frieza has access to his “Death Ball” attack, and has a combat style focused on both speed and power.

There are about 57 characters in this game, if you include DLC as well. There are also a ton of different forms, costumes, and move-sets for each character. This increases the amount of playable characters quite a bit, and adds some variety. The characters you can choose during combat level up with your character. The stronger your character is, the stronger the characters you play as will be. It’s a nice little touch that makes it so other characters you decide to play as are just as viable during battle.

The game’s main draw is its custom characters. Xenoverse allows for an insane amount of customization options. It’s easy to lose 10 minutes just messing around in the character creating, making something that looks absolutely silly and weird. Want to make an orange Namekian? Go for it. Want to make a Saiyan with silver skin and green hair? Go nuts. The game is just insane with the amount of bizarre characters you can make.

There are five different races to pick from, each one coming with its own specialties and limitations. Certain races have different advantages over others, such as different starting stats and access to race-exclusive abilities. Most characters handle the same out of the gate, but eventually become varied enough to stand out from the other races. For example, Frieza’s race is extremely fast, while Majins can use magic-based special attacks.

Character customization does have it limits though, especially in the amount of hair-styles and faces your characters can have. I hear that the character options are much better in the sequel, though I have yet to play that version. Regardless, what’s here is definitely welcome. The custom options go beyond just creating his look, you can also choose from a variety of outfits and different skills to use.

Sadly, the costumes have locked stats. You can’t change the stats, so you’re sometimes stuck with outfits of your favorite characters with abilities you don’t want. It’s definitely one of the weakness this game has, though it’s from the biggest offender. The biggest problem comes from online. Battles online against other players are largely unbalanced, with characters having builds that are broken and overpowered. While certain moves and abilities have been dulled down, a fair bit of attacks still remain stupidly strong.

This completely destroys the flow of online combat with other players. It gets worse when you factor in the insane amount of lag that occurs if you enter a match with another person that has a bad connection. Worse still is the game’s difficulty spikes near the end of story mode. Characters become stupidly overpowered, and gain the ability to spam ultimate attacks to an insane degree.

This gets worse in the “Parallel Quests”, which act as this game’s version of side-quests. The last few PQs are so immensely broken, that they are near impossible to beat offline. Characters can gang up on you constantly and bash you into a bloody pulp, using both overpowered energy attacks and cheap cornering tactics. This isn’t me being bad at the game either, this is legitimately broken in terms of difficulty. Thankfully, most of the really hard stuff is completely optional.

Another complaint I have is with the city itself, which is more of a small hub than anything else. It’s only three areas, which are strung together by loading screens. There’s not a whole lot to do in the city, aside from take quests and buy items. Thankfully, despite this game being an MMORPG, you are never gouged by micro-transactions. Sure, there is DLC, but you don’t really need it to beat the game.

All things considered, I definitely had fun with the game’s combat and character creation. Sure, the combat can get dull pretty quickly, but its insane amount of different specials moves makes up for it. While the online play could use a lot of work, it’s still a fair bit of fun to work alongside friends and strangers to beat tough missions. If you can get past the grind-y nature of the game, the very low item drop-rates, and the insane difficulty spikes, then I think you are in for a good experience.

20170704113522_1.jpg
Definitely not Kansas anymore.

Visual Stimuli

The game looks fantastic, truly fantastic. The art-style definitely captures the look and feel of classic Dragon Ball Z, while adding a bit of its own flavor to the mix. Despite the good graphics, facial animations are pretty awkward. Everyone looks overtly creepy every time they smile, almost like they are faking their smiles in a strange sort of way. Backgrounds look pretty nice, even if most of them are completely static.

The soundtrack is pretty solid, having a fair bit of tunes that sound like they would fit right in with the show itself. The game’s sound-effects are also pretty nice, having the right amount of punch to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were lifted from the show itself! The game seems to run pretty smoothly, though there have been times where I was randomly booted from the server. Also, certain moves can cause the frame-rate to chug considerably. An example of this is the Blue Hurricane move, which can cause the frame-rate to dip considerably.

Special attacks look flashy and powerful, just like how they are in the show. I especially love how certain attacks can cause damage to the area, it’s such a nice attention to detail. One of the game’s biggest faults come in both the voice acting and the translation. Funimation’s usual top-notch voice cast is playing the Dragon Ball cast, but it seems they lack direction. It was like Cell’s voice actor was told just to ham it up, so he rolled with it.

Several other characters just seem to say things they wouldn’t normally say, which can definitely get distracting. It has a certain charm to it, but it leads some scenes to feel pretty awkward at times. I can’t tell you how jarring it is to complete a mission where the villains of hell invade, only to be greeted with your mentor saying “I would totally hug you, if that was a thing I did!” It’s not terrible, just rather jarring.

Still, the voice cast is solid overall. The main problem with the game comes in the spotty translation and bad grammar. For some reason, the dialogue in this game is peppered with all kinds of spelling errors. From multiple commas in a single sentence, to words being improperly spelled. It’s very distracting, especially to someone like me, a person who gets distracted easily by such nonsense.

Translation overall feels a bit spotty, with voice-acted clips never really matching up with what the text-boxes are saying. Couple this with the aforementioned bad grammar, and you have dialogue that just feels tacked on. So, while I can say the game looks nice, it suffers from some issues in terms of both voice acting and translation. Direction-less voice-acting and multiple spelling errors pepper the game, but it doesn’t distract too much from the overall package. The game still looks and sounds great, despite its various hiccups.

20170704111906_1.jpg
Ginyu Force: Only the silly may apply.

In Conclusion

Dragon Ball Xenoverse is a game that lets you make your own character, partner up with your favorite mentor, and live that ultimate Dragon Ball experience. However, its translation and voice acting issues, its repetitive gameplay, its broken loot system, and its huge difficulty spikes will turn a lot of people off. While I find these to be big weaknesses in terms of game design, I still feel this game is awesome and very unique.

After playing Dragon Ball Fusions, I didn’t think I would find a game that could top it. While Xenoverse plays more like a typical Dragon Ball fighting game, it somehow manages to do enough interesting things to keep it fresh. That’s why I can say that it is definitely as sweet as syrup!

Recommending this game is a hard thing to do, since it is mostly made with Dragon Ball fans in mind. If you’re a fan of Dragon Ball, I recommend checking this out. However, if you’re looking for a balanced fighting game experience, I suggest you check elsewhere. All in all, I can definitely say I had fun with this game. I hope to one day pick up and play Xenoverse 2, since I hear that the game manages to improve on a ton of faults with the first. Anyways, thanks for reading, and have a Super Saiyan day!

Hunter X Hunter Season 1 Review

I’ve made it no secret that I like anime. I don’t love the medium as much as I used to, but if a show captures my fancy, then I’ll be sure to at least attempt to watch it. One show that I found myself recently getting hooked on was an anime known as “Hunter X Hunter”. It’s based off a long running manga series of the same name and has had a couple different adaptations at this point.

I attempted watching the show last year, but found it difficult to fully get involved with the characters. A year later, I stumble across the English dub once more and decide to give it another go. To my surprise, I really ended up liking this show! The show did take a few episodes before I got fully invested, but by the time I was halfway through the first arc, I was hooked!

I thought I would started reviewing the series in its entirety, starting with the very first story arc “The Hunter Exam” arc. I guess you could classify this as the show’s first season. I want to tackle every single arc of this show, along with the two movies released to accompany it. I’ll do this sparingly as there is a lot of other projects I’m working on, but I eventually want to cover the entire series. Anyways, let’s get started!

Background Information

Hunter X Hunter is a manga and anime series originally created by Yoshihiro Togashi. This Togashi’s second long-running series, following in the heels of his other successful series Yu Yu Hakusho. With Hunter X Hunter, Togashi used the series in order to deconstruct elements of popular shonen anime. What started as a love letter to classic Shonen series soon evolved into its own thing, turning into a full deconstruction of the genre.

Hunter X Hunter became a very popular series in a short amount of time, but was soon hit by a series of hiatuses. Sadly, Togashi’s failing health caused him to delay the series several times. It’s been announced that by the end of this month, Togashi will be resuming the series once more.

New-hunters
Is that Lady Gaga in the far right corner?

Plot and Characters

The first arc of the story focuses solely on the main protagonist of this series: Gon. The young man has dreams of following in the footsteps of his father and becoming a “Hunter”. Hunters are people who are allowed to travel the entire world, including areas that would normally be off limits to ordinary people. They have access to all kinds of secrets, and possess some of the most dangerous abilities in the world.

The first arc is known as the “Hunter Exam Arc”, and it involves Gon taking the test in order to become a hunter. He quickly makes three friends: Killua, a mysterious young boy who is also a dangerous assassin, a doctor in training named Leorio, and the ever-powerful Kurapika. The four young men soon find themselves entangled in a quarrel with a pair of powerful men with supernatural abilities.

I’ll be honest, this first arc starts off rather slow. While those first six or so episodes are decent, there’s nothing that groundbreaking or interesting happening within them. It isn’t until the third trial that things start to get really good. The moment our heroes face off against a group of prisoners in a series of intense battles and contests of wit is when the anime shows its true colors.

It balances well-animated combat with darker themes, giving the audience watching it a good mix of action and drama. The characters are very solid, but this early in the show they don’t get as much development. Characters like Killua’s family and Hisoka aren’t fully fleshed out, though they do get their moments and shine as characters.

Something that the story of this arc gets really well is that it actually sets up plot points in advance. Most anime tend to introduce new concepts, plots, and characters out of nowhere. However, Hunter X Hunter manages to detail a lot of its world and concepts before they are fully introduced. For example, we are introduced to “Nen” in this arc, but it isn’t fully fleshed out yet. We’re lead to believe that what the villains can do are actually feats of magic, at least until the next arc comes around and puts that theory to bed.

Of course, this arc does have its fair share of problems. The pacing at the start can feel pretty slow, especially when they get to the island, and certain events take a bit longer than they should. Fight-scenes are thankfully very short, but sometimes they can be a bit too short. It isn’t until the third arc in the series that fights start to feel longer and more drawn out. So, while I can stay this arc is good, it starts off rather bland and dull.

Visual Stimuli

The animation on this show is extremely solid! For a long-running Shonen anime, this show has some of the best animation in the entire genre. Animation looks fairly good most of the time, but really cranks up during action scenes. It’s hard to find a favorite action scene in this series, since most of them are extremely intense and well choreographed!

The voice-acting is pretty solid as well. I’ve mainly kept up to date with the English dub and only watched a bit of the Japanese version, but I can easily say that both versions are pretty well done. While the female voices for the male characters can grate a bit here or there, they do a good job of making the characters their own. None of the English dub actors from the 1999 anime return. This isn’t a big deal, but I really wish Brendan Hunter came back to play Hisoka. His new voice actor does a fantastic job, but Brendan really captured the smug nature of Hisoka well.

The music for this show is good, but it sadly gets repeated a bit too much. The show’s soundtrack is very limited, though this isn’t as apparent during the first story arc. Songs get repeated a lot through-out the show’s entire 148 episode run.  Like I said though, it’s not as bad during these early episodes.

In Conclusion

This show has a bit of a rocky start, but manages to pick up after those first few episodes. The show has an interesting concept and has a protagonist who relies more on outwitting his opponents, rather than overpowering him. Keep in mind though that this season definitely has its problems. Certain episodes can feel awkwardly paced, and some fights feel way shorter than they should.

Honestly though, I feel it’s worth watching. This is a series that prides itself on delivering good action, alongside good characters. The Hunter Exam arc is a good place to start, but the show doesn’t reach it’s true potential until later. For now, I can say that this show is definitely as sweet as syrup and worth your time and money. I recommend this series, and more specifically the first arc to fans of Shonen anime and action series in general.

Sweet As Syrup: Digimon Adventure Anode/Cathode Tamer Veedramon Version Review

Yep, this is officially the longest title of anything I’ve ever reviewed on my blog! I thought I’d talk about a Digimon game that I’ve been getting into as of late, a rather forgotten title known as “Digimon Adventure Anode/Cathode Tamer”. This was one of the first Digimon video-games ever made, and was created while the series was at its most popular in Japan. It also introduced the world to Ryo Akiyama, a character who would make appearances in the first three seasons of the series.

This game was the series’ first foray into tactical RPGs, and one of their last. Sadly, the series would rarely revisit this genre. Regardless, I want to discuss this game. With Digimon’s 20th anniversary fast approaching, I feel it’s time I take a look at a forgotten classic. Without further adieu, let’s dive right in!

Background Information

Digimon Adventure Anode Tamer was originally released in 1999 for the Wonderswan, which was a Japanese exclusive console. A second version was released in 2000 called “Cathode Tamer”, and eventually a third a version of the game was released for the Wondereswan Color. This will be the version I’m looking at, the one known as “Veedramon Version”.

Unlike the other two versions released, Veedramon had an English version and was primarily released in English-speaking parts of Hong Kong. The Digimon Tamer series on Wonderswan proved to be very popular, and soon the main character Ryo Akiyama started making appearances in the show. It started off as a few cameos, but eventually he became a canon part of both the second and third seasons.

Digimon_Adventure_Anode_Cathode_Tamer
Can you smell that? That’s the sweet sweet smell of 90s nostalgia!

Plot

Taking place after the end of the first season, Digimon Anode/Cathode Tamer focuses on a young man name Ryo. One day, Ryo is chatting on a message-board, until he gets a strange message on his computer. After foolishly touching a Digi-vice (a tool used on the show to enhance the power of a Digimon) our hero is pulled into the Digital World.

This is where he meets Digital Monsters, known as Digimon. Ryo is forced to work alongside a lizard-like Digimon named Agumon, in order to rescue the Digidestined from the original show. You see, all the kids have been defeated and captured by the villains of the first season, who have resurrected and become more powerful in the process. Ryo is tasked with using Tai’s Digivice, along with partnering up with the chosen Digimon to once again defeat all of the Digidestined’s foes. Not only this, but Ryo has to go up again an all new villain named “Milleniumon”, an evil hybrid Digimon who represents the Y2K virus.

Yeah, the plot for this game is pretty generic. While it’s cool that you get to fight all the villains from the first season in game form, the reason they are all there feels a bit like a cop-out. They are all conveniently resurrected by the new villain, and none of them offer any interesting bits of dialogue. I get that this is a Wonderswan Color game, and that they were limited in what they were allowed to do.

Still, I can’t help but feel that they could’ve done more with the setting. Digimon Adventure was a show that had a universe that was ripe for expanding upon. Instead, they decided to rehash season 1 all over again. This wouldn’t bother me so much if they got the character portrayals wrong. Sadly though, characters behave in a very unfitting way. For example, after you save every Digidestined, they just leave the Digital World and basically abandon you to your quest. They never offer to help or stay, and they never come to your aid.

I get that this is done so that more attention is put on the player character, as opposed to side-characters. It’s just really out of character for the Chosen Children to just have somebody else do all the work for them. Am I thinking too deeply about this? I probably am, that’s just how my brain works. Regardless, I felt the plot to be very bland and forgettable. Very few interesting things happen, and it just ends up feeling like a hollow story overall.

Gameplay

The game is pretty basic in terms of structure. You can have a maximum of 3 Digimon in your party at at time, same goes for your opponent. In these 3v3 fights, you take turns with each individual Digimon. You move them across the grid to attack your opponent Digimon. While it seems simple, there are some things thrown in that help spice up the gameplay.

The game introduces something called “Variable Moves”. These are basically Digivolutions, a form of transformation evoked by Digimon in the series. However, Variable Moves are different in that they only last for one turn, where Digivolutions often last a lot longer in other games. Variable Moves are basically special summon attacks, and can be used to attack your opponent, heal an ally, or even buff your part members.

You can also use items both in and out of combat. These range from average healing items, to food or waste disposal items. That’s right, the game has some simulation elements to it. You have to take care of your Digimon, by both feeding it and cleaning up after it. Unfortunately, these particular elements of the game felt tacked on. More often than not, it felt like the hunger system was just an excuse to send me running back to the village to buy more meat. Thankfully, this doesn’t become too much of a problem, since you are given meat in battle.

Outside of combat, you can acquire new Digimon and travel the over-world. The over-world isn’t fancy, and it lacks any real depth to it. You just travel to new dungeons to send your Digimon to. There’s no secret areas, hidden zones, or anything to make it remotely interesting. Even the Pokemon games had wide open areas for you to explore! Sadly, the areas you explore feel so barren. There are very few Digimon to talk to in such areas as well.

Speaking of the game’s flaws, there was lot of elements to this game that generally rubbed me the wrong way. For example, the aforementioned Variable Moves system is rather annoying to get working properly. The game starts you off with no moves for any of your Digimon, you have to unlock them all by scratch by experimenting with different party combinations. The problem is that you get them entirely at random. It’s possible to get moves that could’ve been useful two dungeons, while in a completely new dungeon.

Balancing is another issue with the game. Certain Digimon that you are given at the start of the game feel way too overpowered. A good example of this was Veedramon, who pretty much broke most boss encounters. I liken Veedramon to Frederick from Fire Emblem, put in the middle of a battlefield and everyone will die in an attempt to take him out.

The game’s biggest offense though is its repetition and length. The game is very repetitive in its combat system. Certain fights will drag on for what feels like 30 minutes, sometimes longer. It gets really old, really fast. All the while, you’re stuck watching the same animations over and over again. It’s like if they made an episode of Digimon and only had a budget of 5 bucks and only about 20 frames of animation repeated over and over.

I feel like that’s an apt summary of this game in a nut-shell: “It’s like Digimon, but not as good and extremely dated”. It may sound cruel, but in terms of gameplay I feel it just doesn’t measure up to the flawed gem known as Digimon World, which came out the same year, but for a different console.

Visual Stimuli

This game looks pretty good for the time, to be honest. The sprite work is typical of a Wonderswan Color game, but they manage to capture the art-style of the original show very well. Digimon are well-designed and the battle sprites look nice enough, even if a few of them can look a bit uncanny valley at times. Sprites on the over-world can look a bit too simplistic though.

The problem with this game comes in the sound department. It sounds pretty bad, which is a result of the console’s limitations, I know. Still, the soundtrack felt grating at times due to the loud blaring noises. Another problem I had with the game was the odd translation. For some reason, the English version of the game chose to use a mixture of both the Japanese names and the American localized names. This made certain scenes feel a little odd for me.

While I did like the graphics, I felt the localization and soundtrack were a bit too stale for my tastes. As previously mentioned, the audio was blaring and the game’s localization couldn’t decide which translation it wanted to stick to. In all honesty, I found the production values of this game to be fairly hit-or-miss.

In Summation

I know that I have been fairly harsh on the game up until this point. I know it isn’t entirely fair, seeing as how this game was one of the first few Digimon games ever made. However, it did help kick-start an entire sub-franchise, and introduced the fandom to a character who would be popular for years to come. I guess I went into this game with too high of expectations.

Now, do I hate this game? No, but I have trouble saying that it’s a good game. It’s a middle-of-the-road game. I enjoyed parts of the game, and was totally a sucker for the nostalgic elements of it. The problem was that the game was too short, lacked an interesting plot, and didn’t do enough to distance itself from the many other tactical RPGs coming out around that time.

So, with that I can say that the game isn’t as sweet as syrup. Do I recommend it? Well, kind of. I can only really recommend this game to two kinds of people: Those who love Digimon and Ryo, and those who love tactical RPGs. While you can easily skip this game in favor of future games, I do suggest at least trying it. It does introduce the hero and villain of this series and is fun for an hour or two, but that’s about it. Anyways, that’s my personal thoughts on the game. If anyone else has played this game, I’d like to hear your thoughts on it as well. If you feel I presented any elements of the game incorrectly, feel free to call me out on it. Regardless, I hope you all have a great day!

Sweet As Syrup: Villainous Cartoon Review

I’ve decided to ditch my usual review formula to cover a series of cartoon shorts that have been making their rounds as of late. I usually don’t review animated shorts, Super Turbo Atomic Ninja Rabbit being one of the exceptions. However, I felt it was time to tackle some more animated shorts. What better series of shorts to talk about then “Villainous”, CN’s newest hit.

Villainous.png
It’s like Addam’s Family, but with a casual dress-code!

The show hasn’t even released in America yet, and it’s still managed to gain a sizable fan-base! Honestly, I was hooked on the premise alone. A show focusing on what are considered the villains living their normal lives, while working out ways to murder superheroes? Count me in! I think the best way I can describe this show is that it’s Megamind meats The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.

If that doesn’t sound incredibly awesome, I don’t know what does! So, the show revolves around the demonic super villain known as Black Hat. Black Hit manages to be both angry and dapper at the same time. Possessing a rather extravagant outfit, but also a violent demeanor underneath. Black Hat is a pretty cool character in all honesty. Most of Black Hat’s devices are created by Dr. Flug, a strange man with a paper bag over his head.

Dr. Flug is my favorite character, due to the fact that I’m a huge fan of the stock mad-scientist character. There’s also Dimencia, an insane girl with anime hair who has the hots for Black Hat. Last and certainly least is the character 5.0.5. He’s generally a boring character, a bland and forgettable adorable mascot character. I guess that’s the point, but the character never really grew on me. Maybe it’s because I feel the whole “adorable and evil-ness cannot co-exist” joke to be extremely overused at this point.

Now, as for the shorts themselves, they are very well put-together. The animation is fantastic, knowing when to be simplistic and when to be super detailed. Character designs really pop, especially due to the slick animation style. Even 5.0.5. who I can’t stand as a character manages to have a style that really pops.

The problem I had with the shorts, and this is really more of a gripe, is that most of them have pretty sudden endings. Most shorts just kind of end, which is the problem when working with such a limited running time. Characters aren’t fleshed out that much beyond the stereotypes they represent, there’s no real development or arcs, and most shorts end as abruptly as they began. It’s not a deal breaker though, especially due to the fact that it’s just a weakness associated with the short’s length.

What Villainous does with its short time frame is give us some funny and likable characters, enjoyable scenarios, and a fantastic art and animation style. It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. Villainous is a short about admiring the faults within cartoon villains, pastiches of what we deem to be evil. It’s not profound by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely unique and interesting.

So yeah, I definitely enjoyed what I watched. Despite only six minutes worth of animation, this is a fun little series of shorts to watch through. That’s why I can definitely say that this series is as sweet as syrup. Do I recommend it? Of course! I highly recommend and all who read this watch the series once it’s brought to American Cartoon Network. I can’t get the channel sadly, but I urge all those who can to watch CN’s commercials. That’s where these shorts will most likely show up. Right now, everyone needs to show their support for this amazing series. If people do that, then we may get even more shorts or a full series. Anyways, thanks for reading my little diatribe and have a fantastic day. Keep it real and most importantly, keep it evil!

Sweet As Syrup: Digimon Next Manga Review

Good news, everyone! The Digimon marathon starts today. I figured I start off with something Digimon-based that not a lot of people know about. I discussed the Digimon Adventure V-Tamer 01 manga, but have yet to discuss its spiritual successor. You see, there’s been several Digimon manga over the years, but few of them have actually run that long. The second Digimon manga series to run for a fair bit of chapters was Digimon Next.

After finally finish V-Tamer 01, I quickly dived in to this series and read through it in the course of a week. I think it’s about time I cover this series. Is it worth reading or enjoying? Well, in this review I’ll let you know if this older Digimon manga is worth reading or not.

Background Information

Digimon Next was a manga that released a couple months prior to Digimon Savers / Data Squad, which was the newest Digimon anime at that time. The series began in 2006 and ran until 2008. While using similar elements to Savers, Next borrows most from Adventure V-Tamer 01. Much like most Digimon manga, this series never received an American release.

List_of_Digimon_Next_chapters_V1
That’s probably the most badass Greymon I’ve ever seen!

Plot

The story revolves around a young Japanese teenager named Tsurugi Tatano. One day, Tsurugi is whisked off to the Digital World after playing an online game, where he meets up with his partner Agumon. The two start off on a bad foot, but quickly become good friends and reliable allies to one another. Tsurugi quickly becomes friends with a bunch of other humans too, who have also ended up in the Digital World. Tsurugi meets up with other characters like Yuu and Ami, while doing battle with the mysterious “Black Winged Knight”.

While this does sound like it could make for an interesting manga, it sadly does not. The story feels very derivative of the previous Digimon manga. I felt like I was reading most of the same story again, just with different characters. The villain in the motives behind said villain felt like they had been done better in V-Tamer 01. Is it terrible? Of course not! However, the plot never feels like it does anything interesting with the setting.

The problem I find with the manga that it never manages to take the series in a unique direction. It’s stuck taking elements from Savers, without being able to deviate too much from a typical Digimon manga. This bothers me greatly, especially due to the fact that most entries in the Digimon franchise manage to do something unique and interesting with each installment.

Again, it’s not a bad story. It doesn’t feel too rushed or poorly paced, the characters are interesting and like-able enough to stand on their own and it has a decent amount of chapters. On top of this, the finale to the story itself is pretty dang awesome. Regardless, it felt like a bit of a slog to get to that point. I gave up on the manga several times before I could fully finish it. I still enjoyed what I read, despite my qualms.

Artwork

The art for this series was done by the ever amazing Takeshi Okano. This man also helped co-write Hell Teacher Nube, one of my favorite manga and anime series! Okano manages to make character designs really interesting and manages to make the Digimon look really nice. Backgrounds are decent, though some can seem a little bare at times. Action scenes are intense, and Okano manages to pack a ton of fast action into each individual panel.

The art overall really saved this manga for me. While I had difficulties fully getting into the plot, the art-style really hooked me. It managed to combine simplicity with higher detail, creating something that could be considered both cartoon-ish and serious at the same time. It’s an art-style that can invoke a feeling of both excitement and goofiness.

In Conclusion

It’s got a hit-or-miss plot, but rather nice-looking artwork. I say that if you’re cool with a more formulaic Digimon plot, then I think this would be your thing. I recommend reading V-Tamer 01 over this. If you like V-Tamer and want something similar to it, then I can recommend this series to you. I got a decent amount of enjoyment out of this series, so I can definitely say it is sweet as syrup. It’s not perfect, it feels a bit generic, but it manages to capture what I love about Digimon. In the end, that’s all I can really ask for.

Sweet As Syrup: Phantasy Star Portable 2 Review

Last year, I started a marathon on my favorite game series of all time: Phantasy Star. It went on a lot longer than I thought it would, but I enjoyed writing all the posts on it all the same. The last post I did was Phantasy Star related, so I thought I’d follow them up and hopefully finish this marathon at long last! So, let’s start with Phantasy Star Portable 2, one of the best games in the series!

Originally, I was going to review the first Phantasy Star Portable game. I still intend to get to it at some point, but I felt that it was a bit too similar to Phantasy Star Portable 2 and Universe. I’d end up repeating myself a lot, so I figured I would just move onto the second game instead. Phantasy Star Portable 2 is one of my favorite RPGs, and is special to me. It’s the last Phantasy Star game ever released in America, and the newest of the series that I have played. It’s hard to believe that is has nearly been 7 series since this game was brought to American shelves. Without further adieu, let’s dive right into it!

Background Information

Phantasy Star Portable 2 is an action RPG that was released in 2009 in Japan, and brought over to the rest of the world near the end of 2010. The game was released exclusively for the PSP and was developed by Alfa System, who also developed several Tales games. The game received an expansion called Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity, but this was released exclusively in Japan and never brought over here.

Plot and Characters

It’s been three years since the events of Universe and peace has returned to the Gurhal system. You play as a mercenary (or former Guardian if you imported your save-file) who is visiting an old derelict relics site. While there, you happen across a young woman named Emilia. After meeting her, you luck suddenly takes a sharp dive as you both become trapped in the ruins. You eventually escape, but not before you bare witness to a strange spirit dwelling inside Emilia.

From there, you are recruited into a mercenary firm called “Little Wing” and are tasked with going on various missions, sometimes ones where you have to protect the galaxy! All the while, you keep encountering a strange teenage boy dressed in black, who also poses a threat to the entire Gurhal system. It’s up to you and your rag-tag group of allies to put a stop to this and protect the galaxy you have made home!

Yeah, it’s a pretty basic plot, to be honest. However, it does incorporate several elements from previous Phantasy Star games, as well as bring back some old characters from Universe. This was intended as the final game in the series (before the expansion pack and phone spinoff came out) and really does feel like a finale for the series. It doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, but it takes a lot of the elements and concepts from previous games and manages to roll with it.

The plot itself is divided into 10 chapters, and may take the player several hours to fully get through. The plot brings the player to various locations, including some taken from previous games. There’s also a great VR-themed level that takes you back to levels from the original Phantasy Star Online! Unfortunately, this variety works against the game, as it will often make the plot feel all over the place. On top of this, the reuse of certain levels makes the game feel a bit too formulaic at times.

Where the game really shines is in its characters. Usually, I can’t stand the generic anime stereotypes often present in Japanese RPGs. While the characters here felt like stereotypes, there was something extremely endearing about how they were written. The father-daughter relationship between Kraz and Emilia felt genuine to me. A hard-ass who drinks a lot taking care of a young girl who acted like a spoil-brat feels like something too common in real-life. It was so heartwarming seeing these characters trying to act as a family unit, despite the bizarre scenarios that often got in their way.

Other characters really stood out to me as well, like the warrior boy Yut, or the French femme fatale known as Chelsea. Lumia Waber, the sister of the protagonist of the first game has returned. She’s probably my favorite character, she went from being a generic happy-go-lucky sister to a no-nonsense tough girl. The only character I found myself not liking at all was the aforementioned Emilia. She was just too obnoxious and a lot of the plot involves our heroes dealing with her hissy-fits. It gets annoying after a while.

Phantasy Stork.png
Robots in swim-trunks?! Truly this game has everything.

Gameplay

Much like a lot of the games that came before it, Phantasy Star Portable 2 is an action RPG. You choose from one of four playable races, which are Beasts, CASTs, Newmans, and Humans. Each race has their own specific skills and attributes which makes them more unique than the others. For example, the Beasts are basically werewolves who turn into giant feral creatures to attack their enemies. Each race has a special “limit break” movie that lets them dish out some serious damage once their meter builds up.

Gameplay takes place from a third person perspective, putting you in the boots of a custom created character. You choose from one of four classes which are as follows: Hunter, Force, Ranger, and Vanguard. Each class has their own specific forte, with their own weaknesses and advantages. The game boasts over 30 different types of weapons, with thousands of unique individual weapons. Certain weapons will spawn with elemental attributes or special effects attached. This means that certain weapons can be more effective than others, even if they are generally “weaker” items.

The game takes on a linear mission structure, similar to past Universe and Online games. Each mission will take you about 20 to 30 minutes to complete, and there are a total of about 10 story chapters to complete. The game boasts a ton of optional side-quests and missions, along with a special award system that grants you items based on how many milestones you hit.

You can also upgrade your class and gain special stat bonuses, as well as upgrading the levels of weapons you’re allowed to use. This allows you some degree of customization when it comes to how you want each individual class to function. You can change classes back at Little Wing headquarters, as well as obtain new items and equipment.

Sadly, the classes aren’t too unique when compared to other similar games, or even other games in the series. This is more of a nitpick, but it irks me to see that the classes haven’t really changed all that much from the early days of Phantasy Star Online. It’s something I can live with, I just wish there were new and differing classes, because I feel that would add more variety.

Combat flows very nicely. It all unfolds in third-person, allowing you to attack, dodge, and block. You’ll have to learn to exploit enemy weaknesses, as well as focus on a variety of different weapons in order to win. The game is very tricky, and is not afraid to wipe you out for not playing carefully enough.

One feature I liked was room customization. You are given a room in the game, and tons of different decorations and themes to give it flare. It was fun playing multiplayer with friends and visiting their crazily designed rooms. I’ll get more into the multiplayer aspect in a second, but for now I want to touch on just how much I loved the room creation in this game. There were millions of options on how to decorate your room, with more unlocking as you completed the story. Normally, I hate this kind of thing in games. However, the sheer amount of insane decorations and furnishings you can dress up your room with was astounding.

While customization was a strong point in this game, sadly multiplayer didn’t stack up as well. Games were frequently laggy and slow, with occasional disconnections. I’m not sure if this was just my shoddy internet connection or not, but this was a frequent issue when I played. It gets more annoying when you start doing the special online quests that instantly fail when someone logs off, be it by accident or on purpose.

The online player community wasn’t as good either. I would frequently get into rooms with rather angry individuals or just all around disrespectful people. Not only that, but plays would frequently hack the game in order to max out their level cap. Hacking and cheating was extremely frequent in the game, and the devs did little to circumvent this. It was entirely possible to run into level 200 plays who would die in a couple of hits, which shouldn’t be possible in this game.

While the game did feature a highly improved battle mode, as well as the ability to visit the rooms of other players, this didn’t stop the multiplayer from being a chore at times. It’s sad that I had just as many bad memories with the multiplayer as I did good ones. I’ll be honest, I kind of miss that the online multiplayer is no longer functioning. Overall, I enjoyed the game, despite its various problems. The game’s challenging difficulty level of customization were a plus for me. Sadly, it falls short when it comes to multiplayer. On top of this, gameplay hasn’t changed all that much from previous entries. Despite it feel pretty much the same as old games, it’s refined enough that I can forgive this shortcoming.

Visual Stimuli

The game looks really good, I must say. While the graphics are pretty are definitely compressed to fit on that PSP screen, there’s still enough visual flare to make it look interesting. Voice-acting is okay, nothing too special there. Some voice actors/actresses don’t really pull their weight, and some can be a bit grating at times. A good example of this is Emilia’s voice actress, who sounds like she’s screaming every second line she says.

The voice-acting is decent enough at times, and there’s only real voice-work during the CGI cut-scenes, which don’t show up a whole lot. Still, it can be a bit annoying and distracting to players, especially people like me who play Phantasy Star solely for the gameplay and not the story.

Characters are well designed enough and definitely have a unique flare to them. Most of the main characters differ enough in design to feel like varied individuals, and a lot of the designs have a good look to them. Monster designs are okay, but sadly a lot of the monsters in this game are recycled from previous games. You’ll find yourself running into a lot of old enemies with slightly updated appearances, which can give off a feeling of “Been there, done that”.

Music in this game is fantastic, though again some of it is recycled from previous games. This doesn’t stop the tracks from still being amazing though. Almost each area in the game has a unique backing track to it, that surprisingly never gets old to me. Phantasy Star is a series that has always been known for its awesome music, so it’s hard to really find fault in the soundtrack of any of its games.

In short, I loved the music, character designs, and graphics, but felt that the monster designs and voice-work was a bit flimsy. The game definitely needed some extra polish in those areas, I must say. They aren’t really deal-breakers for me and don’t impact the whole package all that much. Still, the presentation has a tendency to be hit-or-miss at times.

In Summation

Despite its formulaic story, greatly lacking multiplayer (which is now defunct anyways), and recycled design, I still felt this was a fantastic game. Sure, it doesn’t do anything all that unique or groundbreaking, but really managed to refine the game-play of previous Phantasy Star games. Couple this with room customization, thousands of differing weapons to collect, and some really nice graphics, and you have a game that is still fun to play in the modern day.

Just be warned that this game can be very repetitive and grindy, and a single play-through of the main campaign can take many hours to complete. It’s a difficult and very challenging game that can require some careful thinking at times. In all honesty, I’d say this game is a forgotten classic. It isn’t as good as the original Phantasy Star or Phantasy Online games, but it’s still a fantastic game on its own. That’s why I can definitely say that this game is as sweet as syrup. Copies of this game aren’t super easy to find, but I highly recommend playing this game if you can track it down. It’s a fun little dungeon-crawler for PSP and an excellent successor to the Phantasy Star pedigree.

Sweet As Syrup: Toukiden 2 Review

I’ve made it no secret that I love Japanese games, especially ones that play like Monster Hunter. These Monster Hunter “clones” are one of the reasons I started this blog, and to this date dominate the subject of a ton of my posts. So, I thought today I’ll go back and revisit a series I haven’t touched in nearly 2 years. Today I wish to discuss the new Toukiden game, Toukiden 2. Is it better than the original? Did it change anything? Are the fox creatures still cute? Find out in this review!

Also, I’d like to give a shout-out to moco1982, who’s website you can find here. Moco was the one mentioned this game to me, and he’s the reason I got it. I originally had no plans on getting a new Toukiden game, but after both buying and play it, I am extremely glad I did!

2017-04-16-172816
I’m getting some MMO vibes from this…

Background Information

Toukiden 2 was an action RPG made for the PS Vita, PS3 (In Japan only), PS4, and PC. It was released in Japan mid-way through 2016, and was recently released in North America just last month. The game was developed by Omega Force, a company known for their work on Dynasty Warriors and its many spin-offs. The game was published by Tecmo-Koei and is the company’s second attempt at a Hunter-like game series. The company’s first foray into the genre was with the lesser-known title “Dynasty Warriors Strikeforce”.

Plot

The game starts off 10 years before the plot of the main game. You are a soldier, under the command of the great general Kuyo. During an attack by monsters, a gigantic demon appears and sends you tumbling through time into the current day. You arrive a few years after the events of the first game, in a brand new village. The village you’ve arrived in is dealing with various problems, including in-fighting between “Insiders” and “Outsiders”, as well as the ongoing threat posed by the Oni.

Not long into the game, you are introduced to the enigmatic Professor and her machine doll known as “Tokitsugu”. While the game boasts many varied characters, I found these two to be the most interesting and entertaining. I especially love the Professor and her overtly eccentric nature. He was such a blast to have as a supporting character, especially compared to a lot of the bland characters that showed up in the first few games.

While I liked the general setup of the plot, it left a lot to be desired in the long run. The first half of the game presents the in-fighting between the town’s two main factions in a rather realistic and unique light. Their rivalries felt like they had a purpose and showed the two clashing ideologies very well. The problem is that halfway through the game, suddenly a generic antagonist shows up. You can tell he’s the villain and your ultimate threat.

All of this interesting in-fighting and politics gets shoved aside for a generic “Let’s save the world” plot line that feels like they copy-pasted it from the last game. The game’s starting quarrel is resolved haphazardly at the end, while the new plot takes center stage. It feels like the game writers wanted to do two different plots, and both of them got mashed together into this unidentifiable substance.

While I did enjoy that first half of the plot, the forgettable second half really soured the mood for me. It’s not an overtly long main questline, so I never really felt like I stuck trudging through the second half all that much. I feel the game’s plot is just so-so, with two different arcs of varying quality. However, the plot of the game is only one part of the whole package. How does the gameplay hold up?

2017-04-16-132434
Shusuke will forever be remembered at that one guy who got eaten by a giant lizard. Upon his tombstone shall read “Tastes like chicken!”

Gameplay

Toukiden 2 is a game that may be deceiving at first glance. One may think that this is just another Monster Hunter clone, since all of the trappings are there. After all, this is a tird-person action RPG with a focus on slaying monsters and gaining new materials to craft weapons and armor. However, if you thought this was just another generic clone, you’d be mistaken.

Toukiden 2 manages to not only improve on the last two games, but also make some great additions to the genre as a whole! The game now boasts a fully realized open-world! You can now venture across the countryside in order to slay monsters, which is much appreciated. The game starts off by only giving you access to a few sections of the open-world at first, but they gradually open up as you play through the game.

The open-world is littered with a ton of side-quests and different events. Sadly, a lot of the side-quests are just meaningless fetch-quests. Sometimes, you’ll find a quest that does expand the lore a bit, but those are few and far between. Some side-quests can feel a bit tedious as well, especially the one at the start of the game which sends you out to look for three brothers, all scattered about across the land.

One annoyance that I found with the new open-world system, is the “Miasma” system. You see, early into the game you are sent into the Other-World. This is a dimension where demons reside, and as a result it’s filled with deadly miasma. Too much of it will instantly kill your character on the spot. Normally, this is easy to work around. You’ll usually have enough time to get to where you need to be long before the miasma takes you. On top of this, there are ways to purify your body and slow down the miasma gauge.

So, what’s the problem then? The problem comes with the exploration of the Other-World itself. You see, the game doesn’t have any real indication that you are about to go over your miasma level, aside from the gauge itself. This means you need your eyes trained on the corner of the screen at all times, which can get annoying. This can be especially troublesome if you’re running through an area where the miasma is high and run out of stamina. You see, when the miasma meter turns red, your stamina loses its regenerate. This means that once you enter these areas and are far enough in, you won’t be able to run back out in time to save yourself. This can make exploring the Other-World quite a chore.

The open-world also introduces special events called “Joint Operations”. During these missions, you’ll stumble across a Slayer or a fox-like creature known as a “Tenko”. After doing these Joint Operations, you’ll be joined by either of these beings. Slayers will only follow you temporarily, but will act as a fifth party member of your team. This can help in more difficult battles, when needing a fifth party member feels like a necessity.

Upon being rescued, Tenkos will leave the field and go over to your house. At that point, you can feed them and even change their voices or pelt color. They can even join you on missions, though they can’t actually attack anything. You can even equip them with Mitama that will give you extra bonuses in combat. Joint Operations are something that I felt was overall fairly rewarding. They were nice little instances that let you acquire temporary allies, or even adorable pets. I especially liked the changes made to the Tenko system, who were originally only there to gather items in the first two games.

That begs the question, who gathers items for you now? Well, in this game you are given Machina Dolls. They are like the Tenkos from the first game, but have the ability to be upgraded. At the start of the game, Machina Dolls will be nearly useless. They will fail missions 9 times out of 10, unless you fully upgrade them. This means a lot of material farming if you want your Machina in tip-top shape. Speaking of farming, the game mostly avoids this. Aside from upgrading Machina, I never really found myself farming for items and materials all that much.

Now, let’s discuss the main selling point of this game: The combat. The combat remains mostly unchanged from the past 2 games. There are a few new weapon types, and each new weapon gains a few new attacks. Battles still playing in the third-person, with you and 3-4 allies going up against monsters of varying sizes. The game sadly doesn’t introduce a whole lot of new bosses. Sure there are some mini-bosses, and about a dozen new bosses, but the game still feels lacking when it comes down to opponents. This is even more annoying when you take into account the fact that a lot of bosses from Kiwami didn’t make the cut.

Some of my favorite monsters from Kiwami, such as Metagnost and Mynx are noticeably absent. This is even more annoying when you realize that most of the cut bosses are available only as DLC. Worse still, they are only available in purchasable missions, and never appear in the open-world itself. While the game does introduce some new bosses, the variety just feels lacking.

What does add variety is the various weapons and ways to approach combat. With 11 different weapon types, it’s not hard to find something that will fit your play-style. The developers took this one step further and added in a sort of sub-weapon called a “Demon Hand”. The Demon Hand allows you to latch onto enemies and pull them towards you, or smash them into the ground. The Demon Hand can lead to some great combat tactics and feels like a fantastic addition to the game!

Another new feature added to combat is that you can now completely destroy the limbs of giant demons. While it’s true that in previous games you could chop the limbs off of an enemy, they would create a translucent duplicate that acts as a replacement. This meant that no matter how many limbs you cut off, they would simply grow back. However, with the Demon Hand, you can now completely eradicate the limbs of an enemy demon! It’s almost kind of heartbreaking to watch a giant demon spider flail about with no limbs. Then you remember that these demons have exterminated a fair portion of the human race, and all of that pity just disappears.

Last thing I want to talk about is the hub-town. This place is gigantic, and I love it! It’s got some unique looking buildings, but also houses a variety of fun and interesting NPCs. Activities from previous games are all available here, such as the Pool of Purity, or the various item shops available to player. There isn’t a whole lot for the player to do here, but the fact the player needs to use the services provided here gives you an excuse to return back to town when you can.

I generally felt the gameplay was a step up from the first two games. While combat remains mostly the same, I found the addition of things like the new weapon types and Demon Hands to be a welcome change. The open world introduced by this game feels vast and unique, despite the fact that it feels woefully underpopulated in terms of unique monsters. The miasma system can also be a nuisance at times, as well. Generally though, I felt that the game really shined in what it was trying to accomplish. It’s an open world RPG where you hunt monsters, and I feel it delivered on those elements despite its shortcomings.

2017-04-17-145522
Howl’s Moving Castle, eat your heart out!

Visual Stimuli

The game looks pretty good, primarily on Vita. I haven’t played the other versions, so I’m basing all my opinions off of this iteration. Honestly, everything looks pretty good and is well-designed. Faces can look a bit weird at times during CGI cut-scenes though. The Professor’s face in particular always looked strangely alien to me during these scenes, as if we weren’t meant to see her in such detail. I can’t really put my finger on it, she just gives off an uncanny valley look.

The music is decent, but it’s nothing that will really stick with you after playing the game. There’s nothing super heart-pounding when it comes to the soundtrack, nothing that really feels too grandiose. It’s good enough that its easy to listen to, but it’s more than likely none of it will get stuck in your head.

The game uses the Japanese audio track, and they do their job very well. I especially love Tokitsugu’s voice and how well his voice actor emotes. Oddly enough, I’m glad this game series doesn’t have English audio. It feels natural to have all of these Japanese characters speak in their native language. Characters are well designed and look nice, with lots of them varying wildly in appearance. There was never a character in the game that I felt looked exactly like the other. Likewise, I enjoyed the visual flair given to each piece of armor in the game. This allowed the armors to look very different from each other, and made them feel wholly unique.

The game runs pretty well most of the time. It caps at about 30 frames per second on the Vita, and runs smoothly with little lag. I have noticed several glitches or bugs in the game, but nothing game-breaking. A glitch that really annoyed me was one that made it so characters don’t appear right away. You have no idea how annoying it is to go to the blacksmith, only to have him mysteriously absent with no explanation.

While the game does have some performance issues here or there, it wasn’t anything that soured the mood too much. Designs were varied, even if some of them looked a bit awkward during CGI cut-scenes. All in all, I felt the production values for this game were great, despite the shortcomings. Koei and Omega Force will definitely have to polish the game up more for when they eventually come out with Toukiden 3.

 

In Conclusion

The game was good, and a definite improvement over its predecessors. It adds an open world, some new gameplay mechanics, as well as some elements to help crafting be less of a chore. However, it does have some graphical issues and bugs, a lack of new and original bosses, and a story that’s too short and unfocused. The big question is this: Is this game as sweet as syrup? I find it hard to say if it is or isn’t. It’s a great game, but it certainly has issues.

I enjoyed my time with the game and still play it, but I still have trouble saying that it was as sweet as syrup or not. I recommend this game to people who like Monster Hunter or games that play like it. I especially recommend this game to people who always wanted to play an open-world version of Monster Hunter. However, I feel like people who don’t play these kinds of games may not get as much enjoyment out of them. In short: Great game, but difficult to recommend.

Sweet As Syrup: Mass Effect 1 Review

One of my favorite genres of media are sci-fi, which is a little redundant to say. After all, isn’t there a stereotype about all nerds loving sci-fi? Regardless, it’s always been a unique subject for anyone to handle and it makes for some truly unique and memorable experiences in any form of media. However, I’ve always felt sci-fi was best depicted in videogame form. It’s really the only form of media that sends you into these bizarre sci-fi worlds, allowing you to live the life of an intrepid space adventurer, or a cosmic bounty hunter. Scenarios like this make sci-fi videogames very palatable indeed.

I think that’s why I gravitate towards Mass Effect so much, it really captures that feel of adventuring in space. It’s hard to find an RPG experience as solid and entertaining as the original Mass Effect. An open-world RPG that puts you in the cool-looking space armor of Commander Shepherd. Why do I love this game so much when compared to the other games in the series? Well, you’ll find out right here in this review!

mass_effect_3_trilogy_1_image_1
Politics have never felt so… Alien.

Background Information

Mass Effect was a game developed by prolific game developer Bioware, and was released in 2007. Bioware’s idea behind the title was to create their own sci-fi universe and game to go along with it. Bioware had previously done work on Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic, and wanted to try their hand at a completely original property. Thus, the Mass Effect series was born. Mass Effect 1 was released to critical acclaim and ended up selling half a million copies in the span of a few months. Since then, Mass Effect has become a staple of the company and is one of Bioware’s best-selling franchises.

Plot and Setting

Mass Effect is set in a sci-fi universe that draws a lot of elements from both the real-world, as well as cosmic horror. Sprinkle in some more generalized science-fiction elements, and you have the making of what is essentially a universe that both feels real and feels very alien. This mixture creates something wholly unique, giving the player access to various star systems to fully explore as well as many adventures to undertake. Mass Effect did what few games before it have managed to do: Make you feel like a true star-ship captain in a world rife with both exploration and danger.

The game itself puts you in the shoes of Commander Shepherd, a protagonist who the player can fully customize. Shepherd is about to become the first human “Spectre” ever, a proud member of the Federation and one of the special few who are given full access to travel the galaxy. Unfortunately, during a routine mission on Eden-Prime, everything goes horribly wrong. A Taurian Spectre ends up dead, robotic entities once thought gone return, and an entirely new threat rears its ugly head.

It is up to Shepherd to take up the mantle of Spectre, form a team of various alien species, and do battle against forces that threaten the galaxy. I’m oversimplifying the plot quite a bit, as I don’t want to spoil too much of it. Mass Effect 1 has one of the best RPG stories I’ve seen in a game, and something that truly feels unique. The most unique pull of this game is player choices.

The story and outcomes of certain side-quests and events hinge on player choice. While most major events will remain the same no matter the choice, certain choices during the game will affect how people view you. Characters in the game will make reference to your behavior in certain scenarios. For example, Admiral Hackett will give you a firm scolding if you decide to punch out the female reporter. Another example is that you’ll have access to a ton of extra side-quests if you decide to spare everyone when saving this one colony from a mind-controlling plant. It’s stuff like this that makes the player feel more like an important person in this fictional galaxy.

The story isn’t perfect though, it has a large amount of flaws that I’ve taken notice of. Dialogue scenes are usually fairly awkward, with characters barely moving around at all. It seems like almost all NPCs share 4 or 5 different animations, causing them to feel more like robots than aliens. Also, I was annoyed by how almost all allies you can get in the game are acquired on either Eden-Prime or The Citadel. This is kind of annoying, since it means you’ll get 5 out of 6 possible party members right out of the gate.

Most RPGs make it so you acquire your party over the course of the game. Giving the play almost all of them within the first two hours feels a bit like overload. After all, we were just introduced to this world and setting. Having all of these party members available to the player just feels like overload. It just seems excessive, is all. Another problem with the story is that it often sends you on missions that don’t feel relevant to the story at all. You’ll be sent on missions that feel more like filler than anything else, ones that feel like they don’t factor into the overarching narrative. This makes the plot feel rather padded at times, which is something I wasn’t a fan of.

Despite the fluff and somewhat awkward intro, the game has a pretty good plot overall. It’s entertaining enough to keep you invested in the 20-40 hours you’ll spend playing this game. Just be warned that the game’s story doesn’t have the best pacing and that it’s awkward character animations may stand in the way of you getting fully immersed in this world.

Gameplay

I’ll say this outright: Mass Effect 1 is one of the few games I’ve played that have managed to expertly weave elements of role-playing games with third-person shooters to a masterful degree. It ain’t perfect and it’s got a lot of problems, but it’s still a good mixture of what makes both genres great. Allow me to go into detail on what I mean. Mass Effect is an RPG by nature and a third-person shooter by design. Combat often takes place in locations that may seem generic, but manage to feel like locations you’d see in an actual sci-fi universe.

You are given full control over Shepherd during combat, at which point the game plays like a typical third-person shooter. You can take cover behind objects to avoid bullets, fire back at your enemies using a multitude of different fire-arms, or use special abilities unique to your class. That’s right, the game boasts over 6 classes with a focus being on weapons, technology, or Biotics. Weapons and tech are self-explanatory, while Biotics are basically this game’s equivalent of magic. You can use Biotic powers to fling enemies around, throw them high into the air, or even freeze them in place. I honestly enjoyed playing as Biotic so much that every time I played the game, I made sure I chose a class that had some kind of focus on it.

While in combat, you are also aided by two allies. Unfortunately, their AI is pretty dumb, so their only real purpose is soaking up the hits for you. You can bark orders at them using the radial menu, but even then that doesn’t stop them from being stupid beyond all reason. Very often, your allies will charge ahead and get completely curb-stomped before you can ever fire a bullet. The enemy AI tends to be better, but it depends more on the kind of opponents you’re facing. Robots are easy to take out, since they barely take cover and can easily be destroyed by tech-oriented classes. On the other hand, Krogans are like walking tanks that can easily wreck you if they get the chance.

One of the most annoying aspects of gameplay comes in the form of the game’s various side-quests. Several side-quests help flesh out the world quite a bit, including introducing and focusing on concepts and characters that won’t become important until the sequels. On the other hand, most side-quests are meaningless fetch quests or obnoxious collection quests. The game has way too many collection quests, most of which are scattered all over the galaxy. So, you either need to scour every planet for the relics and dog-tags you need, or read through a walkthrough. I somehow managed to complete the one on The Citadel where you have to find and scan all the Keepers, who are bunch of bug-like aliens. This took me somewhere close to 2 hours, just because of how scattered these little critters are.

Another major problem is with the open-world exploration this game touts. You see, you can beam down and land on over 20 planets in this game, and explore a fair bit of the planet’s surface. The problem is that most planets are vacant with an extreme absence of life, very little activities to do on said planet, and are almost always difficult to navigate. The exploration becomes a chore due to the way the Normandy controls. It seems to spaz about uncontrollably with a mere tilt of the game’s camera. As a result, it becomes an arduous task to even drive in a straight line. God help you if you’re on a planet like Nodacrux, which is full of mountains that are nearly impossible for the Mako to properly traverse.

The game’s RPG elements are definitely the shining point in the gameplay department. There are tons of different weapons, armor, and upgrades to collect. Sadly, the inventory system is extremely chaotic. Choosing skills for both you and your party members and upgrading them the way you want is extremely satisfying. Sadly, few RPGs nowadays incorporate classic tropes like this anymore.

I felt the combat and exploration to be a bit sub-standard, but I definitely dug what the game was trying to do with its RPG elements. Talking to people, roleplaying as a space captain, and adventuring my way across the galaxy felt satisfying. Too bad the satisfaction was also offset with a lot of frustration when it came to driving controls and AI programming. Regardless, this game did a fantastic job of drawing me in with its gameplay.

Visual Stimuli

The game looks great for its time and has aged remarkably well. Sure, character animations can be a bit stiff and repetitive, but the amazing voice acting brings their wooden emotions to life. This game boasts the voice-acting chops of veterans like Jennifer Hale, Keith David, Mark Meer, and even Lance Henrikson! Heck, even Seth Green sounded great as the wise-cracking Joker. That’s saying a lot coming from a guy who doesn’t enjoy Green’s work all that much.

The music is great and sounds very atmospheric. It manages to capture vibes of both sci-fi and horror, while at the same time managing to sound unique and futuristic. The effects are okay, but lack a bit of punch at times. Some of the sound effects really got on my nerves though, especially the one that sounds whenever you equip something. Still, some awkward sound effects here and they never really got in the way of me enjoying the game itself.

In Summation

Mass Effect 1 is a great game and classic, but not without some major problems. This comes in the form of both the game’s somewhat archaic design philosophy, coupled with a company’s first attempt at blending FPS and RPG game-play styles together. What we have is a well-constructed game, that lacks polish in the gameplay department. Couple that with awkward character animations, and a crappy inventory system, you get a game that normally would be a chore to play through.

Luckily though, Mass Effect wins you over with its charm and its unique take on the sci-fi genre. It doesn’t feel like just another game that’s trying to be Star Wars or Star Trek, it feels like a game that is trying to surpass it. It may lack polish and refinement, but it’s definitely classy enough to remain relevant, even years after its release. It’s not a perfect game, nor is it some kind of “Ultimate Super Special Masterpiece”.

It’s a great game with a solid team behind it, who poured their passion and soul into this product. That’s why I can say without a doubt that this game is as sweet as syrup. However, I recommend it more for people who are fans of RPGs. If you’re a third-person shooter guy, you probably won’t enjoy this game too much. There are much better alternative for FPS games out there, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an action RPG out there that is as enjoyable and well-written as this game.