Also available on PlayStation 3
Yakuza Kiwami (translates as Yakuza "Extreme") is a full remake of the original PlayStation 2 game with a slightly expanded story to flesh out some elements that had been only lightly touched on the original as well as dramatically improving the graphics, animations, and combat system. Even though I own Yakuza and Yakuza 2 on PlayStation 2 and Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 4 on PlayStation 3, this was actually my first experience with the Yakuza series. While it wasn't at all what I was expecting, I was very quickly made into a devout fan of the series, and I can't wait for Yakuza Kiwami 2 to make its way to the West eventually.
Going into the game with bare minimum knowledge of its story and gameplay beforehand, I was expecting a modern Japanese version of The Godfather. In a way, that's what I got, but not the way I had envisioned. I had expected a GTA-style sandbox game like the video game adaptation of The Godfather. What I got (which, in hindsight, I think is MUCH better) was a third person action adventure game with an EXTREMELY heavy focus on narrative. The gameplay didn't resemble that of The Godfather at all, but it continually reminded me a LOT of the story of The Godfather (an amazing novel and the greatest motion picture of all time). This is the mafia game I never knew I wanted.
Without spoiling anything, the basic premise of the story is that you play as one of the top lieutenants for a subsidiary of the Dojima Family, one of the major yakuza families of the Tojo Clan. You were all set up to be given your own family when you ended up being sent to prison for ten years for murder. When you get out, you learn that the world changed a LOT from 1995 to 2005, and there are machinations deeper than anything you could imagine in the world of Tokyo's organized crime syndicates, and like it or not, you're pulled into the storm of violence and deception headfirst.
Unlike the original PlayStation 2 game, you don't have the option of English voice acting in Yakuza Kiwami. All you get is the Japanese voice acting with English subtitles, and while that was a little bit disappointing to me at first, the Japanese voice acting is EXTREMELY well done. The music is great, but the voice acting really does steal the show in the audio department. Some of the random incidental characters have so-so voice actors, but the primary and secondary characters are all extremely well done, and that quality in voice casting puts you more in the story than anything else. You can hear the emotion of the characters as they're thrown into various emotional turmoil.
Overall, the game controls extremely well. The combat can feel a bit awkward at first as it's not nearly as straightforward a beat 'em up as it appears at a glance. Once you get a feel for the combat, the combos, and the four fight styles, though, it feels fantastic to beat the snot out of street punks and curbstomp enforcers from rival yakuza families. You do get to use weapons, both melee and ranged, in the game, but the melee weapons break quickly, and the ranged weapons have EXTREMELY limited with no option to stockpile ammo and reload (we're talking like 3-6 shots for most guns), but bought guns can be repaired/reloaded at a weapon shop for a fee. Unfortunately, weapons that you pick up from defeated enemies or in the environment can't be repaired; they just kind of vanish into the ether when they break. I ended up weapons pretty rarely - I'd save the ones I bought in my inventory for bosses and only use weapons against random grunt enemies if they dropped a sword or a gun.
You can tell that, even on PS4, the game was original developed for PlayStation 3, but even despite that, it looks fantastic, and it runs nearly flawlessly. Very rare did I encounter any hiccups or stutters in performance, and unless you're right up against a wall or something, the textures and model details look extremely good. The character models, especially, look great. Some of the collisions can be a little wonky with chairs and tables clipping through enemies a bit when you use them as weapons, but those situations are few and far between for the most part.
One of the great things about Yakuza Kiwami (or terrible depending on how pressed for time you are) is the variety of minigames. You've got bowling, mahjong, various dice based gambling games, and - my personal favorite - Pocket Circuit! The others are all fine or whatever, but POCKET CIRCUIT, DUDE. You basically customize this tiny mechanical car with different parts and race three other cars on increasingly complex tracks. There's no direct control over the cars, but you can control if and when you boost, and sometimes your car starts to fly off the track or something, and you have to smash the circle button repeatedly in hopes that you can keep it on the track. It does get frustrating in the harder races because there's a LOT of RNG involved in that minigame, but it's CRAZY addicting. I think I literally probably spent four or five hours of playthrough just on Pocket Circuit races.
Yakuza Kiwami is one of the greatest narrative based games that I've ever played. It's got definite role playing elements - you get experience to unlock skills - but it always feels more like an action adventure game than an RPG. Regardless of what genre you decide to call it, this is a game that every PlayStation 4 owner (or PlayStation 3 if you can speak/read Japanese) needs to play. It's an absolutely incredible journey that will absolutely tear at your hearstrings at times, and I'm ashamed that it took me so long to play it. It took him a while, but after a slew of crappy games, Colin FINALLY suggested a good game for me to play, and damn, what a game that was. This is an absolute must play.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4 and Windows
This review is dedicated to my mother who FINALLY realized that even though I'm an adult with a career, I'd rather get video games for Christmas than socks.
Shadow of War is the much anticipated sequel to Shadow of Mordor, and I had to force myself to resist the urge to pre-order it in my mortal struggle to stop buying things I can't afford. Fortunately my mother is a paragon of goodness and got me the Xbox One release for Christmas (bless her soul) knowing that I wanted to play it with the Xbox One X enhancements. Needless to say, this was the first game I played when I got home from visiting family.
Shadow of War takes almost everything that made Shadow of Mordor great and expands upon it. I say almost because the one thing that I felt took a hit in the sequel was the narrative. The story is very nicely tied up at the end (as opposed to the "screw you, buy the sequel" cliffhanger of the first game), but overall, it felt a lot less compelling and enthralling to me than Shadow of Mordor. With regards to gameplay, visuals, and replayability, however, Shadow of War definitely raised the bar. Whereas the first game's plot largely revolved around revenge for your murdered family, Shadow of War is all about Celebrimbor's bizarre obsession with Sauron and the realization of his goal to become a pointy eared zombie Hitler.
The game is absolutely gorgeous, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to play on Xbox One rather than PlayStation 4. While it still looks great on PS4 Pro, not only does the One X run the game at a full 2160p (as opposed to upscaled 1440p) but the One X uses the high resolution textures from the PC release whereas the PS4 Pro uses the lower resolution textures for the standard console releases. Either system will give you a beautiful game, obviously, but if I've got both systems, I might as well try to get the best image out of my 4K screen, yeah? And man, did it look beautiful. Cinematics looked photorealistic, and the environment looked absolutely believable up until you were practically right up against a wall specifically looking for flaws. It's a remarkable graphical accomplishment, and it makes me excited to see what developers will be able to do with the One X down the line.
If you've played Shadow of Mordor, you pretty much know what to expect from the game's combat, and the overall gameplay is basically Shadow of Mordor but more. You get to brainwash/recruit orc captains to fight for you, but Shadow of War takes that a step further and lets you conquer entire regions of Mordor and choose and overlord and warchiefs from your captains and assign captains to guard your warchiefs or ambush enemy captains. You have to defend these citadels from orc attacks, and you can even attack other players' citadels although the defenses are handled by AI. Still, though, that online component gives the game a lot of replayability, especially with the little big of customization you can do for your defenses and attacks. Regardless of whether you're perfecting your warchiefs' defenses or setting up your assault teams to attack and conquer other forts, you get a bit of agency; each warchief or assault team leader you add gives you three upgrade options that improve your power. For defense, for example, you could add spikes that prevent enemies from climbing your walls or a captive dragon that spews balefire out of your gate at attackers. For your assault teams, you could reinforce them with sappers that suicide bomb enemy gates or siege beasts that fling poisonous projectiles over enemy walls. It adds a certain element of strategy that gives the base attacks and defenses an added depth.
Shadow of War is, at the end of the day, an action RPG, but it's a bit different from your norm. The combat follows the formula that WB perfected in the Batman Arkham games and adapted for lethal Lord of the Rings combat as opposed to "don't kill people" Batman combat. When you gain levels and skill points, you have a few dozen different skills you can unlock that are always active, but each of those skills have two or three enhancements that you can unlock. The catch, though, is that one enhancement can be active per skill, so you have choose. Do you spend your skill points by unlocking one enhancement per skill, or do you go all-in on a skill and switch out enhancements as the situation calls for it? By the end of the game (the level cap is 60), you'll have every skill and every enhancement unlocked, and if you went for 100% completion like I did, you'll probably finish the game with three or four skill points left over with nothing on which to spend them. Those skills and enhancements should not be underestimated, though; they can mark the difference between victory and defeat, and they can easily turn a brutally difficult fight into a laughably easy victory.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is one of the greatest Lord of the Rings gaming experiences available, and I say that as an AVID and passionate fan of The Third Age (which seriously needs an HD remaster). The combat is intense at times can feel insurmountable, but aside from a few instances of BS immunity combos in enemy captains, it's completely manageable with some skill and patience. I didn't notice any major difficulty spikes nor did I notice any points where the game felt too easy. The whole thing had a very Goldilocks feel with regards to challenge, and the agency it gave you over strategy and how to attack enemy strongholds gave you the sense that you had real influence in the outcome of events in Mordor. If you enjoy the combat in the Arkham games, the definitely give both Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War a shot, and if you're a serious Lord of the Rings fan, then there's no debate - this game is an absolute must play.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Game Boy and PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows via Disney Afternoon Collection
A game that I decided to play through for Racketboy's January 2018 Together Retro event, Duck Tales is a licensed platformer from back in day when that wasn't synonymous with "garbage shovelware." Interest in the game saw a resurgence a few years back when WayForward released their remake of the game (which was bloody brilliant), but those of us who played the original always knew what a gem this game was.
For those who don't know, Duck Tales follows Scrooge McDuck - richest duck in the world - on his quest to get even richer. Like, there's actually no reason for Scrooge McDuck to be the hero of the game except that he's the protagonist and everyone loves Donald Duck (unless you're playing Kingdom Hearts). Regardless, though, Scrooge is presented as the game's hero, and with his nephews making cameos along the way, it's hard not to love this otherwise scummy capitalist mallard.
The game's visuals are bright and colorful, a testament to what skilled programmers could do with the NES hardware. Even more enjoyable the the visuals, though, is the music. The soundtrack for the game is absolutely phenomenal, especially the music in the Moon level. In my opinion, the music is more nostalgic for me than the actual gameplay itself. The platforming is great, but the use of the cane both to attack and "pogo" felt really iffy to me, only responding the way I expected it to about 3/4 of the time. It wasn't bad, per se, but it didn't feel as reliable as I might have liked.
The level design is much more in-depth than most platformers of the era. There are branching paths and dead ends in the level, and it's not always clear how to get to your destination in the level. Some paths will lead to greater riches but in the opposite direction of the boss, and there's a time limit working against you all the while. It's a great use of risk vs reward, and it makes the game good for at least a couple playthroughs before you run out of stuff you haven't seen before.
Duck Tales isn't without its flaws, but it's an exceptional 8-bit platformer. The jumping is tight and responsive even if the cane controls aren't quite as tight as I'd like. The visuals are bright and colorful, and the music is an auditory delight. You can play the levels in any order, so if there's a particular level you really love, you can just pop in the cartridge and go straight to that level. I, personally, think WayForward's remake is an overall better game, but that's not to disparage the original in the slightest; it's still one of the finest licensed games on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Despite my insistence that the original Phantasy Star on Sega Master System is the greatest JRPG of the 8-bit era, I don't have a lot of experience with the series as a whole; this makes only the second game in the series that I've actually finished. I wasn't really sure what to expect with this one knowing that it was an action RPG instead of a JRPG, but whatever I expected, this wasn't it.
The basic premise of Phantasy Star Portable is that the SEED - this alien thingy - that was supposedly sealed away has started reappearing, and you're part of a team that's looking into why and trying to contain the threat before word gets out and causes a general panic throughout the Guhral system. You get some pretty good freedom to customize your character with multiple character types (gunman, balanced hunter, tank, etc) and four species from which to choose (human, Neuman, Beast, and CAST). You meet a cast of characters of all four races, but unfortunately, only one or two of them are at all interesting, and even those two are only mildly interesting. Most characters are completely flat and uninspired.
The game's quests follow a strict pattern - chapter of two or three story missions, mandatory random free mission, chapter of two or three story missions, mandatory random free mission. Rinse and repeat for eight chapters. Each of the free missions have four levels with the only difference being the level of the enemies. Great for grinding. Not much good for anything else as none of them are particularly interesting. I mean, the story missions weren't super interesting in my opinion, but they were at least enough to keep the narrative moving even if utterly predictable.
The visuals and soundtrack were both fine. The PSP isn't exactly a graphical powerhouse (although better than the DS), but the game manages to do decently well with what the system had to work with. The soundtrack is your typical generic JRPG affair - classical music trying perhaps a little too hard to sound dramatic. The scores are all well composed, but nothing really stands out like Final Fantasy VII's or Legend of Zelda's superb soundtracks or Xenoblade Chronicles X's....unique....soundtrack. The voice acting, on the other hand, definitely stands out and for all the wrong reasons. It's simply abysmal. Much worse than Crisis Core's voice acting was. If you had told me the dialogue was recorded in the mid 90s, I'd have believed you without hesitation. It's that bad.
Phantasy Star Portable isn't a bad game, but it's not exactly what I'd call a good game. It falls smack dab in the middle. It's the Purgatory of RPGs. I didn't hate playing it, but at no point would I say I was having fun. It's probably a lot better playing multiplayer with some folks, but considering that I don't have friends (at least none with PSPs who live near me and own Phantasy Star Portable), that wasn't really an option for me. Okay story, god awful voice acting, mundane combat, and repetitive dungeons all make this an extraordinarily "meh" game. My current stance on Phantasy Star - unless a game convinces me otherwise later - is that it's better as a JRPG than an ARPG.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Windows
Super Lucky's Tale is a game that I received as a Christmas gift from my mom this year, and as a big fan of platformers, I was eager to try it (I played this before starting Shadow of War which she also gave me this year for Christmas). I wasn't really too sure what to expect going in, and while I definitely enjoyed my time with Super Lucky's Tale, those relatively low expectations helped it.
Super Lucky's Tale is a fairly short 3D platformer that can be beaten in a couple of sittings (or, like I did today, one roughly 10 hour sitting). You know that generic "low budget platformer" feel that a lot of these animal mascot platformers had in the early and mid 90s? Imagine that in 4K, and that's pretty much what Super Lucky's Tale is. It's a completely average but totally playable 3D platformer with an extremely forgettable anthropomorphic mascot. The best comparison I can think to make is that it feels like a low budget Banjo-Kazooie (I haven't played Yooka-Laylee yet, so I can't say which one feels more like that).
The game is actually a sequel to Lucky's Tale, a game that was released exclusively for Oculus Rift, although I doubt anyone aside from Rift users have ever heard of it. As I said, it's a fairly short game - there are only four worlds each of which are divided into five levels plus a boss. Each world has four clovers to collect - one from collecting the five L-U-C-K-Y letters, one from collecting 300 coins, one from finding a secret area, and one just for completing the level. It's extraordinarily easy to get at least two of these - the one for 300 coins and the one for completing the level - and after the first world, I usually got three of the four clovers on my first run although it varied from level to level if the clover for the five letters or the one for the secret area was easier. To fully "complete" the game, you need to collect 99 clovers.
Other than its general mediocrity, the game's biggest weaknesses are the camera and the control precision. The camera is generally okay, but there are certain levels and obstacles where it becomes counterproductive. Sometimes the camera keeps you from seeing where a platform is, sometimes it makes it difficult to gauge where on the Z axis a trap is, often it make it difficult to tell where on the Z axis an enemy is if you're trying to jump on it, and it's sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a platform and ancillary background decoration. It's not game breaking, but it's definitely not an infrequent a frustration. As for the controls, they're fine, but they're a far cry from the refined feel of Mario, Donkey Kong, or Banjo. Your jump feel unusually short for a platformer, and that's especially true of the double jump. Whether or not Lucky grabs onto a ledge seems completely random, and the mid-air movement strikes an awkward balance between "yes, you can move your character in mid-air" and "no, you're stuck where you are on the X axis" that leaves it feeling like you're swimming through jelly when you're in the air.
All things considered, Super Lucky's Tale is a competent 3D platformer, but don't expect the likes of Super Mario 64 or Donkey Kong Country here. Hardcore fans of platformers will likely find its imprecise controls and fairly hand-off camera frustrating, but there's still some enjoyment to be had. The game's difficulty is pretty low up until the last boss, so it's a good fit for either a game to help unwind after a hard day at work or for younger kids. It's never going to be a "greatest hits" candidate, and it'll be completely forgotten in a year (although it seems to have been largely forgotten at launch), but if you can find it for $15 or $10, it's not bad if you need that collectathon platformer itch scratched.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Final Fantasy VII is one of my favorite RPGs, and that's the case for a lot of folks my age and bit older. It was a brilliantly told story with what was at the time cutting edge visuals and gameplay mechanics. Even today it is the most iconic entry in the MASSIVE Final Fantasy series. I mean, despite having never appeared on a Nintendo platform, the game's protagonist, Cloud, was a DLC character for the recent Super Smash Bros on 3DS and Wii U. So how does this prequel released ten years later hold up?
In a bit of a departure from the hybrid real time/turn based Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core is a straight action RPG with freedom to move about the field and all of the combat taking place at once. The game's protagonist this time is a SOLDIER named Zack (who looks a lot like Cloud with black hair), and the story revolves around his attempt to unravel a mystery about a surge in the number of mysterious monsters and SOLDIER members going missing. It takes place shortly before the events of Final Fantasy VII and ends right before the original begins, and Tifa, Cloud, Aerith, and Sephiroth all make appearances to one degree or another in the game, but the action is definitely all about Zack.
The game's visuals are probably the highlight as they're extremely impressive for the PSP, and the cut scenes are probably the best looking of any game on the system. Unfortunately the music doesn't quite hold up to the original (although there is an interesting arrangement of One Winged Angel), and the voice acting feels stiff and amateur. Whether it's because of that sub-par voice acting or bad writing, I can't say, but at no point was I really engaged by the story. It didn't straight up repel me or anything, but I never got sucked in, and that's a big strike against an RPG in my book.
From what I've read, there were more scenes to the game that expand on Zack's and Cloud's friendship (which was the most interesting component of the story in my opinion) that had to be removed due to the limitations of the UMD format, and I think those missing scenes could have added some real depth to the story and the character dynamics. The character development throughout the game - especially Zack and, to a lesser extent, Sephiroth - are definitely the highlights of the game's narrative. A lot of RPGs have a hard time developing characters in a way that is gradual enough to feel real without keeping them too static, I've noticed, and to Crisis Core's credit, it manages to strike a pretty good balance for the most part.
All things considered, Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII is a competent action RPG for Sony's first handheld console, but it's not a great Final Fantasy game. Hardcore fans of Final Fantasy VII will want to give it a playthrough at the very least to get more of the world's story and lore, but for more casual fans of the game or relative newcomers to Final Fantasy, this is a definite "maybe" game. If you see it cheap or know a friend who has it and will let you borrow it to play it, then sure, do that, but don't go out of your way.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Castlevania for Nintendo 64 (I don't care what Konami officially named it; it's Castlevania 64) is a game that I convinced Colin to order when he was drunk. Colin didn't have a Nintendo 64, however - a fact he realized once he'd sobered up. In a massive cargo container full of other games and Gundam DVDs and such, he decided to give the game (which was complete in box, I might add) to me. Naturally, since I kind of convinced him to buy it in the first place, I had to play it.
This is the first 3D Castlevania game, and while it's competent enough for a first venture into 3D, it hasn't aged particularly well. The visuals are okay but a bit muddied even by N64 standards, and the controls aren't exactly precise. It's all perfectly playable, but it's apparent that it was a relatively early effort on the system. The prequel, Legacy of the Darkness, that was released later, takes advantage of the RAM to use higher resolution textures, which I imagine would make a big difference in terms of how well the game has aged. In terms of genre, it's what you'd expect from Castlevania - an adventure platformer but in 3D. The game features two characters, and I played as Reinhardt Schneider, a descendant of the Belmont Clan and heir to the Vampire Killer whip. Needless to say, his quest is to defeat Dracula and fulfill his family's destiny for the next 100 years. Little known fact - Raccoon City was actually in Transylvania, and before the Umbrella Corporation acquired the mansion, it served as Dracula's castle. Like legit, the Villa level looks so much like the mansion in the original Resident Evil that there's no way it was just a coincidence. I liked that, though, because Resident Evil had one of the greatest settings in survival horror history. Over the course of your quest, you find that Dracula has quite the troupe of vampires in his castle, and you'll have to deal with them quickly or else suffer vampirism which will kill you after a few minutes. It's a cool albeit at times frustrating feature.
The music is fairly mediocre - nothing bad but nothing impressive - but the voice acting, while sparse, is pretty impressive for the Nintendo 64 where it is featured. A cartridge with far more limited capacity than its CD counterparts isn't exactly known for featuring robust voice acting, but there actually were a couple of bits of voice acting, and it was pretty impressive. The general sound effects were also well done, giving the game a distinctly creepy but not "horror" atmosphere; you could definitely tell that you were in a place not meant for humans, but it didn't go so far as to give the legitimately scary vibe of Resident Evil, and I think that's an important tone balance to strike for Castlevania.
The most frustrating part of Castlevania 64 isn't the difficulty but WHY it's difficult. It's not difficult for the same reasons as Super Castlevania IV, for example - that game was hard because it required a lot of memorization and careful jumps. This game, on the other hand, is difficult because of imperfect controls and questionable design choices. Some of the platforming segments require almost pixel perfect precision in a game with imprecise controls and a low resolution making that kind of precision extremely difficult. There are also a couple of segments that just seem overly convoluted to me - get from one end of a stage all the way to the other while carrying a chemical that will explode and instantly kill you if you jump or take a single hit anywhere along the way with several sections that require extreme precision while avoiding enemy attacks along the way. There are climbing parts where you have to jump and climb various ledges with instant death water below, but it's sometimes rather hit or miss whether or not Reinhardt actually grabs the ledge or just plummets. I know that Castlevania games have a legacy for being difficult, but this seemed less like good design challenge and more iffy design.
Overall, I did enjoy Castlevania 64, but it was definitely more frustrating than I think it needed to be and for the wrong reasons. The visuals are about par for an early N64 game going for a realistic art style, but the controls really left a lot to be desired. I'd be interesting in playing Legacy of Darkness to see where Konami improved from this first attempt, but there was definitely some room for improvement here. Given that, from my understanding, Legacy of Darkness includes this original with the improvements, I'd recommend folks skip this one (unless you find it dirt cheap) and go straight for that.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation Vita and Xbox One
You know how most series have "that game"? The one game that breaks form, tries something new with mixed results, and is generally not well regarded? This is the Valkyria Chronicles' series "that game." Taking place in a separate Europa from the main series' universe, Valkyria Revolution sheds its predecessors' hybrid-but-leaning-turn-based combat for hybrid-but-leaning-real-time combat, and while it's good for a series to try to keep itself fresh, this was perhaps not the best way for Sega to go about doing that.
One thing that Sega did do well and for which I must commend them is making the game distinctly different but still feel like its predecessors. The combat, for example, felt a lot like Valkyria Chronicles except that instead of having a certain distance you can move before you have to end your turn, you move in real time; the only "turn" aspect is an action timer for your attacks. The action takes place, for all intents and purposes, in real time, but it still felt very much like the core series. The visual style also felt very similar. It looked a little less watercolor than Valkyria Chronicles, but the interesting use of visual filters made the whole game feel like a painting in a history book, a feeling that long-time Valkyria fans will recognize right away.
The game's story is a mixed bag. The basic premise is that you're a soldiers from Jutland, a small kingdom that's been under the thumb of the massive Ruzi Empire and suffering from an economic embargo orchestrated by Ruz for the past year. Jutland breaks its less-than-voluntary alliance with Ruz with a surprise attack on the formerly Jutish (now Ruzi) territory of Molda, starting the "Liberation War." In some regards, it's not totally dissimilar from Valkyria Chronicles - you play as a soldier from a small underdog nation that's going up against a massive empire. This game's problem isn't with the story, however, but with the story telling. The narrative is told in the form of a frame story, and while that works quite well, the pacing is slow and, at times, sluggish. The main story battles always seem to end predictably - you fight a big boss, beat the big boss, and then Amleth has a personal crisis at the most inconvenient possible time because plot devices and allows the big boss to escape. It's a shame, too, because the game's story is rooted in political intrigue and manipulation - it's got a distinct House of Cards feel in some ways.
The game's visuals are nice and very artistically done, but they're not impressive, per se. The somewhat blurred artstyle can take away from texture detail at medium distances, and it can make distant objects look much lower resolution than they are. Of course, those are part of that deliberate art style, but I personally think the game could have benefited from a little more sharpness. The biggest visual problem is with the animations in cut scenes. Faces are stiff with mouths that don't even come close to matching up with the words - legit 1950s Godzilla movie tier - and when characters walk off screen during a scene, they'll turn a full second before they start walking. The extraordinarily unnatural movements in cut scenes deals a hefty blow to my immersion.
The sound design here is hit or miss. The soundtrack is great, but the voice acting and sound effects are very 50/50. Some of the voice acting is good - the voice actresses for Uni and Blanc from my beloved Hyperdimension Neptunia series lend their talents here - but some of it is stiff and just awful. The enemy AI's lines also get extremely annoying because they'll get stuck; you'll have an enemy who says "I'm attacking!" over and over again without end until you attack them. Generally, though, outside of the most prominent characters, the voice acting is utterly forgettable.
Despite the issues with pacing, and despite the lackluster voice acting, and despite my personal nit picks with the visual art choices, the game's biggest flaw is without a doubt the bugs. There aren't many that I found, and the ones that I did find were all isolated to the Finale chapter, but that chapters was relentlessly frustrating with the bugs I encountered. The first issue that I encountered was that my weapons would randomly not work; about 85% or 90% of the time, if I had a character use his or her gun or throw a grenade, nothing would happen. No sound effect, no visual effect, no damage. The attack wasn't blocked; it just didn't exist. That continued in all three battles of the Finale as well as the boss battles. Even my magic attacks wouldn't work for anyone except Amleth meaning that I had to just smack giant tanks with my sword until they exploded from the sheer force of my stubbornness. Then there's a bug that I encountered my first attempt that the Finale that, if you run into it, makes it literally impossible to kill the second to last boss. He just won't take that last point of damage. THEN when I finally made it to the final boss, there are orbs indicating which magic types its weak against. Guess what didn't spawn and, I assume, therefore didn't trigger the magic weakness? Yep. Those orbs. So all of my attacks were doing 1 HP of damage, and the boss had like 250,000 HP. Needless to say, I died. Granted, close and relaunching the application fixed most of these (except that bug with the second to last boss), but the fact that they appeared at all was supremely vexing.
Valkyria Revolution is, all things considered, an alright game. It's definitely going to resonate better with newcomers to the series, I think, than veterans and longtime fans, but it's worth playing if you find it on sale. I would not, however, pay any more than $20 for it. It's not a great game, but it's definitely not bad. I was disappointed in it, but I think this is less a case of a sub-par game and more that it just didn't live up to the standards set by the series that preceded it. For newcomers to the the Valkyria Chronicles series, give it a play; you'll probably enjoy it. For series veterans, unless you're like me and have to play every release no matter what reviewers say, I'd suggest just going online and watching the cut scenes to get the narrative; they're so lengthy as it is that I jokingly started calling the game Valkyria Gear Solid, so there's a good bit of story to be had.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Have you ever been a BIG fan of the series and eagerly awaited the series' debut on one of your favorite systems only to find that they've totally butchered the game and not even stuck to the original genre? Yeah, I feel for Castlevania Judgement and amplified version of the disappointment I felt for Soul Calibur Legends years and years ago. Konami tried to bring Castlevania to the Wii, but they did a...pretty lackluster job of it, all things considered. They made it a fighting game, and it isn't even a particularly good version.
The basic premise of the game is that some rival of Dracula's from a bajillion years in the future ripped space-time to destroy him and some dude cosplaying as The Doctor decides to chill in the time rift created to find strong folks who stop the evil rival dude's plan. Thirteen characters from the Castlevania series are summoned to some forest or whatever to fight each other in trials to determine who's strong enough to beat the bad guy. To get the "true" ending, you end up having to play through the ten stage "story" mode fifteen times - once as each of the 13 Castlevania characters, then once again as any one of the 13 Castlevania characters, and then once as the character original to Judgement. It usually starts to feel boring after around stage 4.
The game's visuals are okay. In general, the character models and environments look pretty good. The problem is the with the character animations, specifically the facial animations. During cut scenes, the faces are COMPLETELY static except for the mouths. The eyes don't move, the cheeks don't move, the eyebrows don't move. The lips are the only things that move. Once in a blue moon, a character might blink, but that's it. It looks SUPER unnatural. The dialogue is extraordinarily boring, though, so I usually just skipped the cut scenes anyway. The character models also look extremely out of place; they look like anime characters, not Castlevania characters. Dracula is the only character whom I though looked REMOTELY like he's supposed to.
The actual gameplay is the epitome of mediocrity. It's a 3D fighter, but it's not a particularly well made one. It's easier to miss attacks outright than any other 3D fighter I've played, and while all of the characters are fairly unique in terms of their weapons and attacks, most of them feel rather...generic. Their special attacks are the only things that feel remotely special about most of the characters. Dracula and Golem are basically the only characters that felt at all special or unique to me. It's not that the gameplay is bad, per se, but it's just an early 2000s 3D version of the me-too fighters of the mid 90s.
Castlevania Judgement is one of the most mediocre 3D fighters that I've ever played. It's not bad, but it's definitely not good. Normally when games fall into that category, I say that only hardcore fans of the series should bother. Castlevania Judgement is the opposite; fans of the Castlevania are the ones most likely to be disappointed with this game. If you just want a random fighting game to kill some time with, then sure, snag a copy of this, but you're better off with pretty much anything else in the genre.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Gather 'round, children, and listen to my harrowing tale of trial, tribulation, and Judgement. Long ago in a living room far, far away...
Mr. Deck walked through a dark forest with naught but the light of the moon to illuminate his path. His purpose was clear - to provide a convenient plot setting from which the rest of the story can stem. As he wandered through the forest, he came to a small clearing devoid of any life or landmarks save for a single lone man with an unkempt beard and a Mega Man t-shirt.
"Ah, right on time. Welcome to the time rift," the man said, "where all of your desires await you. First, however, you must pass a series of trials."
"Trials?" Mr. Deck asked. "I spend all day teaching teenagers and trying to live off a North Carolina salary. Isn't that trial enough?"
Looking shocked and horrified, the mysterious man responded "Oh god, how do you even manage? Yeah, that's definitely a trial, for sure...Unfortunately, the script says that I have to make you undergo these trials, so you don't really have a choice. I'm pretty sure a mob of max level Black Phantoms appear and eviscerate you if you refuse to do the trials. The best I can do it cut it from ten trials to three trials."
"Huh. Well, I'm used to being forced to do ridiculously stupid things with some nebulous promise of benefit that will likely never materialize. I suppose I'll take what I can get. Let's do this, I guess," Mr. Deck answered, used to be the butt of all of life's jokes.
"Excellent! Let us begin the first trial. My name is Colin, and despite my mysterious and foreboding attitude, I'm really just a pushover tutorial opponent who's coercing you into this ridiculous to-do."
From there, the fight progressed as one would expect of a tutorial boss - over in 10 seconds with a flawless victory for Mr. Deck. Striking a hip and masculine victory pose, Mr. Deck shouted "My victory one-liner is cool and moderately arrogant!"
Strolling aimlessly into a posh and elegant castle - breaking and entering isn't a crime in the time rift, you see - Mr. Deck saw a man wearing armor made of solid gold standing before him. "Who are you, commoner?" the man asked.
"I am Mr. Deck, teacher of history, hoarder of video games, and maker of reckless and irresponsible financial decisions!" Mr. Deck said proudly, hands on his hips in what he swears is a heroic pose. "And who might you be, gentlemen whom I suspect is infuriatingly fond of capitalism?"
Adjusting his glasses, the gilded man replied, "I am Mr. Popo, DDR champion of the multiverse and real life Scrooge McDuck." When Mr. Deck gave him a doubting look, Mr. Popo added, "No, seriously, I have a big ass swimming pool filled to the brim with money."
"Oh," Mr. Deck said, not quite sure what to make of such wealth. "Okay, well, I guess I'll be going then. Later!"
"STOP!" Mr. Popo shouted as Mr. Deck turned to leave. "I would be doing myself a disservice if I allowed someone such as you to leave here alive. I can smell the stench of public education and universal health care all over you, socialist scum." Pulling two handfuls of gold coins held like shuriken, Mr. Popo took a fighting stance and shouted "FOR THE FREE MARKET!" as he charged towards Mr. Deck.
Mr. Deck drew his weapons of choice - a sickle in his right hand and a hammer in his left - and charged to meet Mr. Popo, shouting "FOR THE WORKERS!" Between the weaponize wealth and shouted manifestos being exchanged, the castle was turned into an all out ideological brawl. As his sickle deflected coins and his hammer dented gold armor, Mr. Deck saw his opportunity.
Gathering energy from the depths of his soul, Mr. Deck took a grounded stance and channeled his power. "Marxism, third form - Democratic Socialism!" he shouted. "Go, Populist Champion!" A portal appeared, and from the singularity charged an elderly Jewish man with wisps of hair point every direction.
"NO AMERICAN WORKING 40 HOURS PER WEEK SHOULD LIVE IN POVERTY!" the massive familiar cried with a distinct Vermont accent. "HEALTH CARE IS A RIGHT, NOT A PRIVILEGE!" As the familiar continued to bludgeon Mr. Popo with tuition waivers and extremely affordable hospital bills, the golden armor began to chip and crack.
"No!" Mr. Popo shouted. "I can't withstand the wave of populism much longer!" With one final roundhouse kick from shoes made by decently paid workers in an environmentally friendly factory, Mr. Popo went flying through the wall and lay in a crumpled heap in the next room.
"Thanks, Bernie!" Mr. Deck said as he caught his breath. "Those tax cuts for the rich almost crushed me."
"Any time, especially for a hardworking public servant." As Senator Sanders opened another singularity to return to his tireless quest to stop higher education from being a debt sentence and prevent the destruction of the planet, he turned to Mr. Deck once more and said, "Remember, one in four corporations don't pay any taxes." With that, he disappeared back into the ether to help someone else being abused by vulture capitalism.
Mr. Deck eventually found himself walking through what appeared to be a massive refrigerated storeroom in an industrial slaughterhouse. All around him hung a variety skinned animals waiting to be turned into ground meat, sausage, and bologna. Cows, pigs, rabbits, emu, dogs, and manatees - it seemed every direction held a different species ready to be prepared for human consumption. "What is this place?" Mr. Deck asked himself as he wandered around the room. "It looks like some kind of meat factory, but with all the different kinds of animals here - most of which are endangered - it's got to be a serious bogus meat factory."
As if on cue, a bipedal monitor lizard seductively slid down a conveniently placed pole on the far end of the room. "Did someone call for me?" the lizard person said with a goofy grin.
Sensing that he would need a more agile weapon than his sickle and hammer, Mr. Deck unsheathed his ultimate armament - a massive red pen (after all, the pen is mightier than the sword) and a shield styled like a gradebook. "Who are you? Is this your bogus meat factory?"
"That's my name, don't wear it out!" the lizard said with jovial laughter.
"...wait, what? What's your name?" Mr. Deck said, his confusion growing by the second.
"Bogus Meat Factory! Duh! And yes, this is my distinctly questionable provender preparation center!" As if flipping a switch, the lizard fell into a battle stance with his claws bared and his eyes narrowed, staring into the depths of Mr. Deck's soul. "One question for you. Think carefully, though - your answer may cost you your life." Mr. Deck tensed at that threat, his grip on his pen and shield tightening and a bead of sweat running down his brow. "What," Bogus Meat Factory began slowly, "is the best game in the Dreamcast's library?"
Mr. Deck relaxed and breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, that's easy! Shenmue obviously."
Bogus Meat Factory's eyes lit up, the goofy grin returning to his reptilian face. "Correct! Congratulations, you passed my trial! You're free to go!"
"Wait, that's it?" Mr. Deck asked. "No fight or horde of enemies trying to eat me?"
"Well, I was going to eat you," Bogus Meat Factory said nonchalantly, "but that was only if you got that question wrong. I would have accepted Shenmue II as well, but since I didn't specify which region and North America, sadly, never got Shenmue II on Dreamcast, either answer works. Have a nice day!" With that, the bizarre lizard man slid back up his pole as if pressing a rewind button in complete defiance of gravity.
"Huh. Look at that."
Mr. Deck found himself back in the clearing from before where he first met Colin. "Welcome back. I see you've cleared all three of your trials," Colin said, not bothering to look up from his Nintendo Switch. "I guess that means I have to grant your one true desire. Well, what do you want?"
Mr. Deck silently walked over to Colin, grabbed the Switch from his hands, and punched him in the face. "What the hell is wrong with you? What was the purpose of coercing me into completing those trials? That was a COMPLETE waste of my time!" he shouted.
"Woah, hold on there! It'll be worth it, I swear! I know what you REALLY want. I can read your thoughts, you know. What you REALLY desire is an ass ton of anime about giant robots, am I right?"
Mr. Deck stared daggers at him for a moment before sighing and saying, "Yeah, that actually sounds pretty dope..."
"Your wish is my command!" Colin said. Before him appeared a veritable cargo container filled to the brim with anime, games, and models of giant robots as well as a handful of other miscellaneous things. "There you go! Now quit hitting me; I'm drunk, so while it might not hurt now, I'll probably wake up with a black eye AND a hangover as it is."
With his quest complete and his life now enriched with giant robots, Mr. Deck set off on his way home to continue on with his miserable life now made just a little less miserable.
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.