Also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Luna, and Windows
Yakuza 0 is the seventh game in the Yakuza series to be released in North America, but as the title suggests, it's actually the first game chronologically, taking place nearly 20 years prior to the events of the first Yakuza game. It was the first game in the series to release the PlayStation 4, and according to US Gamer, it's been attributed to the growing success of the series in the West, Yakuza having been a fairly obscure series outside of Japan prior to the release of Zero.
Gameplay is split between two protagonists, Kazuma Kiryu in Kamurocho, Tokyo and Goro Majima in Sotenbori, Osaka, but these two protagonists are caught up in two threads of the same larger event. The Dojima Family, a subsidiary of the mighty Tojo Clan yakuza group, has been gobbling up land in Kamurocho as part of a massive real estate revitalization project, but they found a kink in their plans - a plot of land called the Empty Lot whose owner can't be located. Without this tiny sliver of land, their plans are kaput and the billions of yen they've already sunk into the project wasted. Thus two seemingly unconnected events in two seemingly unconnected cities - Kiryu's being framed for a murder he didn't commit in Kamurocho and Majima's being ordered to perform a hit job on one Makoto Makimura - turn into pieces of a massive conspiracy with the potential to tear the Tojo Clan apart from the inside.
While I own the entire series (at least what's been released in the West), the only Yakuza game I'd played before 0 was Kiwami, the PS4 remake of the PS2 original game. With that background in mind, the first thing that jumped out to me here was how out of character Majima was acting. Well, it turns out that before he was a batshit crazy lunatic, Goro Majima was a pretty calm and collected guy, and this game shows you what made him the lovable psychopath we all know and love. Kiryu, on the other hand, was the same stoic hero-yet-in-organized-crime protagonist I had come to love in Kiwami, and it was great getting to see him as a young man and the bond that he and Nishikiyama shared before the events of the first game. Prequels can be really hit or miss, and I usually end up thinking they fall on the "miss" side of that, but Yakuza 0 is absolutely an exception; this is probably the most brilliantly executed prequel I've ever seen.
Another thing to note about Yakuza 0 is that it's long as hell. I spent probably three times as long on 0 as I did on Kiwami with my final playtime clocking in at 102 hours. Granted, a LOT of that was mindlessly grinding in minigames I'll explain in a moment, but it's just a long game all around; the consensus among my gaming Twitter friends is pretty unanimous that this is the longest game in the series up until Like a Dragon, and if How Long to Beat is to be believed, a completionist run of 0 is still longer. Either way, buckle up and get ready to spend a few weeks on this game. Keeping in mind that I'm a teacher and played this during summer break, I spent ten days on this game, and that's spending about ten hours per day gaming on average. A solid half of that time was spent on two totally optional storylines - Kiryu's Real Estate Royale in Kamurocho and Majima's Cabaret Club Czar in Sotenbori. Not only are both a lot of fun with super interesting stories, but they're FANTASTIC ways to grind a lot of money really quickly; with Kiryu, I ended up bringing in well over a billion yen every ten minutes.
Yakuza 0 also has the full host of minigames you'd expect - karaoke, dancing, pocket racing, bowling, etc. You're still swarmed repeatedly by a seemingly endless sea of enemies in the street. There's very rarely a dull moment in Yakuza 0; despite spending over 100 hours on the game, I was never bored, and I never found myself thinking "Man, I'm so ready for this game to be over." Sotenbori and Kamurocho are both rich albeit not particularly large areas to explore and are filled to the brim with things to do. There are dozens of little side stories, there are restaurants to try, weapons to collect, fighting abilities to unlock, and completionist tasks to complete.
The game isn't just stellar at a narrative level; it's brilliantly made on a technical level as well. Admittedly, I played using the PS5's backwards compatibility, so your exact mileage may vary a bit if you're using a PS4 or PS4 Pro, but as far as I could tell, the frame rate was a flawless 60 fps. From what I can tell online, it runs at 1080p regardless of what Playstation you're using, but the amount of detail in that world is amazing. You can see the fibers on Kiryu's jacket, the lines in Kuze's face, the tear's on Makoto's cheeks; if this is what a game released on Playstation 3 and Playstation 4 looks like, I can't wait to see what a Yakuza game built specifically for Playstation 5's hardware generation looks like. The voice acting as well is incredible although that's pretty par for the course with Yakuza (excluding the Western releases of the two PS2 titles, that is). Truly the only word to describe Yakuza 0 that even begins to do it justice is "cinematic." This is a game that you don't just play; this is a game that you truly experience. It's definitely got me itching to dig deeper into the series.
Yakuza 0 is a masterpiece. The fighting is fluid and fun, the sound design is rich and immersive, the visuals are astoundingly detailed, the story is deep and engrossing, and the world feels alive and lived in. There are very few things I can find in this game that I would improve. Enemies will stun lock you on occasion. It can be a little annoying having to run from one end of the city to the other and back. Inventory space can feel limited. That's really about the best I can do when it comes to thinking of complaints; they're all extremely minor, petty things like that. This is an S tier action game, an S tier story, and an S tier technical showcase of the Playstation 4. Regardless of if you're playing on Playstation, Xbox, Windows, or (gag) Luna, you're doing yourself a disservice if you pass on Yakuza 0.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Genesis, Saturn, SNES, PC Engine CD, PlayStation, Game Boy, Wonderswan, Neo Geo Pocket Color, PlayStation 2, Wii via Virtual Console, 3DS via Virtual Console, PC-9801, and Macintosh
Puyo Puyo 2 (Puyo Puyo Tsu) is a short, simple game, so this is going to be a short, simple review. Normally I don't put a lot of time into simple puzzle games like this, but as I was playing Yakuza 0, I found myself needing a simple little handheld game to play while I farmed money in the real estate minigame, so I figured why not give my oft neglected Game Gear some love?
If you've ever played a Puyo Puyo game, you know what the core gameplay is like. Actually, if you've ever played a Dr. Mario game, you know basically what the core gameplay is like. Pieces drop in pairs from the ceiling, and you can rotate them before they land. Connect four of the same color, and they pop. The more your pop and the better combo you build, the more obstacles you build up on your opponent's side; eventually, they drop as blocks that impede your opponent. They can do the same to you, though. It's simple, but like Tetris, while the concept is super easy to pick up, it takes a lot more thought and strategy to master than you might expect at first.
The structure of the game is a lot like a fighting game. You're trying to battle your way up this tower, and on each floor, you have a different opponent to face off against. Each opponent is, as you would expect, a little tougher than the last. The console ports, if I remember correctly, have a story tied to this tower ascent, and to be fair, the Game Gear version might have had some kind of story framing the game, as well, but I didn't notice a great deal of text that would indicate any significant story, and I can't read Japanese anyway, so it would have been a bit of a moot point for me. I got "Fight opponent, move to next tower floor, fight next opponent, repeat," and that was pretty much all I really needed to know.
Puyo Puyo 2 on Game Gear isn't a game with a ton of depth, but like Tetris, it doesn't need to be. It's a colorful puzzle game that can provide some great fun in short bursts. Taking the subway to work? Perfect time for Puyo Puyo 2. Just finished eating Taco Bell and need something to take your mind off of the agonizing hell your bowels are about to endure? Play Puyo Puyo 2 while you're pooping. This is not, however, necessarily a great game for an epic weekend gaming marathon. It's a lot of fun, though, and while it's not as addicting in my opinion as Tetris or as robust as some of the later console Puyo Puyo games, it's a solid entry in the Game Gear's library.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Wii via Virtual Console, Android, PC-9801, X68000, MS-DOS, and Windows
Military Madness (or Nectaris in Japan) is a turn based strategy game from Hudson. While it may have gotten ports to early home computers and remakes for later consoles, it's mainly known for its original release on TurboGrafx-16. I first found it when it got added to the Wii Virtual Console back when Napoleon's armies were marching across Europe (or it at least feels that long ago). It was actually my very first Wii Virtual Console download and kickstarted my love of the TurboGrafx-16, so it's got a special place in my heart.
Military Madness is basically World War II in space. You play as the Allies, and your enemies are the Axis. It's probably not the same Axis, but that's all I could think when I was playing, so my head-canon is that it's space FDR versus space Hitler. Humanity colonized the moon hoping that the moon's plentiful resources (which I don't think it actually has, but I could be mistaken) would solve humanity's resource scarcity issues, but because humanity is stupid, space Hitler annexes space Poland...I mean, the moon....and starts building a superweapon called SAM (Supreme Atomic Missile) to attack Earth. The Allied soldiers who escaped from the Axis and their prisons mount a resistance to stop space Hitler from finishing his superweapon and retake the moon for space FDR. I assume space Churchill, space Stalin, and space Kai-shek are somewhere there, too. Space France doesn't get a place in my head-canon.
Military Madness is often compared to Advance Wars, and there are some similarities, but there is a super key difference; in Military Madness, you can't produce new units. The only way you can get more units is to capture a factory thereby capturing any units inside. This makes the game much more challenging in my opinion as "hold the line while you produce reinforcements" isn't an option. The game also takes place on a hexagonal grid rather than a square grid. I know a lot of strategy fans prefer working with a hex grid, but I personally much prefer square grids. I guess it's because my strategy roots are Fire Emblem, but I'm not a big fan of the hex.
There are 32 maps in the game, but you're really "beaten" it after the first 16. The first 16 maps constitute the "Normal" campaign whereas the last 16 maps are the "Advanced" campaign that are the same maps but way harder. As the patron saint of Bitch Mode, I had no interest in playing a much harder version of the campaign I already struggled to finish the second half of. It is, however, a really nice addition for folks who are masochists (it's cool; I don't kink shame) and want a brutal challenge. The game's visuals aren't necessarily the best the TurboGrafx-16 has to offer, but I found the sprites to be very well done nonetheless and never grew tired to seeing them move across the field and engage the enemy. The sound is a bit more middling in my opinion; the background music is nice, but it's the same throughout the game. There are three tracks you'll hear in combat; the normal one that will be playing for most of your playthrough, a more upbeat track that plays when your advantage over the enemy grows overwhelming, and a more ominous track that plays when the enemy's advantage over you grows overwhelming. As for the sound effects, they're fine. They do the job.
Military Madness is a game that I thoroughly enjoyed, although I'm not sure if I'll ever go back and replay it. It got remake on PS1, and I might play that if I ever want to revisit the maps, but between the starting advantage the AI always seems to have and the rather complex systems I'm too lazy to keep straight, this version will probably be a game that I'll look back on fondly but only ever look *back* on. If you haven't played it, though, it's absolutely worth playing. Unfortunately, with the discontinuation of the Wii Shop Channel, the most accessible way to play it has been closed off to gamers, but if you're able to get your hands on a TurboGrafx-16 Mini, it's included on there (and the save states are a godsend). Regardless of how you play it, I definitely recommend it to fans of strategy games. It may be primitive by modern standards, but it's a lot of fun and definitely worth experiencing at least once.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is the sixth installment in the "Mario and Sonic" series, and it showcases what I personally consider to be one of the worst things about 2020; they moved the city and year to the end of the title. It should be "Mario and Sonic at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games" if they were going to keep the pattern they'd previously set, but no, they had to go and break the trend and make it "Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020." Sure, it may not matter to literally anyone except me, but it bugs the hell out of me, so it's starting off this review with a strike against it.
This is basically a collection of mini games with different sporting events from the Olympics. You've got 24 events - 21 real Olympic events and three "dream" events - and ten minigames. These minigames and events can obviously be played solo against an AI player or against another player in local multiplayer, but you also have the option of online play here. In a first for the series, though, they include a story mode. Normally, I'm all about story mode in games, but it just felt kind of pointless to me here. The basic premise of the story is that Eggman and Bowser have this plan to trick Mario and Sonic into activating a mysterious game console that sucks them into a game world and traps them in a pixelated Tokyo for the 1964 Olympics. That's great and all, but because Bowser is an idiot, he and Eggman (plus Toad; poor Toad) end up getting sucked into the game, too. The story then jumps back and forth between Mario and Sonic trying to figure out how to get out of the game and Luigi and Tails trying to figure out how the rescue the two protagonists. It's basically just an excuse to go through the different events and minigames, but it's not bad, per se. It just felt unnecessary. I didn't feel like it really added anything. What I would have preferred, personally, is if they made it like a team management mode where you have to assemble a team of Mario and Sonic characters and compete through each event to try to get the most medals. The way they did the story mode definitely didn't hinder the game, though. I do have to commend them for using the 8-bit (for Mario characters) and 16-bit (for Sonic characters) sprites in the Tokyo 1964 parts of the game and modern 3D models in the Tokyo 2020 parts of the game. That was a very nice touch.
A lot of the events feel fairly similar to be honest; 100m spring, 110m hurdles, 100m rally, and marathon, for example, all feel pretty same-y. Some are really unique, though; I thoroughly enjoyed the discus throw, rugby sevens, archery, and canoe racing. I would have enjoyed fencing if they hadn't made one major (and in my opinion unforgiveable) mistake; the bout stops and both fencers return to starting positions after a point is scored. This is more than just a former fencer nit-picking video game fencing; because they don't stop the bout and have the characters return to the starting position, you and just cheese it by thrusting repeatedly until you rack up enough points to win. It definitely bugs me more than it would bug most people since I am a former fencer, but that's a pretty big flaw in general. Still, though, that aside, the selection of events and minigames does give the game a lot of variety, and even if you end up disliking some or even most of the events, there's bound to be at least a few that you find enjoyable.
One thing that my roommate and I both noticed is that some of the character models (but not all) look rather jaggy. Part of this is definitely because I use a big screen, so those things are more noticeable, but Mario, for example, looked as if his model had more jagged edges than Sonic. I don't know if it's the he was at or if there really is something with the models, but a lot of the game appeared a bit more jagged than I'd have expected. It's not a huge thing, and most people would probably never noticed, but my roommate and I both did, so I figured that I'd mention it here. Sound design is fine but nothing to write home about. No real voice acting aside from a few short lines here and there that get repeated to denote when characters speak, and background music is good but forgettable. Overall, it's a wholly okay auditory presentation.
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a solid but not stellar sports minigame collection. It doesn't really excel at anything aside from variety, but all of the events and minigames are fun even if simple. It's definitely best suited for local multiplayer. Get some of your friends together, get drunk, and have a tournament. You'll probably get bored pretty quickly if you're playing solo, and I can't see playing online having a lot of lasting appeal although I'm sure there are those who would disagree. I mainly bought this for the novelty of having a game based on Olympics that didn't happen (at least not when the game says they did) given that this game released a month before the first reported case of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. Still, though, the events were more entertaining than I was expecting. I wouldn't say it really impressed me much, but I had some fun with it and certainly don't regret my purchase. Pick it up if you have friends to play with, but if you're a mostly solo gamer, this probably isn't a necessary purchase.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Xbox One, Stadia, and Windows
Zombie Army 4: Dead War is the sequel to the Zombie Army Trilogy and has what I consider to be almost the perfection of video game enemies. It's a scientific fact that the four greatest video game foes are Nazis, communists, aliens, and zombies. Well, this game has zombie Nazis; all we need to make this better is a three-way conflict between the zombie Nazis, an army of alien communists, and the player. Still, though, this is pretty top tier. The game takes place in an alternate timeline 1946 roughly a year after the events of Zombie Army Trilogy. Hitler has been killed and sent to Hell, but his undead army still ravages Europe in a conflict that has come to be called the Dead War. You're a resistance fighter fighting to end the undead scourge.
If you've played any of the Sniper Elite games, then you know how the basic gameplay works. Your main weapon is your sniper rifle which is accompanied by a secondary weapon (either a shotgun or submachine gun) and a pistol. You also can have up to four explosives with you and can choose from a variety of grenades and mines. I, personally, always used a Mosin-Nagant, a Trench Gun, and a Webley Mk IV along with some combination of incendiary grenades and frag grenades. Not a big mine person, personally, and SMGs burned through ammo too quickly for my taste. You can also find heavy weapons occasionally in the world - a heavy machine gun, a flamethrower, a Panzerschreck; and my personal favorite, the Preacher, a big ass blunderbuss. The Preacher always made me thing of my pastor friend, Avery, so it's got a special place in my heart.
In addition to the regular slow and shuffling zombies, there are some special zombies you'll need to look out for. You've got the suiciders that sprint up to your screaming and covered in dynamite, the officers which will spawn or frenzy zombies and can only be killed with a shot to the heart (not the head), the elites which will carry heavy armor, machine guns, flamethrowers, etc, and the...I don't know what they're actually called, but they spit giant globs of green gunk at you that causes damage over time. Then there's the creepers; if you know what Lickers are from Resident Evil, they're a lot like them. My absolute least favorite are the blind screamers, basically a straight rip of the Witch from Left 4 Dead. If you provoke them, they'll call another screamer, damage you with their screams, and rip you with their claws, and they are absolute bullet sponges.
The game's campaign is broken into eight missions and a final boss level. Each of the eight regular missions is further broken into four chapters, and it can be played solo or with up to four players. There's a lot of tinkering you can do to make the game as easy or as hard as you need it to be, and the aim assist with the sniper rifles is EXTREMELY generous although it can, of course, be disabled entirely. I played the whole thing solo, but the number of zombies will scale to match the number of players. Or you could play solo but set it to spawn the 4 player number of zombies anyway if you're a masochist. Whatever floats your boat, man. As with the previous trilogy, the story is decent but not outstanding; what matters here is the zombie slaughtering mayhem, and that has been perfected here. Exploding brains from bullet camera shots, slow motion mine explosions, a zombie shark that can be manipulated into eating your enemies - this game mas made an zombie killing into an art.
One of the things that immediately jumped out not only to me but also to my roommate when he saw me playing this game was how good it looks. Granted, I played on my PS5, so I was getting 2160p60, but it's a really good looking game regardless. I thought the original Nazi Zombie Army looked good, but in the roughly eight years since that release and this one, it's clear that Rebellion has applied a good bit of polish to the game. The sound design is great, too. The Webley sounded a little weak to me, but otherwise, the guns sound fantastic, the zombie sound effects are great, and the background music fits perfectly. The voice acting, while maybe not Nolan North tier, is definitely very competent and shouldn't give anyone any complaints.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War may not be a perfect game, but it's definitely a damn good one. It probably won't go down in history as a "must play" game of the eighth generation, but if you're into zombie killing and/or sniping, this is definitely not a game to miss. The story, while not the focus for most people, is well done, and the voice acting is solid enough not to break your immersion. Whether you play solo or with friends and on Xbox or Playstation, this is definitely a game worth checking out. Fingers crossed that it gets ported to Switch to join Zombie Army Trilogy on the go.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
My friends, especially on Racketboy, know that I have a tendency to play the worst games I can find alongside the normal stellar games that all gamers play. It's like a form of self-harm that won't get me institutionalized or leave visible scars (the psychological scars will never heal). It's also that I have a morbid curiosity about just how bad a game can be and still make it to store shelves. What we have here, ladies, gentlemen, and enbies, is the Switch equivalent of Ride to Hell: Retribution or Superman 64 (I should play that one soon...). It's not quite as bad as those games, but it's damn close. I felt obligated to play this, though. Troll and I has been the official meme of the #SwitchCorps Twitter community for years now; the joke is that we all own the game despite how awful it is, but none of us have ever actually played it. Well, I thought, "If it's that bad, I have to experience it for myself." I often make poor life choices.
The basic premise of the game is that Otto, this Scandinavian kid, has his village destroyed by a mercenary with a Russian name and a British accent when he accidentally uses too much explosive material to try to draw out a troll and capture it. Fleeing his burning village, Otto is assailed by weird goblin looking things crawling out from holes in the earth. Fortunately, a giant troll comes to save him! Otto then names the troll "Troll." Creative lad, isn't he? The duo then spend the next ten-ish hours (your mileage may vary depending on how many times the game crashes or bugs out) wandering through the wilderness and fighting goblins and mercenaries until they completely coincidentally stumble upon the folks from Otto's village. Well, there are theoretically folks plural; you only ever actually see Otto's mom. I guess that's technically a spoiler, but the story sucks, so I don't think anyone's going to be too miffed about that one. The voice acting is garbage, too, so not only do you sit through a crappy story, but it's a crappy story with crappy delivery.
Let's talk about the positives about the game - it's on the Switch. Now that that's done, let's look at the negatives aside from the established fact that the story sucks. It looks like garbage. I get that the Switch isn't the most powerful piece of hardware out there, but this looks like a Gamecube game. Even that would be forgivable if it ran well, but this game makes Bethesda games look polished and functional. You see, there appears to be this threshold about fifteen minutes into the game. Before that point, the entire game *literally* runs at between 7 and 15 frames per second. Seriously, even the title screen was doing 15 fps. It's so bad that the cutscenes would end up with the video a full ten seconds out of sync behind the audio. The game will also crash every other time you hit a loading screen. If you make it long enough to reach the threshold - you're trying to climb onto a small cliff after sliding down a muddy hill - the game will crash. Consistently. Every time. It's evidently a crippling memory leak issue that only occurs in that first section of the game. When you hit that threshold, you have to take your Switch out of the dock, hold the power button until the power options appear, and turn your Switch completely off. When you turn it back on, you can not only get past that point, but the frame rate has gone from wavering between 7 and 15 to wavering between 20 and 30. The fact that this is even a thing is inexcusable. I have no idea if this still happens on other platforms, but it's so consistent on Switch that a forum post about it was pretty much the first hit when I Googled "Troll and I game keeps crashing."
The fact that 95% of the game's frame rate is only a normal degree of sub-30 crap is the only reason that I said it's not quite as bad as Ride to Hell. It is still literally the third worst game I've ever played. It's worse than Chasing Dead on Wii U. It may be technically playable after that threshold, but it's still broken as hell. It still crashes randomly. It still has abrupt frame rate drops. It still looks terrible. The controls are still stiff and jank as hell. Worst of all, it still has more random bugs than a mattress in a crack house. Three or four different times, I'd get stuck, get frustrated, and look up WishingTikal's YouTube walkthrough only to find out that I was right about what I needed to do all along but something in the game either didn't load or wouldn't register the interaction forcing me to reload the previous auto-save. If this were a small team's first game, I could be a little more understanding, but the studio that developed this game has been around since 1998. Or so they claim; their website also claims that they made LittleBig Planet. I'm not sure if someone on their team worked on that game and they're just claiming that, but Media Molecule definitely developed LittleBigPlanet, not Spiral House.
Troll and I is one of the most miserable, unenjoyable, and skilllessly crafted games I've ever played, and as a lunatic who goes out of his way to play the worst games he can find, that says a lot. There's absolutely nothing redeeming here. The story is crap, the graphics make your five-year-old's crayon drawings look like Giotto, it performs worse than a preschool Christmas play, and the controls constantly feel sluggish and imprecise. I only paid $11 for this game a couple years ago, and I still feel like I overpaid by a solid ten bucks. If you want in on the meme, just buy a copy, but for the sake of your own mental health, don't play it.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows
Hentai vs Evil is a game produced by Eastasiasoft that my buddy Josh (@JoshuaMFrench) who works as a project lead for them told me about. It's a pretty barebones fan service third person shooter, but there's some fun to be had in short bursts. Just go in with tempered expectations and don't expect it to be more than it is.
The basic story of the game (if you can call it that) is that two anime waifus have been kidnapped and imprisoned by zombies, and the remaining anime waifu has to free them. You do this by fighting your way through a bunch of zombies and pig enemies that are totally just low budget Moblins to find the cage holding said anime waifu. You have to kill twelve reaper enemies before you can unlock the cage, but that's about all there is to it. There's three levels, and they all play out the same; kill twelve reapers, then go towards the purple column of light to find and unlock the cage. There's also a survival mode where you just try to survive as long as you can against waves of enemies.
Three levels, three playable waifus, and four weapons to choose from (at least I only found four). You can use a machine gun, a shotgun, a sniper rifle, or a grenade launcher. I personally went with the machine gun or the grenade launcher. I felt that the shotgun was too inaccurate even at close range, and the controls just weren't precise enough for me to feel comfortable with a sniper rifle. It's pretty obvious that the game's low budget as the character models and environments both look really bland, and there's honestly not much content. There are also some performance hiccups; I hit a few frame rate drops with an especially bad one when I finished a level and all of the enemies still alive instantly died. It is, however, only $10 ($8 if you got it during the launch sale), and it's a quirky novelty game, so it's a good meme game if nothing else.
Hentai vs Evil honestly reminds me a lot of The Last of Waifus in that it's a pretty barebones game that you can fully experience in under an hour and excels most - and exclusively - at being a novelty. Granted, it's definitely better than that game, but it's not great. I certainly don't regret downloading it day one, but it's also definitely not a game that I'm going to come back to, and as much as I'd love to, it's not a game that I can really recommend. There's just not much to it. If you do get it, make sure to get it on sale as it's just not worth $10, and if you're going to get it, though, definitely get it on Switch; I don't know for certain about the Steam release, but I know it's censored on PS4 and PS5 whereas there's an option to play with fully exposed titties on Switch. They're bland low res titties, but still, exposed titties in a game on a Nintendo console is a novelty, right?
My Rating - 2 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, and Windows
Shin Megami Tensei is one of my absolute favorite series. My buddy Pat talked me into buying Shin Megami Tensei IV on 3DS in college, and that pretty much cemented him as a guy who knows what he's talking about. I hadn't played Nocturne before this HD remaster, but much to my shame, my PS2 copy has been sitting on my shelf for about five or six years just waiting to be played. Sorry, buddy, but your better looking younger brother took your place.
Without spoiling anything, the basic premise of Shin Megami Tensei III is that a cult ended the world by starting "the Conception," and you go turned into the "demi-fiend," a being who isn't totally human but also isn't totally demon. Like Inuyasha but edgier and without a crush on a 15 year old. You have to navigate through post-apocalyptic Tokyo as different demon factions fight for a resource called Magatsuhi to bring about their "Reason," or what they want the new world to be. Do you side with one of these factions? Do you tell everyone to shove it? Do you live solely to cause chaos and bring misery? Depending on some of the actions you take throughout the game, you've pretty much got the freedom to make that choice for yourself.
For being an old sixth generation game, this HD remaster looks fantastic. Well, for the most part. As is the norm with HD remasters, the pre-rendered cutscenes look like hot ass because they're 480i cutscenes in a 4:3 ratio in a game that's otherwise 1080p in a 16:9 ratio. I get it, it's cheaper and easier to just use the original cut scenes rather than remake them in the proper resolution and aspect ratio, but man, it's jarring to see the pretty game and then BAM, everything you tried to forget about the mid 2000s that didn't have the last name Bush, Cheney, or Rumsfeld. There's also some weirdness going on with the background music. In the overworld, in menus, and in in-engine cut scenes, the music sounds fantastic. In battle, though, it sounds bizarrely muffled and tinny. I have no idea why they'd do this if it's intentional or how it got past QA if it's unintentional, but to my admittedly amateurish ears, it sounds like they used the super compressed audio files from the PS2 version for JUST the battle music and used higher quality files with less compression for the rest of the game's music. It's bizarre and jarring in its juxtaposition, but it doesn't detract too much from the experience, and even if it's unpleasantly muffled, the music is awesome regardless.
Now as for the gameplay for those who haven't played a main series SMT game, it's a monster collecting JRPG. Think Pokemon but edgy and you collect demons and angels instead of cute animals. There's also a good bit of dungeon crawling and exploring involved. You can fuse these demons into stronger and different demons. The vast majority of these demons are from real world mythologies, and the use of Judeo-Christian mythology is always especially interesting to me. Some of the bosses you might recognize are Thor, Beezlebub, Baal, and Metatron, and there are loads of other demons from mythologies all over the world. The game certainly isn't an educational game as there's no mythology being taught, but it is a great way to see just how varied mythologies throughout history have been because most of the visual depictions of the demons are at least fairly close to their depiction in myths.
My favorite thing about Shin Megami Tensei unlike its spin-off series, Persona, is how DARK it is. I admittedly have not played any of the pre-6th gen SMT games, but having played 3, 4, and 4 Apocalypse, they're all super dark in tone, and I absolutely love it. Existence sucks, we're all screwed, and happy endings are a lie. It's a glorious break from the usual "hero saves the world" storyline in most JRPGs. It's definitely not the only series that does dark hopelessness well, but I would argue that it's the one that does it well the most consistently. I didn't enjoy 3 quite as much as I did 4 or 4 Apocalypse, but by no means is that a strike against 3; it's an absolutely fantastic game.
Unfortunately, though, there are some performance issues that need to be mentioned. I've already talked about the ugly 4:3 cutscenes and the weird compressed sounding music, but there are some pretty major frame rate drops and stuttering issues in parts of this game at least on Switch; I can't judge it on PS4. It's most when there are fog effects which, admittedly, is where most games on most platforms tend to stumble performance-wise. Still, it's disappointing to see the frame rate stay pretty reliably around 30 fps and then tank to the mid to high teens for a few seconds when you get to a foggy area or one with other more advanced lighting effects. This issue is also visible in some of the in-engine cutscenes; towards the end of the Diet Building dungeon, there's a scene where you can watch the background behind the speaking character just churn along at like ten frames per second. Fortunately, as a turn based game, this never affects gameplay, but it's definitely a bit disorienting and disappointing when you do run into the performance hiccups.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne is an absolutely fantastic JRPG and for me personally served as a great appetizer for the upcoming Shin Megami Tensei V that is (theoretically) releasing later this year. The HD remaster definitely isn't perfect, and it's obvious that Atlus cut a few corners on it, but the core experience is fantastic and includes the Maniax content (although Dante from Devil May Cry is paid DLC), and most of the remaster is solid in spite of those few cut corners. It may not be perfect, but it's still an absolute must-play for fans of dark apocalyptic stories or deep content-rich JRPGs. I'm not going to say that there's no reason to play the PS2 original as nostalgia can enhance an older gamer's enjoyment a lot, but the HD remaster is absolutely the way to go if it's your first time playing.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS, Android, Linux, and MacOS
Planetscape: Torment was a gift from my friend Aaron after he read my review of Torment: Tides of Numenera. As I said in that review, I'm not a big 90s style CRPG fan, and unlike Tides of Numenera, this one is past old enough to drink in the United States, so I was more than a little hesitant going in. Planetscape is definitely a lot rougher around the edges than Tides of Numenera even with the "enhanced edition" that added some minor upgrades, but as with Tides of Numenera, the game grew on me over time.
Planetscape: Torment is played from a top-down perspective where the player clicks to move characters around the world, attack enemies, talk to NPC, and interact with objects. This is honestly one of my least favorite control schemes, but it works decently. The premise of the game is that your main character, a man who cannot die named The Nameless One, wakes up in an area called The Mortuary with no memory. He awakens near a floating talking skull named Morte who decides to tag along to help him escape. His back is covered in tattoos which Morte reads for him; it tells him to seek out a man named Pharod to ask about his past. As you cannot, die, every time your HP hits zero, you just wake up back in the Mortuary with no real death penalty aside from having to walk back to wherever you were.
As you explore the city of Sigil, you can take on a number of side quests, interact with a variety of different characters and factions, and recruit people to your party. There is a TON of lore and small tidbits of story to be gleaned from these NPC conversations, but truthfully, I found most of the ancillary stuff to be relatively uninteresting. I might have appreciated it more if I'd had any familiarity with the Planetscape D&D campaign setting, but as a Dungeons and Dragons virgin, a lot of it felt like pretty generic sci-fi fantasy dialogue to me. The main story, however, I did find fairly interesting, so I paid much more attention to the dialogue and text relating to that.
With the exception of some parts in the latter half of the game, most everything takes place in and around the city of Sigil. I'd have liked to have some more varied areas to explore, but there are enough sections of the city that the game never feels cramped. The visuals are solidly okay with a few sweet craptastic late 90s CGI cutscenes; the music, on the other hand, was rather impressive as was most of the voice acting. It set the tone and mood of the game nicely, and for a game with a tone as dark as Planetscape, that's important. I may not personally have been as enamored by the game as traditional CRPG fans usually are, but the dark themes of the game and brilliant writing have to be acknowledged regardless of personal tastes. The element of choice also needs to be pointed out and praised especially given the age of the game. There are seemingly countless choices to be made during the game. Some of those choices have major impacts on your game down the line, and some of them change literally nothing; with no way of knowing exactly which choices will have major consequences and which won't, you have to make your choices carefully and keep in mind the way you want to play and the type of character you want The Nameless One to be. That aspect of player choice and agency more than anything kept me interested.
Planetscape: Torment is not my type of game, but I can recognize it as an excellent game despite that. My biggest issues with the game were a handful of random crashes that I experienced and some things that I felt were a bit unnecessarily and overly cryptic. Half of those cryptic things weren't even puzzles I was too dumb to figure out but interactable objects or doorways that I didn't notice because the muted color scheme and dull building designs. Fortunately, though, little criticisms like that are all I can really levy against the game; as far as writing, character design, and thematic presentation go, the game is superb. The CRPG sub-genre just isn't my cup of tea. For those who are into that type of game, I doubt you'll find many better than this one.
My Rating - 4 Nep
Also available on PlayStation 4 and Windows
Did you ever wonder what the result would be of an unholy union between a fishing game, an RPG, and a visual novel? No? Well, here's the answer anyway. Reel Fishing: Road Trip Adventure struck me as a bizarre sounding game when I first saw it on Play-Asia's website totally unaware it had gotten a North American retail release. It seems like it's always on sale on Play-Asia, so I picked it up for like $10 figuring "For that price, how bad could it be?" As it turns out, it really not bad at all! I mean, I'm not sure I'd call it "good" per se, but it's a lot better than I was expecting.
You play as a trio of college students in their university's fishing club trying to decide what to do a report on. They're wandering through a local museum when they see a painting about an "elusive fish" that catches their interest. They end up chatting up a guy who knows the artist and go to meet him and ask him about the fish. That turns into an extended camping and fishing trip for them as they try to clean up the waters around the mountain village where the artist lives in hopes of coaxing the legendary fish to come back and show itself. The story is told in anime-style dialogue boxes like a visual novel, and each of the three characters have a level and gain experience. Sean, the plucky and kind of dumb character, is your main fisherman and gains experience for each fish you catch with his ability upgrades making it easier to catch said fish. Neil, your nerdy geek character, can craft new lures, reels, and rods for you and gains experience from gathering materials as you fish and from crafting new equipment; his abilities expand the array of equipment you can craft and allow you to upgrade that equipment. Alice, the token girl of the group, cooks your dinners and snacks and gains experience from that cooking to let her unlock new dinners and snacks to prepare. Because of course the woman does all the cooking. Way to be woke, Natsume.
The game can feel a little repetitive at times, but I actually found myself enjoying it a LOT more than I was expecting to. Once you get into the swing of things, the fishing is a lot of fun albeit arcade-y and simple (which is perfect for me). My biggest complaints are that the game doesn't look impressive in the slightest. To be honest, it looks like an upscaled Wii game. Textures are just downright ugly, and the only thing that looks like it's even from the early HD era let alone the Switch and PS4 is the water which, admittedly, does look rather nice. My other big complaint is the writing; it's dreadful. Dialogue feels stilted and awkward a lot of the time, and I can't help but wonder if part of that was due to lazy or careless translation. Still, though, while the game may not look very good and have a garbage story with flat characters, the actual fishing is pretty fun, and that's what matters. Just don't expect a lot of depth here; there are only about 20 different fish in the game.
Reel Fishing: Road Trip Adventure is definitely less shovelware than I was expecting it to be. It's definitely not a "must-play" or a central collection piece, but it's a fun little fishing experience if you're into fishing games but don't necessarily want the complexity that more simulator-style games have. It's usually like $15 or less on Play-Asia, so next time you're over there importing games, go ahead and throw it in your cart. The Asia English version seems to be cheaper than the North American version or at least was when I ordered it a few weeks ago. It's no killer app, but it's a fun time.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, iOS, and Windows
Blackjack is one of the iconic gambling card games. It’s super simple; keep drawing cards until you get as close as you think you can to 21. If you get closer than the dealer without going over 21, you win; if the dealer or if you get over 21 (bust), you lose. What if you took that simple but iconic card game and merged it with an iconic fighting game like Street Fighter II? Enter Super Blackjack Battle II Turbo: The Card Fighters, the game that no one asked for and fewer people needed but we got nonetheless.
The character select screen looks pretty much exactly like Street Fighter II. You have a variety of characters from all over the world from whom to choose although it is worth noting that your character selection makes absolutely no impact on gameplay. The game from there is just different blackjack matches against random characters in different themed casinos all over the world. To win, it doesn’t matter how much money you have as long as your opponent hits $0 before you do. Whether you win with $10,000 or $50, the outcome is the same.
The visuals definitely harken back to Street Fighter II on Genesis. Beyond the allusion to that classic fighting game, though, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy or memorable about it. The characters all feel pretty generic and don’t have anything interesting to make them stand out. They’re just bland. Not bad, mind you, but not especially good. It feels like the game was made specifically for the sake of “lol it’s like Street Fighter but it’s blackjack!”
Super Blackjack Battle II Turbo Edition: The Card Fighters is totally competent as a blackjack game, but it’s nothing special. It’s not like how Golf Story was a golf game but went far beyond that; this is a blackjack game, and it stays nothing more than a blackjack game. I got it on sale for $1.99 which is a fair price in my opinion, but it normally goes for $7.99 on the eShop, and it’s definitely not worth that much. $2.99 is about the most I could recommend paying for this one. It’s totally okay, but it’s not going to give you more than half an hour of entertainment unless you’re a SUPER hardcore fan of blackjack.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Before there was BitTrip Runner, there was Pepsiman. Pepsiman is approximately 75% of the reason that I got an Xstation ODE for my PS1. I'm not kidding. I REALLY wanted to play Pepsiman on authentic hardware. Was there something keeping me from just emulating it? No. Did I think this was going to be a legitimately good game? Of course not. Did I make it my mission in life to play it anyway? You bet your Pepsi-chugging ass I did.
Pepsiman may not be a good game per se, but it's definitely not a bad game. Actually, it's probably exactly what BitTrip Runner would be if it had been made during the PS1 era. It's an obviously low budget game, but the developers ended up using that to the game's advantage by playing up the low budget charm. There are four stages each consisting of three parts. The first two scenes in each stage are your usual runner levels where you run straight through a world dodging obstacles that appear by either moving to the side, jumping over them, or sliding under them. You can also do a very brief boost run and smash through some obstacles, but that's not necessary until around the second half of the game. The third part of each stage involves running towards the screen rather than away from it as you try to outrun some giant thing chasing you. If you've played the original Crash Bandicoot, then you know exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. These were always the hardest for me because running towards the screen means you have very little time to react to oncoming obstacles since you can't see them off in the distance. Fortunately, if you run out of lives and get game over, you go to the main menu where you can save your game and restart from the last scene with a default of three lives.
Between each stage, you're treated to a glorious live action scene of an overweight American drinking Pepsi. That's it. That's the whole scene each time. A fat American sitting in a chair watching Pepsiman on a TV and drinking Pepsi. Sometimes he's eating pizza. Sometimes he's double fisting Pepsi cans. But he's always drinking Pepsi. This is hilarious to me for a few reasons. First and foremost, he looks like me in 20 years. Second, he's speaking English with Japanese subtitles despite the fact that this game has never been released outside of Japan. Third...I mean, dude, he's just sitting there butt chugging Pepsi. It's so random. I must admit, though, despite how charmingly low-budget this game is, it's better than I expected. Each level is pretty different from the others, and it's got a much smoother difficulty curve than most games of the era. The beginning is pretty easy while the end of the game is legitimately tough, but there's not difficulty spike. It's a nice, smooth, transition. In that regard, it impressed me more than some bigger budget games of the era.
Pepsiman isn't a long game, and it's not a terribly impressive game, but it is a fun game. For a branded game that exists solely to advertise a soda, it's way better than it should be. It feels like the 5th gen McKids for being way better than an ad game ought to be. That's not to say that it's amazing or worth going out of or your way to play, but if you're into goofy meme games, this is about as good as gets. It's short, it's tough towards the end, and it can get pretty frustrating, but I still had fun playing it and don't regret the few hours I spent with it. It's a shame that it never got released outside of Japan; it feels like the type of game that would do reasonably well as a cheap digital game if re-released today just for how random and goofy it is. I can't recommend anyone go to any lengths to play this, but if you happen to have a PS1 emulator downloaded on your PC or have an ODE in your PS1, it's worth finding an ISO and playing around with. There a certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Linux, MacOS, and Windows
Torment: Tides of Numenera is a CRPG (for those not into RPG sub-genres, it stands for computer RPG; it's sometimes called "Western RPG" to differentiate from JRPGs), and that's a genre that are really hit-or-miss with me. Modern 3D CRPGs like The Witcher, Fallout, and Mass Effect are games I absolutely adore, but 90s style ones like the original Fallout or Wasteland are a lot harder for me to get into. This is one of the latter 90s style CRPGs, and it definitely took me a while to get into Torment. Once I got a feel for it, though, I really got into the game, and I was glad about that because this one was a gift from Colin, and I'd hate not to enjoy a game that was given to me as a gift.
You start off the game miraculously surviving a plummet to earth from what seems to be either a space station or moon in orbit. You have no memories prior to waking up mid-fall, but you quickly learn that you're a "castoff," a body formerly inhabited by someone called the Changing God, a person who has found ways to transfer his consciousness from one body another. You also quickly learn that you and your fellow castoffs have a particularly strong connection to an unseen force called the Tides and have the ability to affect the world around you in a variety of ways. You quickly meet your first two companions and they agree to help you seek information regarding how to repair the damaged "resonance chamber" next to which you awoke.
From there, you journey from location to location completing quests, interacting with new characters, and the learning more about the Ninth World and the worlds that existed before it. My biggest gripe with the game is my usual complaint about 90s style CRPGs - the combat. I found it cumbersome and uninteresting. The character interactions, however, I found to be extremely enjoyable. Fortunately for me, the game really emphasizes giving you control over how your character approaches situations, so with just one exception, I was able to either quickly escape from or avoid every single fight in my playthrough including the final boss. I could have fought tons of battles throughout my playthrough, but I focused on my character's Persuasion and Intimidations skills and managed to talk my way out of almost everything. That level of player choice - to use the sword or your wit - is one of my favorite things about RPGs, and it really redeemed my enjoyment of this one.
Visually, the game looks fine. It's not going to impress anyone, but it certainly doesn't look bad by any means. The environments are all detailed and well done, and that's the most important thing in these games in my opinion. The star of the show here is the world-building, and that's expertly done in Torment. There are a lot of choices that affect the path your story takes, so there's a ton of replay value, and there are more companions than you can have at one time. Given that these companions affect the conversations you hear and can have an impact on how other characters interact with you, there's definite incentive to do future playthroughs with different party compositions. The best part of the game for me personally was being able to avoid conflict entirely through speech skills. That's a really nice touch and definitely helped my RPG immersion.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is solid fantasy sci-fi CRPG that I ended up enjoying a LOT more than I expected to. It's a genre that I frequently dislike when it's the 90s style like this rather than the 2000s style like Fallout 3 and Skyrim, so I was pretty unsure about it at first, but it definitely grew on me pretty quickly. It only took me about 15 or 20 hours to go through, and it was absolutely worth it. There were a few bugs, but none of them were major or game-breaking; it was mostly just some missing text that left speech bubbles just saying "Error." The world and story are pretty deep, so if you're looking for a light or largely mindless adventure, look elsewhere, but if you want depth, moral dilemma, and deep lore, then this is definitely the game for you.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on 3DS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, and Windows
I'm blessed with some really great friends, truly. In addition to my friends over on Racketboy, I've also got some amazing friends in the #SwitchCorps Twitter community, and it's that community that starts this particular review. the 2020-2021 school year was extraordinarily rough for teachers all over the United States as we had to adapt quite abruptly to an all-online teaching format for which we were never prepared and deal with the emotional whiplash of being praised as heroes with one breath and damned as lazy good-for-nothings in the very next breath. It was with all this in mind that one of my SwitchCorps friends, K-MO (after whom I named my Hero in my playthrough) decides to up and order me a copy of Dragon Quest XI out of the blue. Obviously this meant more to me personally than I can put into words because of how BRUTAL the verbal attacks on my profession got after the first of the year, but it also really reinforced the fact that online friends are EVERY BIT as genuine and there when you need them as "real life" friends not to mention that it's because of him that this MASTERPIECE of a JRPG is on my shelf. So this review is definitely dedicated to him.
I've got to be honest that I'm a bit of a Dragon Quest neophyte. I played Builders and Heroes within the past few years, and I've played the original on NES, but that's it. Everyone kept talking about how great XI was, though, so it had been on my to-get list for a while, but I just never pulled the trigger. Within twenty minutes of starting the game, it immediately became apparent to me why everyone raves about this game. The best way I can think to describe it an absolute perfection of the classic model. It's very much a classic JRPG but polished to perfection with all of the quality of life improvements you'd expect of a modern JRPG. Driving home the point that this is, at its core, a classic JRPG is the 2D mode that you can toggle to play the entire game as a pseudo-8-bit sprite based JRPG à la the four classic NES Dragon Quest games (or Dragon Warriors as they were called in the United States back then). Other than being slower paced and having random encounters rather than avoidable overworld encounters, the game itself remains the same. Think the graphic shift in Halo Anniversary but cranked up to eleven...thousand.
The story involves the Hero (you know, that guy from Super Smash Bros) as he comes of age and discovers that the weird birthmark on his hand is actually a mark signifying that he's the reincarnation of the legendary Luminary, a chosen hero fated to defeat the returned Dark One. I absolutely refuse to spoil anything for the eight or nine RPG fans out there who haven't played this game yet, but what starts ordinarily enough turns into one of the best 100 hours you'll ever spend with a single-player game. For those of you who, like I did, are thinking "Okay, but 100 hours is just if you're a completionist, right?" No. No it's not. I only did like a third of the side quests, and my final playtime still clocked in at about 96 hours. You *could* stop at the first credit roll at the end of the informal "Act 2," but that's only two-thirds of the game; the "postgame" isn't so much extra epilogue stuff as much as the actual last third of the main story, and that's straight up another 30 hours, *maybe* 20 hours if you rush.
There are a total of eight playable characters - the swordsman Hero, the rogue Erik, the sorceress Veronica, the healer Serena, the mage Rab, the ultimate Dragon Quest waifu Jade, the gloriously flamboyant showman Sylvando, and the other one. We'll leave it at that. Each of these characters can be developed into a fighting style of your preference to a certain extent. Do you want Jade to use claw gauntlets or spears? Do you want Sylvando to use a whip or a sword? Do you want Serena to use a magic wand or a spear? You can't just throw weapons willy-nilly, but you do get a couple options for each character. It costs some gold to do so, but you do get the option to respec your characters, so if you decide you're not so crazy about that particular weapon type for that character, you can redistribute their spent skill points into skills for the their other weapon option.
It's clear that the development team went for performance and artistic flair over cutting edge graphical fidelity. Other than the normal resolution drop, the visuals differences between PS4 and Switch are so minimal that you practically can't tell without a side-by-side comparison which is both a testament to how well the development team has learned the Switch's hardware as well as how competently ported from 3DS it was that it looks as good as it does given its last-gen handheld roots. Frame rate drops were extremely minimal and uncommon in my experience, and I don't recall a single crash. Autosaves are frequent in case you do realize you've made a major mistake although not so frequent that you should rely solely on autosave. One of my favorite aspects of the game is actually the music. The orchestral soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal, and while you have the option to switching to the standard non-orchestral music, I'm at a loss as to why anyone would ever want to. The orchestral music is some of the best music I've ever heard in a JRPG and is every bit as enjoyable to listen to as the game is to play.
As with most RPGs, what really makes Dragon Quest XI stand out from the crowd is the writing with respect to the characters. Every character is brilliantly written and developed over the course of the story especially if you take the time to do their side tasks and quests. You really get the sense that a lot of love was poured into the script for this game as well as the voice acting as the entire package is virtually flawless from start to finish. My *only* complaint about the game is a completely subjective one - it's too damn long. It's an absolute masterpiece of game, and I adored it, but I had to take a few breaks to play through other games because I just got so burnt out. For a regular non-completionist playthrough to take me nearly 100 hours is excessive. To be sure, no one will ever accuse this game of not being worth your money for skimping on content (looking at you, Ultra Street Fighter II), but good lord, it's a damn behemoth of a game. I personally think 30 to 40 hours is the perfect length for the core story of an RPG, and 60 isn't uncommon, and that's totally cool for a beefier RPG experience, but 80 to 100 hours is just gargantuan. I'd rather they give me too much game than not enough, but damn dude, this is a LOT of game. Still, though, considering that my only complaint essentially boils down to "they gave me too much product for my money," it's not really something I can justifiably hold against it.
Dragon Quest XI is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. The visuals exemplify the idea that you don't need top of the line graphical fidelity to make a game look beautiful, the soundtrack drives home the impact that orchestral music can have on enhancing a gaming experience, the writing is superb, and the voice acting is top notch. This is everything you love about classic JRPGs from the late 80s and early 90s without the things you hate and brought into the 21st Century and modernized for today's gaming expectations. I truly can't find a single legitimate flaw with this game. I'm so grateful to K-MO for being such an amazingly thoughtful friend, and I'm so lucky that his pick-me-up gift was such a stellar game. It may have lasted longer than I would have ideally liked, but I can't think of a single JRPG more deserving of such an obscenely long playtime. No matter how you game - even if it's on that laughing stock of a platform Stadia - make sure you don't sleep on Dragon Quest XI if you haven't played it yet. It's a hell of a time commitment, but I promise that it's more than worth it even if you have to play it in small bites throughout the year.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Stadia, and Windows
A note first off - I don't care how Capcom stylized it; I reject the number drop from the title and personally insist on calling the game "Resident Evil 8: Village." It used the same color change for the "VIII" that the previous game did for "VII," and that game was officially "Resident Evil 7: biohazard," so I'm putting the 8 in there where it belongs. Anyway, with that said, Resident Evil 8 is a direct sequel to Resident Evil 7 taking place three years after the events in Dulvey, Louisiana. The first person perspective is retained, and Ethan Winters returns as the game's protagonist.
Ethan Winters and he and his wife, Mia, have been put into a sort of witness protection by the BSAA and moved to Eastern Europe (I think Romania) to try to keep them safe from the global bioterrorist group responsible for the Dulvey Incident. Everything seems fine aside from some probably run-of-the-mill marital tension between Ethen and Mia at the beginning of the game until BLAM Chris Redfield bursts in, fills Mia with bullets, and kidnaps Ethan and their six month old daughter, Rosemary. Story things happen, and Ethan eventually finds himself alone in a quaint village filled with monsters. Thus begins his quest to rescue his daughter, avenge his wife, and find out what the hell is going on with Chris Redfield, the BSAA, and this monster-infested hellscape.
As Ethan makes his way through the village, has to contend with five main antagonists, Mother Miranda and her four "children" - Lady Dimitrescu for whom the entire internet is horny (and no, she is NOT a vampire; the game makes that explicitly clear and has only one element that even remotely hints at possible vampirism); the creepy doll-maker, Beneviento; the stage 12 cancer patient, Moreau; and my personal favorite, the engineer Karl Heisenberg. I liked all of the antagonists, but I thought that splitting the attention between five "big" antagonists rather than having one recurring big baddie like Nemesis or Mr. X made each one feel a bit less impactful.
Let me state first off that try as I might, I'm not going to be able to be 100% objective with this review. I'm a huge Resident Evil fan and have been since high school, and there are a few things about this game that just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. The first of those is the overall feel of the game. It's obviously trying to be a next-gen Resident Evil 4. It takes place in a primitive village filled with violent creatures, there's an insane cult, the goal of the game is to rescue a kidnapped girl, and it's noticeably more action-oriented than its predecessor. Oh, and it has a nearly identical style of inventory management system and mysterious shopkeeper. Now none of that is actually bad, but my issue is how on the nose it all is, and I'm fully aware of what a monumental nitpick that is. It's just that after how huge a departure 7 was from the rest of the series, I was a bit disappointed to see 8 basically boil down to "4 in first person with a worse protagonist." It was an instance of the game doing everything right on paper but just not quite sticking the landing for me personally.
The biggest disappointment with the game for me was that I honestly just didn't find it that scary for the most part. The village itself is definitely creepy, and House Beneviento legitimately scared the hell out of me (there was some obvious inspiration from PT), but beyond that, it was kind of meh as far as "horror" goes. I didn't find Castle Dimitrescu particularly scary, Moreau's area wasn't scary at all, and Heisenberg's factory was kind of average-level creepy with a couple of jump scares. I feel like that's where 8 missed the mark with mimicking 4; Resident Evil 4 stayed genuinely scary in my opinion, but 8 leaned just a little too heavy on the action to the detriment of the horror. The last 30 or 45 minutes of the game genuinely felt more like Call of Duty Zombies than Resident Evil. Again, I know I'm nitpicking here, but horror is my favorite genre, so it's hard for me not to.
I've nitpicked and criticized a lot, but there are some things that even I couldn't find fault in. The game looks fantastic, for one thing. I thought RE7 looked great, but playing on PS5, Resident Evil 8 just looks phenomenal. There are a few textures here and there that left some to be desired, of course; the torn sofa cushions in the village look legitimately terrible and like an upscaled PS3 texture. By and large, though, it's really impressive visually, and the sound design is superb. The sound effects are done extremely well - something that can really make or break a horror experience - and having RE7's version of Go Tell Aunt Rhody start playing quietly in the background at various points tied the ambiance together nicely. The voice acting, as well, is top notch. The only fault I had with the voicing is that Rosemary's crying sounded nothing like a real baby would in that situation; just passive whining rather than full on screaming you'd actually get from a baby. Having dealt with an actual baby before, it was unrealistic enough to break my immersion a little bit in the game's opening. That's really my only complaint, though.
Resident Evil 8: Village is a solid follow-up for 7, but it doesn't quite live up to the Resident Evil name the way its predecessor did in my opinion. It went a little too far in the action direction and left a bit to be desired as far as horror goes. It's a fun game, and there are definitely parts that had my heart racing and my palms sweating, but overall, it was about on par with Resident Evil 6 for scaring me. I do consider it a must-play for Resident Evil fans and survival horror fans, but if you're expecting it to be as consistently creepy and keep you as on-edge as Resident Evil 7 did, you're in for a let-down. Capcom has always had some trouble finding that proper balance between horror and action with Resident Evil - I still scoff whenever someone mentions Resident Evil 5 - but I would definitely say this is the least offensive example of a horror game leaning too hard on action.
My Rating - 3 Neps
For 22 years, every millennial Nintendo fan has been waiting for a new Pokemon Snap game. It seemed odd that the Wii never got one. It seemed weird that the Wii U never got one. It seemed downright bizarre that the 3DS never got one. At long last, though, on the Switch, a dream 22 years in the making as been realized. We finally have New Pokemon Snap. Stupid title aside, this game is everything I had hoped and prayed that it would be.
In terms of the basic game mechanics, this is pretty much exactly like the original Pokemon Snap but smoother, modernized, and streamlined. You can zoom your camera, you can take pictures, you can throw apples, you can throw a non-edible projectile, and you can zoom. You can also play a flute of sorts and - after you beat the story part of the game and see the credits - you can enable burst fire to take three, four, or six pictures in rapid succession with a single button press as opposed to just the one picture. It's a still a rail shooter at its core, so you don't get any free movement, but even if you didn't go into this game expecting that to be the case, you get used to it pretty quickly.
The story has you play as a young aspiring photographer who travels to the Lental region to work with Professor Mirror (it bothers me more than you would think that his name isn't a type of tree) to help him work on a ecological survey of the region. He's also assisted by a young girl named Rita, Todd from the original game, and Todd's annoying apprentice, Phil. You go through each of the region's six islands (a total of twelve locations) taking pictures of the Pokemon there and investigating the "illumina" Pokemon, powerful Pokemon which exhibit a strange bioluminescence ability. Each Pokemon you photograph gets entered into your Photodex, and each Pokemon has four types of poses you can photograph denoted by one to four stars. The number of stars have no impact on the photo's score, but the score will determine whether the photo is awarded a bronze, silver, gold, or diamond star. That's my first complaint with the game - it can be difficult if not nearly impossible to tell exactly what the game wants you to photograph the Pokemon doing in order to get each of the four star categories. Most of them I just stumbled upon, but there are a still a lot that are blank in my Photodex because I got frustrated and gave up on figuring out.
There are a total of 214 Pokemon in New Pokemon Snap of which ten are legendary. As far as I'm aware, the legendary Pokemon aren't available until after you beat the story portion of the game and see the credits. Each of the areas you can explore has a research level from 1 to 3 (you can level up from 3 to MAX but it doesn't seem to change anything), and the higher the research level, the more Pokemon will appear. While I still have a couple areas at level 2, you'll need at least most of them at level 3 in order to photograph every Pokemon in the game, and if you're anything like me, you'll want to photograph them all. The models are absolutely gorgeous - especially the illumina Pokemon - and while the character models in Sword and Shield looked fine in my opinion, New Pokemon Snap really harnesses the full extent of the Switch's power to make these Pokemon as good as they can.
While it's pretty limited and only functions as a leaderboard and for picture sharing, New Pokemon Snap does have online connectivity. You can compare you Photodex rating with the other players around the world, the other players of your language, and the other players on your friends list. You can also edit pictures saved to your album with borders, filters, and art and upload those (up to six at a time) to your profile for the world to see. Other players can give your pictures "Sweet" awards; these don't do anything except make you feel nice, but it is cool to see which pictures of yours catch the interest of random folks online. You can also customize your player icon, your badge, and your catchphrase. At a certain point in the game, you can enable the option to have Professor Mirror automatically upload his favorite pictures to two additional slots on the side of your profile although I never did figure out the criteria for what he considers worth uploading. You can see a screenshot of my profile below for reference.
New Pokemon Snap may not be a perfect game, but it's damn close. It's definitely everything I ever dared to hop a second Pokemon Snap game would be. Pokemon spinoffs are rarely big enough to be considered "system sellers" on their own, but honestly, I had enough fun with this one to be willing to say that it deserves the title. It took me right at 26 hours to clear the game to credits (although I did admittedly spend six or seven of those hours obsessive-compulsively scouring the first area until I gave up on completing every optional request the game throws at you) and additional four or five hours to hunt down the legendary Pokemon and the last couple that were missing from my Photodex. It may not be the longest game in the world, but it took me longer to reach the credits than Pokemon Shield did, and it's significantly longer than the original Pokemon Snap. If you're a fan of Pokemon, you absolutely have to at least check this game out. The rail shooter genre isn't everyone's cup of tea, but there's an enormous amount of chill fun to be had here.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Before your eyes is an indie PC game that I'd never even heard of before I saw a retweet from the developer talking about a Steam review from a guy who played the game, loved the game, and then refunded the game because it was short. A TON of people were like "Wow, screw that guy. I've never heard of this game, but that's a dick move, so I bought it to support the developer." Never one to miss a good pro-game dev bandwagon, I decided to go drop $10 on the game, too. For the record, the dick from the Steam review apologized and repurchased the game after the Internet Inquisition got its hooks into him.
Before Your Eyes is one of the most unique games I think I've ever played. It's controlled primarily with your webcam to track your blinks; the only input from your mouse is to move a cursor, and the keyboard isn't used at all. You have a very limited amount of camera movement with the mouse, and you blink to interact with objects and progress to the next scene (there's not movement in a traditional 3D space). The game follows the life of Benjamin Brynn from early childhood through to the end of his life. The narrative is told as a frame story - think Heart of Darkness if you've ever read that - where Benjamin's soul has been fished up by a boatman who is going to plead his case to the Gatekeeper to allow his soul into her heavenly city.
That Steam review was right about the length; my playthrough took me less than 90 minutes. This game exemplifies the phrase "quality over quantity," though. When most games look to make their games longer to cram in more "value," GoodbyeWorld sought to make a game that left an impression on the player, not just take up their time, and I can't think of a game that's ever done this quite this well or succinctly. All in the span of 80 minutes, I smiled, laughed, grew angry, felt anxious, and cried real tears of sorrow. I've never played a game that moved me psychologically as much as Before Your Eyes did without being straight up trauma porn like Doki Doki Literature Club. It's not just the aggregate whole that's superb, either; each element of this game oozes with love, care, and talent. The motion capture for the boatman is excellent despite the game's being made by a nine person team. The writing is superb with a script and story that would fit in seamlessly with classic short stories. I don't know how experienced the cast was, but the voice acting doesn't have even the slightest hint of amateur talent; the voice cast was either extremely experienced or poured in the hours of rehearsals needed to nail each and every part this perfectly. The art especially needs to get special mention. You never see the whole world during any given scene; the majority of the world stays obscured by an inky blackness that focuses in on the important elements of the scene, and the 3D art in the game mixes with this blackness in a way that evokes at least in me thoughts of impressionist and surrealist art with certain scenes towards the end reminding me almost of Dada.
I'd love to talk about the story and analyze the symbolism of different elements and allusions in the writing, but the story is so damn well written that I refuse to risk spoiling anything for folks who might go on to play it. Suffice it to say that this is an extremely unique experience not quite like anything I've played previously. The love and care put into the development is readily apparent in every aspect from the visuals to the writing to the voice acting to the music. I just absolutely adore everything about this game and cannot praise it enough. It's a shame that the webcam is so central to the experience because I'd love to see this game ported far and wide so more people could experience it. I suppose it could theoretically work on PS5 if you had the camera, but having to sit close enough for it to track your blinks accurately makes this a game that probably needs to remain PC exclusive.
A lot of people debate whether video games truly count as art or not, but I would challenge anyone to play Before Your Eyes and tell me that this isn't a masterpiece of art after getting to the end. It may be an extremely short game, but with choices to make throughout the game that can affect various elements, it's also not a game you're likely to play through once and be finished with. $10 may feel steep for a 90 minute game to some folks, but I give you my word that it's well worth every penny, and I'd suspect that I'll probably be at five or six hours by the time I've seen all that the game has to offer. Even if I did only ever spend 90 minutes with this game, the quality of the experience I had in those 90 minutes is still well worth $10. This really is a once-in-a-generation game in my opinion and a masterpiece of artistic expression. I've recommended a lot of games over my life, but this one is probably on my All-Time Top Five Must Play list.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I don't usually do this, but this game deserves support; below is a link that will take you to the developers' website. Please go support them and buy their game on Steam. I promise you won't regret it.
Also available on Windows
Oh Neptune, why do you break my heart? I've been so faithful to you, evangelizing your series and dishing out an obscene amount of money on your limited editions. Why do you betray my love with sub-par games? Sure, even at your peak, you were little more than a generic RPG that served as a vessel for fan service, but at least the games were solidly decent. Between Megatagmension Blanc, Super Neptunia RPG, and this, you're on a bit of a losing streak.
Neptunia Virtual Stars is an action RPG that sees the four CPUs team up with a group of "VTubers" all of whom have been summoned to Virtualand by the Digital Goddess Faira to save her planet, Emote. Rather than their typical melee weapons, the four CPUs all have guns. That's my first complaint; each of the four goddesses have pretty well established weapon preferences. My second complaint is that the voice acting is entirely in Japanese. Normally I don't have a problem with games that have only subtitles in English - hell, that's most of what I buy from Play-Asia - but not only is this an official North American release, but it's the first game in the entire series not to feature English voice acting, and the English cast they had was rock solid. IF said in response to a tweet of mine that it was due to licensing issues, but my gut tells me that they just cheaped out with the localization. My third complaint is that the whole game just looks a bit "off" to me. Character models looked lower quality to me than they did in VII, and cutscenes looked just a bit blurry as if a slight film were over my screen. My fourth and most significant complaint - the one that primarily earned the game the score I'm giving it - is the controls. They're horrendous. There's a noticeable dead zone with the control sticks before it actually registers that you're moving, and there's no option to adjust that. What sensitivity options I do get seem to have no happy medium; aiming always felt either too sluggish or too jerky.
For those keeping score, the main characters' weapons feel out of place, there's no English voice acting, the game doesn't look that good, and the controls are atrocious. The story is also pretty rubbish, but that's par for the course for these fanservice games, so I'll let that one slide. As for the good...well, Nep's in the game? It is playable once you start to get a feel for it. Unfortunately, that takes a while as the tutorials only answered about three-quarters of my questions, so it took some fiddling and trial and error (or giving up and accepting ignorance) for me to figure out how parts of the game worked. Still, I did eventually hit a bit of a rhythm about halfway through the game. It never got "fun" per se, but it did cease to be painful to play. There's a rhythm mini-game that they kind of stuck on with scotch tape. Like, it seriously feels like they just plastered in on last minute because it's the clunkiest and least intuitive rhythm game I've ever played. Even calling it a "rhythm" game feels wrong because despite the tutorial's claim, there was no connection whatsoever between the song's rhythm and the correct timing of the button inputs. Button inputs, by the way, that seems completely arbitrary with whether or not they registered the timing. I'm bad at rhythm games - I'll be the first to admit it - but I'm not as bad as this would have you believe.
Truthfully, I'm really not sure how much more I can say about this game. It's just bad. It's certainly not unplayable, but I can't see anyone getting any actual enjoyment from playing it. I dropped $100 on the limited edition for this game and played it through to completion including the Platinum trophy because it's Nep and I'm a cult-like superfan of the series, but unless you're a big fan of the Neptunia series, just skip this one. It's just not a good game. It finally replaced Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies as the worst game in the series (although that one still has the title for worst title in the series).
My Rating - 2 Neps
Fair warning, this contains spoilers for Muv-Luv Unlimited as this takes place immediately after, so keep that in mind.
February 23, 2004. That's The Day - the day that Alternative V was put into action. A migrant fleet with roughly 100,000 of humanity's most promising minds on board departs for Barnard's Star, abandoning the Earth under the pressure of the relentless BETA onslaught. After the departure of the migrant fleet, dozens of G-bombs - bombs with still-not-understood gravity-distorting effects made from exotic G-elements brought to Earth by the BETA - are dropped on BETA hives all over Eurasia in one last ditch effort to eradicate them from the face of the Earth. That was how the story of Muv-Luv Unlimited ended. This is the story of what followed.
The Day After is broken into four episodes - Episode 00, Episode 01, Episode 02, and Episode 03. Episode 00 serves as a sort of stand-alone introduction with Episodes 01-03 telling the actual main story. 00 opens to with a ship stranded in the shallows in what used to be the south Pacific somewhere between Australia and Hawaii - the USS John F. Kennedy, one of America's nuclear-powered TSF carriers. The story opens as surface pilots with the United States Marine Corps fly across the salt deserts to set up relay points. The two pilots hope desperately to pick up a distress call on the radio once the relay is up and running. Fortune smiles on them; another US Marine surface pilot survived.
Earth is in shambles; the G-bombs were used as a last resort against the BETA, but no one knew the devastating effects it would have on the planet. Megatsunamis hundreds of meters tall crashed across Eurasia, moving entire oceans from one part of the surface to another. Tectonic plates lurched across the mantle. Most of the southern hemisphere has been transformed into salt deserts with the salt that once formed the seabed. All of Eurasia is now underwater merging the Atlantic and Pacific into one giant ocean. Parts of the atmosphere have been stripped away leaving whole patches of the surface devoid of air pressure or breathable oxygen. Electromagnetic storms make long range communication impossible. Most citizens of the United States - once the nation safest from the BETA threat - are dead. Only four nations remain - the United States, Canada, France, and Japan. Japan and France, having lost their territory beneath the waves thanks to what has been dubbed the Great Ocean Collapse, exist as governments in exile harbored by the United States and Canada, respectively. If this was a victory against the BETA, it was history's most pyrrhic victory.
So there's your context. In a lot of ways, The Day After is legit more post-apocalyptic than Fallout. Radiation eventually dissipates. The effects of the G-bombs, though? That permanently deforms the planet. Oh, and insult to injury? There are still BETA on the planet. The hives may have been annihilated, but some of the crab bastards survived. Stranded and with no way to contact reinforcements in Hawaii, the crew of the JFK have to find a way to hold out against a renewed BETA threat. This is not the main story, though; instead this is simply the prologue to another bloody chapter in human history.
Episode 01 starts the story in earnest capitalizing on the world-building foundation set by Episode 00. The main story follows Tatsunami Hibiki and Sendou Yuzuka, two surface pilots from the Imperial Japanese Mainland Defense Force and veterans of Japan's expeditionary force to Europe. If you're hoping to find out what became of Yokohama base after the events of Unlimited and reconnect with your favorite characters, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but 95% of the characters in The Day After are new. That's not necessarily a bad thing as I really came to love these characters, but it's very much a sequel to the world and not the characters per se. I won't go into anymore detail about the story of the world so as not to spoil anything (everything I've said thus far is pretty much what you'd find on a store page), but while it's not nearly as "misery porn" as Alternative, it's still very much Muv-Luv.
The game is a kinetic visual novel, so it's a straight linear story with no choices or branching routes or endings. Some people would argue that this doesn't constitute a game. I would argue that those people are communist sympathizers, and I'll die on the "visuals novels are games" hill. Anyway, as a kinetic visual novel, it's a very narrative driven experience, and character development and interactions are the name of the game here. If you're familiar with Muv-Luv, you know that ages does character development extremely well. If you're not familiar with Muv-Luv, you probably wouldn't play this anyway. One of the things that must be noted is that they finally used a different engine for it. The older Muv-Luv games used the notoriously finnicky rUGP system (though, from what I've seen on Twitter and Reddit, the Steam releases are a bit more stable than the original Japanese PC releases), but this releases uses a more modern engine. This gives it a bit more stability. It also had some way better looking animations than Alternative, although I'm not sure if that's from dumping rUGP or that they just put more work into the animations in general here.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am obsessed with Muv-Luv. It's pretty much tied with Neptunia as my favorite series. With that said, I'm naturally a bit biased towards it. I will say, however, that I found this one a little less edge-of-your-seat engaging than Alternative. The tension just wasn't as high. As a follow-up to Unlimited's ending, though, it's fantastic. I'd recommend this one to any fan of visual novels (although not until after playing Muv-Luv Extra and Muv-Luv Unlimited first), but it's an absolute must-play for any fans of the Muv-Luv series. Remember, folks, this is the series that literally inspired Attack on Titan, so don't sleep on it. ;-)
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Switch and Windows
After four games averaging about 60 hours each - and more for me since I took my time talking to everyone - I've finally finished the Trails of Cold Steel tetralogy. Like the Trails in the Sky trilogy before it, this series consistently achieved greatness, but it never did quite reach perfection.
The game picks up a month or so after Cold Steel III ended, and just like the beginning of Cold Steel II, the tension starts off at max. Truthfully, the tension starts off higher in IV than it did in II, and that works to the games benefit. While IV is just as derivative compared to II as III was compared to I, the fact that the tension starts off almost as high at the start of IV that it was at the end of III helps to shove the player into the drama first thing with very little in the way of necessary build-up. While Rean ends up being the main character again partway through the game, IV starts off with Juna as the "main" main character as she, Kurt, and Altina - with some help from Randy - try to find and reunite with Ash, Musse, and Rean who were separated from the rest of the class at the end of the third game. All of this they're doing as the Empire marches rapidly towards the prospect of a truly apocalyptic war with the Calvard Republic that would undoubtedly engulf the entire continent of Zemuria.
One of the things that made Cold Steel IV really stand out to me even in the context of the Legend of Heroes series is that it really does tie up the entire IP. You've got three distinctive arcs in Zemuria up to this point - the Liberl trilogy (Trails in the Sky), the sadly untranslated Crossbell duology (Trails of Zero and Trails of Azure), and the Erebonia tetralogy (Trails of Cold Steel). Cold Steel IV brings all three of those strands together into one unified narrative rope by the second half of the game. Playing through III left me thinking, "Man, I really wish I had been able to play the Crossbell games," but having played through IV, I *really* wish I'd been able to play those two games because a lot of the backstory bits they drop and characters in the game would be a lot more meaningful to me if I had those two games' worth of context.
One thing I really have to mention that the other games lack is the inclusion of a regular ending and a true ending. If you don't meet the right criteria, you get the regular ending which is a fine ending and keeps the door open for more games in this universe (which is good as there are a couple that have yet to leave Japan), but the true ending is a significantly conclusion to the story and lets you face off against the true final boss. The regular ending is fine, but the resolution feels a bit rushed and ham-handed with that ending; the true ending is obviously the ending that the game's writers always intended and definitely needs to be the ending you experience even if you have to reference a walkthrough to make sure you don't miss it.
Mechanically, it's just more Cold Steel III, and as far as I'm concerned, that's great. It looks, sounds, plays, and feels pretty much the same. You get plenty of waifus to choose from, and the game even handles the inescapably creepy concept of choosing one of your students as your waifu as well as it can given that you're picking a student as your waifu given that Rean is their teacher. Considering that I'm a teacher, that's too much degeneracy even for me, so I restricted my waifu selection to old Class VII. Still, though, it's an option, so if you're a minor and not violently uncomfortable with the idea of a 16 year old waifu, go for it.
Trails of Cold Steel IV isn't quite perfect, but I'd definitely call it the best of the series, and for a series that has yet to miss in my opinion, that's pretty high praise. You get some minor bonuses for having save data from the first three Cold Steel games that you obviously can't get on Switch (unless they give the 1 and 2 ports a Western release), but the bonuses are minor enough that it's really not worth worrying about. I have to admit that I was ready for the game to be over about halfway through, but I think that's because I marathoned all three Liberl games and all four Erebonia games back to back to back; if I had just played the four Cold Steel games in a row, I doubt I would have been nearly as burnt out. I certainly didn't feel the same "oh my god, please be over" fatigue at the end of IV that I felt at the end of II. It's a solid game, and if you've played III, you'll probably play it no matter what I say just to see how that awful cliffhanger plays out.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Switch and Windows
Trails of Cold Steel III is the eagerly awaited follow-up to the incredible Trails of Cold Steel II taking place about a year later, and normally, I would have started up Cold Steel III as soon as I finished my replay of Cold Steel II, but a friend of mine said that some character from the Trails in the Sky games were in Cold Steel III and that I really needed to play those three games first to really appreciate their roles in this one. After powering through all three of the Trails in the Sky games, I finally started Cold Steel III, and pretty immediately, I saw what he meant; Tita Russel, the absolute best part of the Skies games, is a pretty significant NPC in Cold Steel III, so I'm definitely glad that I took his advice.
If you've played the first Cold Steel, you pretty much know what to expect from Cold Steel III as far as the basic structure of the game goes. Most of it takes place at Thors Military Academy although Cold Steel III takes place at the new branch campus in Leeves, a suburb on the opposite side of Heimdallr from Trista. Rather than being a student in Sara's class, Rean himself is now the instructor of the new Class VII. On free days, Rean does the same kinds of things that he did in the first game except from the perspective of a teacher helping his students rather than a student helping his teachers. The only major gameplay difference is the "brave" orders that can be used in battle for a variety of stat boosts for a few turns and the ability to set a sub-master quartz in addition to your master quartz (which, admittedly, was probably my favorite new gameplay mechanic). Like the field studies that Rean went on as a student, the branch campus goes on field exercises with each of the classes - Class VII: Special Operations, Class VIII: Combat Tactics, and Class IX - Military Finance - doing different kinds of exercises. Class VII's Special Operations activities look suspiciously similar to the Bracer-esque things that the old Class VII did on their field studies. -insert thinking emoji-
Over the course of their field exercises, Class VII confronts the social and political issues brought on by the fallout from the civil war, Ouroboros's continued schemes, and the Erebonian annexation of North Ambria and Crossbell. Along the way, they uncover a new insidious plot and see the effects of Erebonia's rapidly deteriorating relationship with the Republic of Calvard. In terms of the world-building the game does, it's phenomenal. The game's narrative framing is, however, very derivative. The narrative structure, progression, and whatnot in Cold Steel 3 are almost a carbon copy of Cold Steel 1 right down to the game ending with a super climactic and world-changing cliffhanger. That's not to say that it's bad - the formula they're copying is an excellent one - but it is a bit off-putting, or at least was to me, to have the third and presumably fourth game so exactly mirror the story dynamic of the first and second game. Thankfully the game's field exercises take all take place in areas that Rean didn't get to explore in the previous games, and there are plenty of new characters to get to know and interact with, so the game never feels stale, but the word "derivative" really is quite apt for the game's structure to a degree I haven't seen in any other series.
Visually, the game looks pretty similar to the PS4 remasters of the first two Cold Steel games. The details on the models and textures are definitely improved, but it's not as dramatic an improvement as one might expect going from a PS4 remaster of a PS3 game to a game that actually made for PS4. Still, though, the game looks good, and I only encountered one noteworthy bug (plus one hilarious bug) during my roughly five dozen hour playthrough. The music is a mix of tracks familiar from the previous games and new compositions, and while I personally prefer the music from the first two games, the soundtrack is still solid, something I've noticed is the case in all of the Trails games. Likewise, the voice acting is extremely well done for the main characters; it's a little more hit-or-miss for the minor side characters. My only complaint with the voice acting is that they changed Millium's voice actress. The new VA did a great job, but it was a pretty noticeable change for me; it was a bit lower pitched and didn't have quite as memorable a "cutesy" and aloof inflection as the original VA's performance did, and those are two of Millium's core character traits. It's by no means a bad performance, but I definitely preferred the original VA.
All things considered, Trails of Cold Steel III is another solid entry in an incredible JRPG franchise and an excellent follow-up to its predecessors. I didn't find myself quite as grasped by the characters or story in 3 as I did in 1, but that's entirely down to personal preference. If you were a fan of the other Cold Steel games, definitely play this one, but before you do, make sure you've played the three Trails in the Sky games. It doesn't matter what platform you play Cold Steel III on as there's no save data importing like there was in Cold Steel II, so if you played the first two on Vita, no worries. Likewise, if you played the first two on PS4 but want to play III on Switch, no worries there. No matter how you play it, though, make sure that you do; the Erebonian Empire's continuing trials make for a great story, and the characters from the first two Cold Steel games have matured and developed remarkably.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita
If you read my reviews of Trails in the Sky and Trails in the Sky SC, then most of what I have to say about Trails in the Sky 3rd is going to sound pretty familiar. Those three games all look, sound, and play virtually identically, so the only real distinction between the three games is the story, the characters, a handful of extremely minor tweaks to gameplay mechanics.
3rd takes place about six months or so after the events of SC and focuses around Father Kevin Graham and his squire, Sister Ries. While the focus may be on Kevin and Ries, all of the major characters from the previous two games return here; by the end of the game, you have a whopping sixteen playable characters. Your party is still limited to four characters, but you do have the option of setting a "support" character that can give passive buffs. What passive buffs you're given depends on the character you select as your support. As far as game mechanics go, that's really the only major change from SC other than a quick travel option. There are a couple minigames, but they're honestly super forgettable.
A friend of mine described Trails in the Sky 3rd as feeling like "post-game DLC for SC" before I started it; having finished 3rd, I can absolutely agree with that. It doesn't really expand on much of the overarching story from the two previous games so much as just add a little detail to a couple things here and there and flesh out the characters' backstories a bit. Some of these backstories are fantastic; the look at Estelle's and Joshua's lives right after Cassius adopted Joshua and the background for Kevin were super interesting. Seeing Renne's past filled out was a brilliant albeit sad and disturbing little side story. Some of them, though, were frankly kind of boring. Kloe had a pretty lengthy side story, and I was honestly so bored during it that I couldn't keep my focus. I ended up spending as much time scrolling through Facebook on my phone as I did actually doing the story. Most of them were at least moderately interesting, though.
Without giving away story spoilers, I'm honestly not sure what more I could say about it. Because of how the story is set up, it felt a lot harder to get mira than in the two previous games, although part of that impression could be because of how many playable characters I ended up needing to upgrade armor and weapons for. The game takes place in a sort of "pocket dimension" of sorts away from the normal world, so it felt a lot more empty and isolated given the lack of NPCs to populate the world. That's not a negative per se, but I personally thought it felt a bit lonely. Between the lack of NPCs, the lack of grandiose feeling with the story that the two previous games had, and the fact that the game is around 10 to 15 hours shorter than the two previous games, it overall just felt like a step down in quality to me.
Trails in the Sky 3rd is by no means a bad game. On the contrary, it's a very competent RPG with well written characters and an interesting scenario. The biggest problem the game has is honestly is pedigree; the game is good, but the two that came before it are just so much better. Judged own its own merits in a vacuum, it's a solid JRPG, but when played and considered in context to the first two parts of this trilogy, it comes out just feeling kind of okay. I absolutely recommend playing it if you've played the first two Trails in the Sky games, and if you're planning on playing Trails of Cold Steel, I definitely recommend playing through the whole Skies trilogy; having played the first two Cold Steel games, there are a lot of allusions and references made to the Skies games that I didn't notice during my playthroughs of Cold Steel 1 and 2 but really appreciate in hindsight. Just don't expect Skies 3rd to be as good as Skies or Skies SC. It's good, but it's definitely the bronze medalist of that trilogy.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita
Trails in the Sky (TitS, if you will) SC is the "second chapter" of the story (hence the name) that Trails in the Sky started, and it's...well, it's more Trails in the Sky. Sort of like how the transition of Trails of Cold Steel to Trails of Cold Steel II was, there is very little that distinguishes this game from the first game at a glance. There are, however, some differences that you start to notice as you progress through the game.
SC picks up exactly where the first game left off. I won't give any spoilers, but Sad Thing A happens at the end of the first game, so at the start of this one, Sad Character B decides to do Preparatory Thing C to get ready to accomplish Goal D. I think that should be vague enough not to spoil it while giving a (very, very, very) vague idea of the game's early plot. Then Sad Character B gets further wrapped up in trying to thwart Evil Conspiracy E and teams back up with most of the characters from the first game; suddenly a lot of seemingly unrelated plot threads start to come together into a single cohesive tapestry. The first two Cold Steel games are pretty similar in that regard. As such, SC isn't NEARLY as slow burning a game as the first one was. I got sucked into this one significantly faster than I did with the previous game.
Visually and aurally, SC is virtually identical to its predecessor. Even mechanically, they're almost identical. The biggest changes are the introduction of Combo Crafts which use CP (the craft points you gain by taking and dealing damage) to let two characters team up to perform a powerful attack and better orbment abilities. You get a wider variety of quartz options for your obment thus giving you more options for strategy and the potential for greater stat effects. It also seemed like the game was significantly more generous with experience points in SC but much stingier with sepith. That may have just been how it seemed since I played SC a bit differently than I did the first game given how much more used to the basic mechanics I was, but it definitely felt like I was leveling up significantly faster while also being perpetually out of sepith and unlocking orbment slots much more slowly.
It's not just the positives and neutrals from the first that were largely carried over into SC; the negatives also carried over for the most part. The pacing didn't feel as slow, and I didn't find myself getting bored quite as often in the early parts of the game, but they seemingly doubled down on the bugs related to Turbo; I had to reload my most recent save file on four separate occasions during my playthrough of SC whereas I only had to do that once in the first game, and I finished SC faster. It wasn't the end of the world since I learned my lesson about not saving frequently in the last game, but it was definitely an annoyance; if you're going to add a feature into the game, make sure it works. This is especially true for a game that's been out for over half a decade. The game released on PC worldwide in late 2015 (and in early 2006 in Japan); it's now early 2021. That's plenty of time for bug fixes. Fortunately, however, that was the only bug issue that I noticed during my playthrough. Everything else worked well and ran smoothly.
Trails in the Sky didn't blow me away given its extremely dated presentation and visual style, but it's definitely a fun game with a good story and a fantastic cast of characters. I definitely enjoyed my time with SC more than I did my time with the first Trails in the Sky, but that's not to say that it didn't have its slow points. Still, all things considered, I can readily recommend this to any JRPG fan with a PSP or PC (or a PS3 or PS Vita for those who speak and read Japanese). It doesn't look great by today's standards, and some of the gameplay elements feel a bit dated as well, but that doesn't detract from enjoyment in the slightest. It would be great to get a remaster or even full remake of this game and its predecessor, but until that happens (in the extremely unlikely event that it does), this game is a fantastic way to spend 50 hours.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation 3
Despite being the first game in the "Trails" sub-series of Falcom's Legend of Heroes series (which itself started as a sub-series of their Dragon Slayer series), this was not my first exposure to the series. This is actually the third game in the series that I've played. I had started off doing a replay of Trails of Cold Steel and Trails of Cold Steel II since I just got Cold Steel III and Cold Steel IV, but a friend of mine was like "Dude, no, you need to play Trails in the Sky before you play Cold Steel III; you'll appreciate the characters more." So I was like okay, sure, I have time to play a trilogy of 40 hour RPGs in the middle of my tetralogy of 60 hour RPGs, no problem. Since I have no life, it's actually not a problem.
Trails in the Sky takes place in the Kingdom of Liberl in the southwestern corner of the continent of Zemuria with the Erebonian Empire to the north and the Calvard Republic to the east. The story revolves around Estelle and Joshua Bright, two up-and-coming junior members of the Bracer Guild and siblings (although Joshua was adopted five years ago at the age of 11, so they're not *really* siblings). Their father is the legendary hero of the Hundred Day War against Erebonia turned S-rank bracer, Cassius Bright. Cassius leaves on Bracer business right as Joshua and Estelle become Junior Bracers and begin their journey across the kingdom to become full-fledged Bracers. To do this, they'll have to do something worth getting a recommendation from each of the kingdom's five Bracer branches. Of course, as their journey progresses, international conspiracy and potentially civilization altering plot events occur.
Having been spoiled by Trails of Cold Steel, it took me a while to get into Trails in the Sky. The characters here are very well developed, but there's no voice acting in Trails in the Sky, and the characters are all 2D models rather than 3D sprites, both of which made it a bit harder for me to really connect with the characters. It's also a very slow burning game; the story doesn't really pick up speed and get really good until over halfway through. Once it does get some momentum and get going, though, the story gets extremely interesting. In that respect, it does feel a lot like a more primitive Trails of Cold Steel as that game also took a while to really get going but really sank its hooks in you once it got that momentum built up.
The combat is pretty standard JRPG fair. You begin combat by touching an enemy on the overworld. If you touch them from behind, you start the battle with the advantage and get a couple extra moves; if you hit them head-on or from the side, you start the battle without anyone having an advantage; if the enemy touches you from behind or one of the characters trailing behind your first character, the enemy gets the advantage, giving them a couple extra moves and having them surround you. This really makes your party members a huge liability on the overworld and makes me extremely glad that Cold Steel only has your first character on the overworld. Once you're in combat, it's standard turn based fighting with each character's turn order being based on their speed. You can use physical attacks or Arts (magic) depending on the quarts installed in your orbal device and your EP. If you lose, you can either retry the battle or go back to the main menu. There's also a turbo button you can hold to make the battles and overworld movement go faster - something I made frequent use of - but it's super buggy and can cause problems ranging from minor inconveniences like not registering that you passed the boundary to load the next map to major issues like outright crashing.
According to Steam, it took me 48 hours to get through this game; I probably could have done it in 40 hours (maybe a little less) if I'd been able to keep focused, but like I said, the beginning is REALLY slow, and my attention span isn't what it used to be. That's really my only major gripe with the game. The fact that the turbo mode is still so buggy even in 2021 is a pretty big bummer, but it's not really a deal breaker as long as you make sure not to use it during special S-Craft attacks (some of them will have their damage negated if you use turbo) and save often. I was kind of on the fence about whether to give this one a three or a four out of five, but the game finished so strongly and has me excited enough to start the sequel that I'll say it squeaked out a four. It hasn't aged particularly well when you directly compare it to Trails in the Sky, but it's still a very solid RPG especially if you like 2D games.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Switch, and Windows
This was a bit of an impulse buy for me from Play-Asia years ago. I honestly wasn't sure if I was ever actually going to play it - I usually like my 2D girls with a more distinctly unrealistic anime look - but on my second day of being stuck in a house with no electricity and my Vita among my only gaming devices left with a charged battery, my options for entertainment were becoming limited. I saw that this was a pretty short game and looked pretty easy to Platinum, so I figured that was the pick-me-up that my spirits needed as I froze in the aftermath of an ice storm.
The premise of the game is, frankly, pretty stupid; you're a university aged guy who's trying to find love. The way you find out about girls is by stealing their panties. Seriously. This is your window into their souls and personalities for you to determine your credibility. You set yourself up as a "jack of all trades" kind of handyman and get into their homes to fix their internet or fix their VCR at which point you find way to steal their panties without getting caught. The game is played a point and click (mis)adventure separated into four levels. There are over a dozen endings for the first three levels (one of which is the "true" ending for each) along with like half a dozen panties to steal for each and five endings for the last level. Honestly, none of it is all that fulfilling.
The games visuals are done in a very nice hand drawn artstyle that's very reminiscent of more realistic looking 90s anime, so it fits the setting well. The background music is nice, too, although the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. The game's biggest problems, though, are that it's too short - it took me probably four or five hours to get every trophy - and that it's just not that interesting. That's absolutely a personal preference thing; I'm sure degenerates who are really fond of early 90s anime will adore the style, but I'm much more of a 2000s blue hair magical girl anime kind of degenerate, so this just didn't resonate with me the way the artstyle in Sunrider or Criminal Girls did.
So that's basically it. You go through four girls' homes (two of whom are sisters and live together, so three homes), navigate dialogue choices, creep through to steal their panties, get a bunch of different endings, and that's it. That's the whole game. It lacks the character depth of a visual novel like My Girlfriend is a Mermaid, it lacks the story and world depth of a visual novel like Muv-Luv, it lacks the puzzle depth of a game like Ace Attorney, and it lacks the length of a game like Sakura Wars. It's solidly and perhaps painfully okay. It's certainly a fun little collection piece of have on your shelf for the sheer horny absurdity, but the game honestly isn't all that compelling. I wouldn't bother unless this is specifically your thing.
My Rating - 2 Neps
I'm a teacher.
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 high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.