This is a review that I have wanted to write for a long time. It will also likely end up being the least popular opinion I ever express on this blog. I want to dedicate this to my dear high school friend and we're-totally-not-actually-gay-but-maybe-a-little-probably husband, Grant, for inspiring me to replay this shitty gem. Devil's Third is a Wii U exclusive (I don't count the PC port since it's only the online portion and was only made available in Japan) that it universally considered to be one of the worst games ever to see a retail release on the platform. It also happens to be one of my favorite games on the console and probably my absolute favorite action game. Don't get me wrong - the game is straight up garbage. It's the kind of beautiful, testosterone-packed garbage that makes me salivate with irrational glee.
Devil's Third was the brainchild of developer Tomonobu Itagaki of Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden fame and was to be the first game developed by Valhalla Game Studios, a studio formed in 2008 by Itagaki and other former Tecmo employees. Initially beginning life as an Xbox 360 game, Devil's Third went through one development issue after another, at one point being planned as a multiplatform release for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC until THQ backed out. The idea was eventually pitched to Nintendo and, because of their lack of mature, online capable games, they agreed to publish. Originally being envisioned as a trilogy, Devil's Third would unfortunately be pretty much universally slammed by critics, all but ensuring its sequels would never see the light of day. Those of us irrationally enamored by the game's craptasticitude can only hope and pray that, like Shaq Fu, it's infamy will one day allow the shameful game to rise from the ashes and disappoint a new generation of gamers.
The first indication that this game is going to be gloriously awful is its entire premise. You play as Ivan, a former Soviet black ops soldier serving an 850 year sentence in Guantanamo Bay for terrorism but who also secretly works for the US government and therefore has his 2000 square foot prison cell outfitted with a 100" TV, a drum set, massive speakers, a king sized bed, and a stereo system I could never dream of affording. When a mysterious Russo-Japanese ninja terrorist hijacks a satellite and makes every other satellite in orbit explode, disabling every electronic device on Earth except those needed for the game's plot, the American military calls on Ivan to step in and save the world. He does so with a big ass katana, no shirt, and sometimes even a gun or two. There's a pretty big group of American troops to help him with this, but they're really only useful for indicating that there are bad guys around when their heads explode like watermelons. Oh, and there's also a deadly biological weapon, giant mutant creatures that wouldn't be out of place as Resident Evil bosses, nuclear weapons, and ninja. Tons of ninja. You could have a boy in seventh grade write a story, and it would probably be less ridiculous than Devil's Third. And that's exactly why I love this game so much.
This is the part where I would normally talk about the game's sound design. I say normally because I can only halfway do that now since I don't really remember any music from the game. That's not to say that there's no music; I was just so wrapped up in the god awful story and cheese-fest action that I was paying no attention and don't remember if there was or not. What I do remember is the voice acting. It's TERRIBLE, and I mean that in the best way. It's like a high school play - the acting is ALMOST good, but....it's just not. Ivan's voice is the worst about it; rather than sounding like a real Russian accent, it sounds like an American trying to sound like a stereotypical Russian. Like, think Japanese characters in American cartoons in the 1940s and 1950s. That kind of stereotypical accent that doesn't actually sound anything like it's supposed to. I'm not sure if I'd say it's offensive, but it's just bad, which just adds to the B-movie cheese factor.
The visuals show its Xbox 360 roots. By that, I mean that this game could probably run on an Xbox 360 without being especially taxing on the hardware. That's not to say that the game looks bad, but it doesn't use the Wii U's potential. I know that the Wii U isn't exactly a graphical powerhouse by 2015 standards, but even by Wii U standards, Devil's Third doesn't really look particularly impressive. This is especially evident when you kill an enemy with a shotgun or sniper rifle - they explode. Like, the shotgun kind of makes sense under certain circumstances - blasting a guy point blank, I could see - but like, if I shoot a guy in the torso with a sniper rifle from 30 yards away, his entire torso probably isn't going to explode into four or five chunks. They aren't even realistic-ish looking chunks. They're just like generic meat chunks. And when you shoot someone in the head, the head explodes and this thick, goopy fountain of blood spews from the neck (although I think that adds to the ridiculous atmosphere of the game).
So let me explain why I love this game so much because, objectively, it really is a horrible game. If you're familiar with Steven Segal and his movies, imagine that but as a video game. That's Devil's Third. Steven Segal's movies are the most bullshit stupid insults to cinema, but they're so addicting for mindless action. He's a horrible actor, the stories are all complete nonsense, and the fight scenes are INSANELY over the top....and that's exactly what makes them addicting. The same is true of Devil's Third. It's awful but in the best possible way. If you only like compelling stories or rational combat scenes, then this probably isn't for you, but if you're the kind of person who likes explosion and setting shit on fire, then you might get some mindless enjoyment out of Devil's Third. The gameplay is really at the heart of what's enjoyable here; a game can be ridiculous and still be a pain in the ass to play. Devil's Third, while suffering from some occasional slow down, plays really well. It just sucks in every other regard.
Devil's Third, despite being (accurately) dubbed "Devil's Turd" by the internet, holds a spot near and dear to my heart. Sure, part of that is because I adore the Wii U in general, and it's cool to know that I have an extremely rare game, but it's a total guilty pleasure. It's objectively a shitstorm in pretty much every respect, but DAMN is it fun in a mindless violence kind of way. Sprinting across a battlefield with no shirt and killing a guy with a sword while he's shooting at you with a machine gun? AWESOME. It's definitely earned it's negative reputation, but like Sharknado and Tremors, that's exactly why it's awesome. If I were rating this game based exclusively on my personal enjoyment, I'd give it a 5 out of 5 in a heartbeat. Since I do try to be fair and objective (usually), however, I can't rate this one any higher than a 2.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Also available on 3DS, Android, and iOS
This will probably be the shortest review I ever write not because I'm lazy and don't want to write much but because there legitimately isn't much to say. DON'T CRASH is a perfect example of why I have such a hard time respecting mobile games, and I can't imagine for the life of me why Nintendo ever allowed this on the eShops of either the Wii U or the 3DS. The price on Wii U is $1.49, and that's legit like $1.40 too much. I can see charging 9 or 10 cents, but no more than that. It's free on Android, and that's all it's worth - $0.00. The entire game is switching between two lanes as your car drives around in increasingly fast circles while you try not to hit the other car as it randomly changes lanes. That's it. No other obstacles, no levels, no other cars. It's completely and utterly pointless. I'm seriously racking my brain to think of an Atari 2600 game that I've played with less content, and I legitimately can't think of one. Games from 1977 offer more than a game from 2015. That should tell you all you need to know.
DON'T CRASH is complete and utter garbage, and anyone who pays full price for this should feel ashamed of himself. I got it on sale for like $0.49 a year or so ago, and I still feel ashamed of myself. This is the kind of shovelware that makes you wonder why you bother working a legitimate job when shit like this gets sold for money. I thought Chasing Dead and The Letter were bad, and they are truly horrible games, but Jesus Christ, this is legitimately the worst Wii U game I've ever played and possibly the worst game I've ever played period.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Also available on PlayStation 4, Android, Linux, OSX, and Windows
If you've found yourself in need of a good, affordable fix for the mecha space combat shooter monkey on your back, I've got good news. Strike Suit Zero: Director Cut is available on pretty much every platform (except Nintendo's poor, eternally neglected platforms) and, at only $20, is a downright bargain for the amount of pew-pew laser space explosions the game provides. I had actually downloaded this game on my Xbox One who knows how long ago - presumably it was a free Games with Gold offer at some point - but had completely forgotten about it until my buddy Colin mentioned how kick ass it is. Hearing the praise from him, I knew I had to try it. After all, this was the guy who sent me the original Gundam movie trilogy on Bluray; if he says a pew pew laser robot game is good, it's gotta be good.
Strike Suit Zero: Director's Cut is an updated and more polished re-release of the older Strike Suit Zero, and while I never played the original release, from what I've read, the director's cut improves the original in almost every area with the most praise being directed towards the difficulty. According to forum posts and Steam reviews I've read, the original release was crushingly difficult even on Easy whereas I found director's cut to be extremely fair. There are a couple of missions that were tough, but at no point did the difficulty feel like bullshit tier hard. If I had any gripe with the difficulty, it would be a few situations here and there with the checkpoint system; if you reach a checkpoint on a defend mission where the ship you're defending is low on health, you'll restart the checkpoint with it still like two shots from death, making it impossible to finish and completely defeating the purpose of a checkpoint. Other than that, however, every aspect of the game felt pretty fair and well balanced to me.
The story in Strike Suit Zero is that you're a pilot with the United Nations of Earth which finds itself embroiled in a war with a collection of colony worlds that have banded together to seek independence. You discover that the colonial forces have developed some sort of doomsday weapon capable of completely disabling an entire armada and destroying whole planets. Like, not the cities; it legit blows the planet apart. So, naturally, that's not really a good thing for your enemy to have, especially given that the colonial fleet set a course straight for Earth. No more Earth, no more war with United Nations of Earth. The bulk of the game is played in the context of the plucky band of guerillas turned bizarrely lucky war machine trope, but it works for it. The story isn't a breathtaking masterpiece or anything, but does keep the player engaged and interested.
The control for the game is fantastic. You can switch between a first and third person view, and you can set that perspective for your fighter cockpit, your mobile suit cockpit, or have it the same both. I stuck with third person, but the option of going first person is nice. You unlock a variety of ships each with different specialties. Some are faster and more agile whereas others have more plasma weapon energy and better armor. Each ship also has different weapon slots; some give you a little as one machine gun slot and two missile slots whereas others give you as much as two machine gun slots and four missile slots. Picking the right ship and weapon loadout to match your playstyle and the mission at hand is the key to victory.
Visually, the game looks great. It doesn't set a new high for graphical fidelity or anything, but definitely looks good. The laser effects are vibrant, the explosions have enough bloom to pop without looking like the inside of a nuclear reactor, and the ships look sleek and badass. I've really only got two complaints about the visuals. First, the ship wreckage that's left over when you destroy enemy capital ships looks pretty bad for the hardware it's running on. It's not that the texture work is bad, but the ship just kind of breaks into like three or four chunks, leaving the debris looking like what you might expect to find in game from ten or fifteen years ago. My other gripe is that there's some serious slowdown when you've got especially large ships exploding in close proximity to you. The framerate drops from the standard 30 fps to around 10 fps for a few seconds. Like the visuals, the game's audio isn't setting any new industry standards, but it's definitely very well done and pleasing to the ear. The music has a grand, dignified feel without being so in-your-face that it detracts from the action of the game. The voice acting, while nothing special, is competent enough and doesn't stand out like some of the cringe-worthy stuff we got in the 90s.
Strike Suit Zero is broken into 13 missions, and the director's cut includes an addition five missions. All in all, you're looking at probably five or six hours for a full playthrough, maybe a little plus or minus depending on the difficulty you choose. You're scored at the end of each mission based on your kills and time taken with bronze, silver, gold, and platinum medals, so for those who like a challenge for going full completionist, this game has you covered in that regard. The five expansion missions, titled Heroes of the Fleet, aren't particularly fascinating from a story perspective as it all takes place in a simulator, but the missions themselves are a lot of fun. Those five missions are arguably as fun if not more so than the 13 missions in the base game.
All in all, Strike Suit Zero: Director's Cut is a must-have for fans of space combat sims. The price is totally reasonable, coming in at just a hair over $1 per level, and the variety of ships from which you can choose gives it a decent amount of replay value. Whether you game on PlayStation, Xbox, or PC, this game is absolutely worth a purchase. This is the space fighter for which I've been waiting for years. I am so extremely glad that Colin reminded me that I have this game.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Being a huge Uncharted fan and having played the five previous games in the series, I was equal parts excited and nervous - nervocited as Pinkie Pie would say - for this spin-off game because it would mark the first time Nathan Drake has not only not been an Uncharted game's protagonist but completely absent from the game entirely. I saw this as a real make-or-break moment for Naughty Dog; if the game went well, it would prove that Uncharted can exist and thrive without the Nathan Drake character, but if it flopped, it would most likely be the nail in Uncharted's coffin.
At the end of the day, Lost Legacy is less its own game and more standalone DLC for Uncharted 4. As such, the game looks and plays more or less exactly like Uncharted 4. Those who have played the series' most recent main installment, however, will know that such a statement is far from a criticism. I played on PS4 Pro, and the game looks stunning running at 60 frame per second in HDR at a beautiful 2160p resolution (although, in fairness, that resolution is achieved through checkerboarding from a native 1440p). Having played Uncharted 4 back when it first launched on the base PlayStation 4 hardware, the addition of HDR and a higher resolution with the Pro's added horsepower gave a noticeable visual improvement. It's not like jumping from 480i to 1080p, mind you, but the world definitely has more detail and vibrancy with HDR and the added resolution.
In Lost Legacy, you play not as Nathan Drake but as Chloe Frazer who is accompanied on her excursion by Nadine Ross. Those of you who have played the Uncharted series will recognize those names; for those who haven't, they're badass women who can definitely beat the hell out of you blindfolded with both hands tied behind their backs. I, personally, love seeing strong female leads who aren't just hypersexualized eye candy in games, and while some probably say that this just took series from being Tomb Raider with a dude to being an actual Tomb Raider rip-off, I loved seeing the change in protagonist. It gave the game's story a different feel since it's told from a different character's perspective, and while there might be some validity to saying that it's now little more than a Tomb Raider clone, I think there are still enough aspects differing between the two to prevent that from being a real bane.
Without spoiling anything, the story revolves around Chloe's quest to find the Tusk of Ganesh, a relic from an ancient Indian kingdom, and her struggle against an Indian insurgent warlord who seeks the tusk for his own gain. The gameplay is your typical Uncharted fare - abundant platforming, some fairly straightforward puzzle solving, and dozens of dudes to massacre with a variety of weapons. Nothing really breaks the Uncharted mold (aside from the female protagonist), but that's not a bad thing. Naughty Dog has more or less perfect the formula over the various Uncharted releases, and as a result, this latest installment is an exceptionally well polished even if not entirely original product.
Being a standalone expansion to Uncharted 4 rather than entirely new game built from the ground up, The Lost Legacy retailed for $40 vs the standard $60 and comes with full access to Uncharted 4's multiplayer much the way Bungie handled Halo 3 ODST. While I very much doubt many people who picked this up haven't already played Uncharted 4, it is nice that the price matches the nature of the product and that the multiplayer was included. That 33% lower price tag also makes it an easier decision for Uncharted enthusiasts like me who wanted to experience the new story but weren't thrilled about shelling out another $60 for an add-on even if it is a standalone.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is an extremely competent follow-up to the magnificent Uncharted 4 even if it plays it safe and follows in its predecessor's footsteps. It's simply outstanding visually, and the writing and voice acting is every bit as top notch as one would expect from Naughty Dog. It's clear that, despite being an expansion, a great deal of love and care was put into the game. Truthfully, my only complaint is that the textures' rendering lags behind some of the models at times. On a few occasions, I found myself standing on ground or holding an artifact that was a vaguely correctly colored blur with no texture until it popped in a few seconds later. That's seriously pretty mcuh the only real flaw I encountered with the game. If you're a fan of Uncharted, this one's a no-brainer.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and Windows
Nights of Azure is a game that's been on my shelf since it came out in America a year and a half ago, but I hadn't gotten around to playing it until I read about the announcement that Nights of Azure 2 would be coming to Switch. Loving any opportunity to support third party games - especially RPGs - on Nintendo platforms, I figured I should play the first game and decide if I wanted to buy its sequel on Switch. I'd read the rather lukewarm reviews that it got critically before playing, so I went in somewhat skeptical but trying to keep an open mind. While I don't really disagree with a lot of the criticisms that the game garnered, it does have some redeeming aspects.
Nights of Azure is an action RPG of the most mediocre quality. Perhaps unsurprisingly given that it's a Koei Tecmo game, it plays a bit like a musou game (think Dynasty Warriors) but on a much smaller scale. You play as a half-demon hunter, Arnice, tasked with protecting the newest "Saint," Lilysse, as she sacrifices herself to the Nightlord to prevent a never-ending night from damning the world. It's pretty much the plot of the series primer of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic but with a human sacrifice instead of a weaponized friendship laser. The game is broken into seven chapters, but there are a number of side quests that you can do as well. As for combat, the only playable character is the main chick, but she can equip up to four familiars to summon to help her in combat. These summons can be focused towards attacking, tanking, healing, or buffing/debuffing, and the type of the familiar you have set as your "leader" will largely determine what form your transformation takes.
While nothing about the game really screams "Wow, this is garbage," it doesn't really excel at anything. The combat is alright, but it's nothing special; it feels like Dynasty Warriors on training wheels with 1/100 of the enemies. The soundtrack is nice, but that's about the only part of the game that I'd rate as solidly "pretty good." The visuals don't look like they've had much polish from the PS3 release aside from rendering at 1080p instead of 720p. The story is okay, but it doesn't really do much to keep me hooked. There's a lot of potential with the world and the lore, but they don't really explore it enough to use that potential. The actual world map and nations' names are used, but the backstory of how the world got to the way it is in the game is completely neglected until the very end, and even then, it's only barely touched on at all. The levels themselves - an important part of the game - feel really empty. They serve the purpose, but they feel uninspired and like a house full of blank, white walls. There's not a lot of embellishment, no accents or anything. It feels like a place for action to happen rather than a world of which you're a part.
One of the most unexpected aspects of the game is how extraordinarily easy it is. Up until the last boss, your options are pretty much "Do I use familiars and win easily?" or "Do I not use my familiars and win?" Losing never really factors in there. Keep in mind, though, that that situation is up until the final boss; the final boss is like a difficulty cliff. I was level 8 (max is 10) getting to the final boss and steamrolled my way through everything - enemies in the dungeon, boss rush, whatever it threw at me - on my way to the finale. I get there and get stomped like a bug. I grind up to level 9, and I still get beaten pretty badly. I grind my way up to the max level 10, and while I manage to beat the final boss, I have to keep an eye on my energy, my health, and my familiars' energy and health. I never had to do that with any of the previous bosses. It's not unheard of for an action RPG to require you, more or less, to reach max level - Ys games are famous for it - but it is much less common, at least in my experience, for the game to have so sudden a difficult spike right at the end.
All in all, Nights of Azure is a decent action RPG, and if you can find it for less than $15 or $20, I'd definitely say give it a shot if you're into that genre, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it. The visuals show that it's a port from a last-gen system, the story is just so-so, the environments feel uninspired, and the combat isn't anything special. It's a competent game, but it's definitely not exemplary. Even after finishing this one, I'm still undecided on whether or not I'll get the sequel on Switch. I'll have to wait until closer to its October launch and see what critics are saying with regards to improvements over the shortcomings of the original.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Sharp X68000, PC-8801, PC-9801, TurboGrafx-CD, Genesis, Famicom, and PlayStation 2
Ys is a series that I've only recently gotten into but that I've really come to love. I (relatively) recently played the original Ys on Sega Master System and the combined release of Ys Book I & II on TurboGrafx-CD and absolutely loved both, especially the latter. It was with great excitement, then, that I started Ys III on Super Nintendo, expecting a great game despite the so-so things I'd heard about it. Truth be told, I wasn't disappointed.
The first thing that players will notice is that the battle system is completely different. Ys III plays as a much more traditional side scrolling action RPG as opposed to the distinct "hump your enemies to death" bump combat of the first games. This is the aspect of the game that seems to be the most divisive among players; a lot of longtime Ys fans don't like the shift to a more traditional combat system whereas more general ARPG players see it as a welcome change. Personally, I fall into the former category, being partial to the bump mechanics, but the combat was at least fairly well done in Ys III. Speaking just for this Super Nintendo release, there were a few instances - particularly with Ballacetine Castle and the final boss - where I felt that the hit detection could have used some work, but by and large, I didn't have any mechanics complaints about the game.
Ys III takes place after Ys II chronologically, but other than having Adol return as the protagonist, there isn't really any storyline connection between the two games. "His adventures" are mentioned vaguely, but knowledge of the events of the first two games are definitely not necessary to enjoy Ys III. To be honest, that was a negative for me as I'm big into world building and continuing stories, but it also makes sense given that, at least in North America, this was the first Ys game to which Nintendo players had access without also having a Master System or TurboGrafx-CD. I've heard that the PSP (and, later, Windows) remake of Ys III, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, has a much expanded story, so that might remedy some of the lack of direct connection to the first two games, but I haven't played that yet, so I can't speak to that.
Being a 16-bit game as opposed to the 8-bit version of the original Ys that I first played on Master System, the visuals and sound design in Ys III are fantastic. Especially with visual effects, Falcom really went above and beyond with this one, finding the right balance of what visual effects of the Super Nintendo to use and the degree to which to use them to enhance the experience without doing so much that the visual effects distract from the game itself as some games do. The soundtrack was also extremely well done despite the limitations of 16-bit cartridge systems. When played through a soundbar and subwoofer, the boss battle music especially is epic, more so than many sidescrolling games of the era. It obviously doesn't hold a handle to the TurboGrafx-CD release of Ys Book I & II, but it's definitely one of the more impressive Super Nintendo sountracks in my opinion.
All in all, Ys III is a competent addition to the series even if an unconventional one. The exclusion of bump combat may come as an unwelcome change to fans, but if a replacement system was going to be used, at least it was - for the most part - well implemented. The visuals - especially the anime-esque scenes at the very beginning and very end of the game - are very well done, and with the right sound system and stereo separation, the game's music sounds fantastic. I can't speak to the superiority or inferiority of other versions of the game, but at least as far as the Super Nintendo release goes, it may not be a masterpiece, but it's a solid action RPG, although it is worth noting that the very end is...brutal.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on OSX
This is a...unique game. It's essentially a Western visual novel that harkens back to the early 2000s when AIM was the supreme instant messaging platform and you were a loser if AOL wasn't your ISP. It also could have been appropriately titled Teen Angst Simulator 2015. Just a little while, I forgot I wasn't in middle school anymore.
The whole game takes place on AIM in conversations spanning five years between you and Emily from your last year of high school to your last year of college. There's not really a purpose, per se, as the game is wholly slice of life, but wasn't that most of our AIM conversations? Talking to friends from school about stuff that didn't matter and awkwardly trying to flirt while having no idea how? The game seems a lot more straightforward than it is; there are numerous branching paths in the story and dialogue based on everything from the obvious like your dialogue choices all the way down to the seemingly insignificant like your icon and text color.
The biggest thing the game has going for it is the nostalgia factor. That's not to say that the rest is bad, but it took me less than half an hour to finish a playthrough, and while the different dialogue choices give it some replay value, it's just too short for me to fall in love with it. That nostalgia, though...I seriously miss being a kid with just a dial-up connection using AOL 4.0 on a Dell with a MASSIVE 32 GB hard drive and 128 MB of RAM. Teenagers today won't appreciate this game since they wouldn't have the fond AIM memories that folks my age and a little older do, but for those of us who remember going through school with AIM and AOL, this is a trip down Memory Lane, awkward angst and all.
Since it's free, Emily is Away is definitely a game that everyone should check out, and since you can get through it in half an hour or less for a single playthrough, there's not a whole lot of a time investment involved. Your age is definitely going to affect how much enjoyment you get out of it - if you're 40+, you probably won't have the same kind of nostalgia, and if you're younger than 20, you definitely won't - but for folks in that age range, it's a pretty unique experience, and most games don't play to that particular kind of nostalgia, at least not as the core concept. It would have been nice to see a little more meat per playthrough, but it's free, so you really can't complain too much. Give it a shot; if you really like it, there's a $5 sequel, though I've not downloaded that yet.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on OSX and Linux
After finishing the first Sunrider game, I couldn't WAIT to start the sequel. I was hooked hard and just HAD to know what happened next. Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius was awesome, so surely Sunrider: Liberation Day would be even better, right? Yeah, not so much.
Liberation Day picks up right where Mask of Arcadius left off - the preparation period before the Combined Fleet was set to liberate Cera from PACT control. The gameplay is pretty much identical to that in Mark of Arcadius, although there's a distinct drop in the stability of the game. I had multiple crashes and near-crashes where the game would abruptly stop and take 20 or 30 seconds reloading the scripts before letting me continue. One of these instances was particularly irritating as I had just tried to use the Vanguard cannon when it crashed. Upon reloading, it has deducted my command points but done no damage to any of the enemy ships. Not only that but the animation of the cannon's attack would flash on screen in an endless loop every three seconds no matter what I did. Other times, the available movements would fail to show on screen. Sometimes it would render duplicates of every enemy on the map but without any stats or hitboxes; essentially empty sprites that can't move or be attacked but still show on screen. That's basically how the whole game felt - the same as the original but less refined and a bit broken.
One thing that did definitely improve since Mask of Arcadius was the art. The characters have a much less amateur feel to them and generally look better all around. The option to switch between Japanese and English dialogue in battles was a nice touch as well. It's a shame, however, that the for all the improvement in the art quality, the writing quality saw an equal decline, especially at about the halfway point. Maybe the plethora of bugs had made me a bit jaded about the game in general by that point, but the writing started to feel a bit uninspired and drab after a while as if the writers had lost inspiration and just kept writing to finish for the sake of a deadline. Given how much the story sucked me into the first game, that was a supremely upsetting shift in quality. Not only did the writing cease to be nearly as engaging as it was previously, but in the epilogue of sorts, they completely start contradicting things previously established. I won't give anything away in case anyone decides to play through this, but suffice it to say that time travel is involved, and the rules of temporal mechanics that the game establishes for its universe are promptly disregarded like an hour later; not only are those rules disregarded, but they're explicitly contradicted more than once. That's a more minor sci-fi nerd nit pick, I know, but as some of my friends can attest, that stuff REALLY irks me.
I know I mentioned the various crashes and bugs earlier, but those more specific things aren't the only performance issues I encountered. There was significant and general system slowdown when I launched the game - slowdown on a system with no other applications running except the general background stuff, a GTX 980 card, and a quad core processor running 4 GHz per core. Under no circumstances should a damn visual novel cause major slowdown and sluggish performance. Everything just gave the impression that the game wasn't as well optimized as the first one and hadn't been put through nearly enough testing and QA before release or after release.
All in all, Sunrider: Liberation Day isn't a bad VN, and assume one could play it without being horribly confused by missing the context from the first game, it would probably come off as a perfectly acceptable low budget game. The problem is that with only a couple exceptions, the overall quality takes a hit from the first game. The presentation is better, but that presentation very quickly gives way to the plethora of flaws lying underneath. Between that quality decline and the huge parts of the plot left completely unresolved by the end of the game, it just leave a lot to be desired. If you've gone through the first game and see this one on sale, I'd still recommend it, but it's not one that I'd go out of my way to play.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Panzer Dragoon Saga is a legendary game for a lot of reasons. It's a "holy grail" tier game for collectors - as of this posting, a complete copy in good condition can sell for more than $600 - as well as an extremely rare game even at launch with only around 50,000 produced for the North American continent. Couple that with being exclusive to a commercially disastrous console and a lost source code ensuring it would never be ported or re-released, and you've got a perfect recipe for a game that's as much myth as anything else.
Panzer Dragoon Saga is the third of the three Panzer Dragoon games on Sega's Saturn console, and it's a departure from the rest of the series in that it's the only game that isn't a rail shooter. Panzer Dragoon Saga - known as Azel: Panzer Dragoon RPG in Japan - is, as the Japanese title suggests, a role playing game. You play as Edge, a young mercenary in the employ of the Empire to help guard an Ancient Age excavation site from monster attacks. At this dig site, a most unusual discovery is made - a woman, seemingly in a state of suspended animation of some sort, embedded in the rock wall. When the site is attacked by the Black Fleet, a formerly-Imperial fleet under the command of the traitor Craymen, the mysterious woman is stolen and Edge's friends and comrades massacred. Edge manages to escape with the help of a mysterious dragon and sets off on a quest to hunt down Craymen and avenge his friends' murders. Little does he know that he's been thrust into a struggle in which the fate of the entire human race is at stake.
Panzer Dragoon Saga is one of those once-in-a-generation games that breaks down the barriers of what a genre or game should be and stands as a true masterpiece of the craft of game design. While it was not the first game to do so, the way that Panzer Dragoon Saga blends traditional RPG turn based combat with real time combat is unique and utterly addicting. Team Andromeda did an exemplary job of retaining the series' shooter mechanics while making it fit perfectly with an RPG. In general, the combat is real time, but your character has three action gauges that fill over time depending on your agility stat (you can redistribute your dragon's 400 stat points between Attack, Agility, Defense, and Spirit at will to a max of 200 per stat). When a gauge is full, you can press A to have Edge attack with his gun, stopping time to allow you to pick a target; press B to have your dragon lock on to the nearest targets and unleash a volley of lasers; or press C to open up the menu from which you can choose Edge's gun, the dragon's lasers, an item (restorative, for example), or the list of the dragon's "Berzerk" attacks which use multiple gauges but deal devastating damage. You also have to know your enemies; some enemies are resistant to gun attacks while others are resistant to laser attacks. Some enemies also have weak spots where an attack will deal catastrophic damage. This isn't happening on a stagnant field, however; you must be mindful of your position in relation to the enemy, either in front of, behind, or to either side. You have an indicator that shows you your position in relation to the enemy as well as the danger of your position by a color code; a green area means that the enemy cannot hit you there, a clear area means that you are in range of the enemy's normal attack, and a red area means that you are in range of a powerful enemy attack. Your action gauges do not charge while you are repositioning, and sometimes the only way to exploit an enemy's weak spot is to move into a red zone. Careful timing and strategy are at the heart of Panzer Dragoon Saga's combat, and it's what makes the combat so brilliant and addicting.
It's no secret to those familiar with fifth generation consoles that the Saturn was not a 3D powerhouse, but Team Andromeda pulled off some visuals that I didn't know the Saturn was capable of. While the draw distance leaves a lot to be desired, and there's some slowdown in certain areas, the visuals are fantastic for the era, and easily on par with PlayStation RPGs. This game feels every bit as epic as the legend that's come to surround it with a game world entirely in 3D including the combat, fantastic voice acting (the American release has Japanese voice acting with English subtitles), and some truly great albeit heavily compressed FMV cut scenes. While the series never did match the stellar soundtrack of the original Panzer Dragoon game, Saga does feature some fantastic music that really set the tone for the game and keep the adrenaline high in battle. The game is also replete with secrets including secret dragon evolution types that would be extraordinarily difficult to stumble on accidentally. Unfortunately the game is not compatible with the Saturn cartridges, making this one of the few Saturn games that aren't particularly import friendly even for those who can read Japanese. That's a shame, as well, considering that a Japanese copy of the game is only around 5% the price of an American copy - roughly $30 as opposed to roughly $600.
Panzer Dragoon Saga truly is a special game. A lot of praise gets heaped on Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII, and while I've not played the latter, I truly think that Panzer Dragoon Saga takes the title not only of "Greatest Sega Saturn Game" but also "Greatest RPG of the Fifth Console Generation." I firmly stand by that. The characters themselves may not be quite as memorable as those of other RPGs of the era, but the story has a grandiose feeling that makes you feel like you're playing a legend, and that's not even talking about the mythical status of the game itself in terms of value and rarity. Normally, I disparage emulation when used in lieu of legitimate game ownership, but this is one situation where I'm 100% okay with it. Panzer Dragoon Saga is a RIDICULOUSLY rare and expensive game, and while it's definitely the prize jewel of my collection, I'm not going to recommend anyone plop down a month's rent on one 20 year old game. By all means, emulate this - modern Saturn emulators are fairly stable and accurate, at least where this game is concerned - but this is a definite must-play for any 90s RPG enthusiasts. Its greatness really cannot be overstated, and even with the praise with which I'm lavishing it, I'm not even doing it justice. This game is a true masterpiece.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Linux and OSX
Hooooolllyyyyyy crap. The phrase "you get what you pay for" has no place in the same discussion of this fan-damn-tastic visual novel, that's for sure. Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius is a game that's not quite like anything I've played in the past. It's about 60% visual novel and 40% sci-fi mech tactics game. Best of all, it's free. I think it was originally just called "Sunrider" but had the title changed when a second half was added or something. I don't know. The title screen just says "Sunrider," but it's called "Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius" in Steam. You know, for when you go download it. Because it's free. And it kicks ass.
I'll address the two different genres the game hits in their own separate sections, but first let's take a look at the plot. Without giving too much away, you play as a dude named Kayto Shields, and you've been given your first command of a starship in the Cera Space Force - the Sunrider. It's a new, state-of-the-art battleship in the small planetary defense force of Cera, one of the planets in a region of the galaxy known as the Neutral Rim, named so because the planets there remain unaffiliated with either PACT or the Solar Alliance, the two major galactic powers. PACT is a relatively new power, having arisen when it overthrew the New Empire's tyranny and assumed control of its planetary holdings. Unfortunately for the Neutral Rim, PACT didn't stop there, soon beginning a quest for galactic conquest. After approximately five minutes of being in the captain's chair, your ship's sensors detect a PACT fleet warping in. They promptly annihilate the Cera Space Force, nuke the capital, and claim victory. Narrowly escaping the PACT fleet by fleeing to a neighboring neutral planet, you and your find yourselves the last remaining Ceran vessel and without a government. Thus begins the lone wolf quest to build a galactic coalition (hopefully including the galaxy's other superpower) to drive PACT out of the Neutral Rim and reclaim Cera as an independent planet. Oh, and all of the allies you find are perfect waifu candidates. Because of course they are. ^_^
I'll now turn our attention to the tactics part of the game. Whenever the Sunrider finds itself in combat, rather than tell the story of the battle as most visual novels would, it shifts to a format that looks a lot like a small scale battle in Civilization. The area of space you're fighting in is broken into a 2D hexagonal grid in which the battle is fought by taking turns. Each of your ships has a certain amount of energy that can be used for various types of attacks, buffing and debuffing abilities, or movement. Your objective will usually be "kill all the bad guys," but every now and then, you'll have a more specialized objective. "Survive six turns" or "Get the cargo ship safely to the right edge of the map," for example. The difficulty can be adjusted on the fly, so if you decide that your battles are too easy, you can increase the difficulty at any time; conversely, if you find yourself unable to succeed in a battle despite multiple attempts, you can lower the difficulty and either leave it there or raise it back after that battle. The game is designed to be extremely approachable in that regard because as fun as the combat is, the story is the real star of the show here.
The visual novel aspect of Sunrider is at once both its strongest and weakest point. It's written in such a way that you really get sucked in and interested in the characters and their struggles. Unfortunately, the translation is a bit sloppy with various typos and grammatical mistakes strew throughout. It's certainly not a constant thing, but I'd guess that probably 3% of the dialogue has some kind of minor typo. For a 15 hour VN, however, that does add up. The English voice acting - thankfully only used during battle when a character moves or attacks - is also....not great. Some of it is fine, but it's reaaaally hit or miss. One character in particular is a goofy girl and references a few ten year old memes in her lines. It's cute, but it's also a bit lame. Cringe level lame. You get past it, though, and if you don't, there's always the option to mute the voices. The art also looks a bit amateur. In fairness, it's only this studio's second game, and IS free, so there's only so much room to complain, but it is worth noting.
One thing that does need to be addressed is the game's use of H scenes. If you don't know what that is, then you're probably not a big fan of Japanese visual novels, but in short, it's the NSFW scenes. Being sold through Steam, the game is obviously censored with nothing explicit visible. The devs do have a "decensorship patch" available on their site and instructions on how to install it if you so choose. Wanting the experience to be the way the developers and writers intended (and being a perv), I installed the patch. What I was pleasantly surprised to discover, however, is that at no point does this visual novel approach eroge territory. Yeah, there are some nipples in a few scenes, but it's not done in an erotic sense but rather in a true-to-life sense. There's a scene where one of the women is lost in thought about the fate of her homeworld in the shower, so naturally, there's some nipple visible (though the camera stops at her abdomen). The story itself doesn't actually call attention to it; they just don't shy away from it, either. It's just there. It's part of life. Granted, the scenes like that could have been written in different settings, but part of what made those scenes a breath of fresh air is that it's one of the very few examples I've seen use human nudity in a very natural, organic way with the story-telling rather than trying to shoe horn in some sex for the sake of getting horny teenagers interested. It would be like looking at Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" or Michelangelo's "David" in an erotic sense. Yes, you can see Venus's nipple; yes, you can see David's penis. It's done for the sake of depicting the nature of humanity in the art, though, not for the sake of any eroticism.
Sunrider is a visual novel that, despite its amateurish artstyle and less-than-stellar (no pun intended) translation, truly did impress me, and it did this with a regular price tag of $0.00. The story it told, while not completely original or anything, was told well with characters that I found interesting. The surprise of finding a tactical combat aspect to the game made it even more impressive; it made the game downright fun rather than just an interesting and immersive read. Granted, I'm a big fan of visual novels in general, so I'm probably a bit easier to please than most when it comes to the genre, but I really did enjoy this game immensely. The only thing keeping it from being a 10/10 homerun in my book is the aforementioned issues with translation and voice clips. Despite that, though, it was still damn good, and I still HIGHLY recommend it to everyone. I mean, you LITERALLY have nothing to lose; the damn thing's free!
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.