‘PlayStation 3’

Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA f Review

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Developer: SEGA, Crypton Future Media
Publisher: SEGA
Platform: PSN – PS3, Vita

It’s a joy to see Hatsune Miku slowly, but surely, becoming fully recognized in North America. Heck, she’s even opening for Lady Gaga! The best part, however, is that we’re getting Project Diva games published here now. I already played Project DIVA F on PS3 last year and loved it, but I wanted to see if its handheld counterpart was an even better experience.

Like any other rhythm game, you press buttons to the beat of the music in Project DIVA f. There are also moments where you must swipe either the front or back touchscreens. With faster songs and higher difficulties, swiping quickly enough feels almost impossible, especially with the fact that they are sometimes not recognized. In any case, the more accurate you are with your timing, the better your score.

Miku-5

Paired with a selection of over 30 catchy tracks, Project DIVA f‘s main gameplay will have you hooked. It can get really crazy and demand your utmost attention and reflexes, but it sure as hell feels good to do well on that super difficult song that you’ve had trouble with for so long.

When you want to take a break from the main portion of Project DIVA f, you can interact with Hatsune Miku and the other Vocaloids in their rooms. This includes dressing them up, giving them gifts, and redecorating. It’s oddly satisfying.

Other modes include Edit Mode and Portrait Mode. Edit Mode allows you to create your own music videos, which is sure to please creative folks out there. Portrait Mode, on the other hand, lets you take photos of Miku in your environment.

Customization

Having played both versions of Project DIVA f, I can safely say that I vastly prefer the Vita version. Although it’s lovely seeing Miku dance and sing on a large television screen, the gameplay feels much more suited to a handheld platform.

Why choose Project DIVA f over other rhythm games? Well, its appeal lies heavily in the Vocaloid franchise. So, if you’re not interested in Hatsune Miku and her friends, you’re probably better off skipping over Project Diva f. But for those of you that are fans, even just a little bit… Definitely add it to your gaming library and help show support for Miku in the states!


Pink Score: 44 out of 5 alpacas


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The Witch and the Hundred Knight Review

The Witch and the Hundred Knight Featured

The Witch and the Hundred Knight Boxart

Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PS3

Back before I became a curmudgeon old games reviewer, I spent hours upon hours in Diablo and Diablo II. There was something incredibly appealing about clicking away at enemies in these ARPGs. As such, upon hearing about The Witch and the Hundred Knight I found myself intrigued – if a bit wary. But, curiosity persisted and I’ve ended up playing it. So, is this a game worth pursuing?

Maybe. First, let’s get all the basics out of the way. In this game you start out as a teeny, cute blob creature (supposedly male). A crude, cruel witch finds and names you Hundred Knight because it sounds cool. After a brief tutorial session with her, you’re brought back to the real world where she introduces herself as Metallia and that you are now completely under her command.

Metallia is a monster. She might look like a swamp witch but her meanness never skips a beat. It’s hard to recall that many games where you actually are forced to work under someone who could be quantified as evil. With that weird perspective in place, you go about doing things that you know are wrong but simply have to do anyway. That’s where all the ARPG hacking away at enemies comes in.

The Witch and the Hundred Knight Screenshot 2

The Hundred Knight can equip multiple weapons and get to work beating on everything in sight. Well, there is a bit more strategy to it than that. There’s the ability to chain together multiple weapons for greater attacks, as well as types of weapons which enemies are weak or strong against. The latter is particularly annoying as you may have to frequently switch out weapons when dealing between two distinct creature types.

Another, stranger, feature of The Witch and the Hundred Knight is the GCal system. GCals are effectively a timer placed on you throughout every stage. Work through the whole thing before the GCals deplete or you’re dead! Luckily, there are a variety of ways to replenish it but I still died a lot before figuring out the most efficient methods. That honestly might be one of the biggest issues with the game: Its obsession with systems.

This genre of game doesn’t necessitate massive complexity. And yet, the experience is filled to the brim with them. And for all that work, you can basically ignore 80% of them. Perhaps some will find them intriguing, but that was not a favorable aspect in my opinion. No doubt many will be bothered by Metallia’s attitude as well, but I dug her no-holds-barred cruelty… and was much disappointed by the designer’s intentions with her outfit.

The Witch and the Hundred Knight Screenshot 1

Visually, many have suggested it looks like a game from the PS2 era but I just don’t see it that way. The character models might be simplistic but they honestly looked really good to me. Similarly, the backdrops were nicely fanciful. The biggest problem with them were that foliage would often obstruct the playing field view. The soundtrack definitely meshed with the visuals, and maybe even did it one better. Every song had a real “character” about it and that made levels more enjoyable than they otherwise would’ve been.

It’s a shame, then, that for as simple as the experience could be that it wasn’t all that compelling in the long run. The Witch and the Hundred Knight doesn’t contain that engaging spark that more famous games such as Diablo managed to have. Without it, you’ll simply have to get by on enjoying the visual design, excellent soundtrack, and unusual narrative. All told that’s not a horrible thing but it could have been better.


Score: 2

2 out of 5 alpacas


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The Guided Fate Paradox Review

The Guided Fate Paradox Featured

The Guided Fate Paradox Boxart

Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PS3

One of the most popular storytelling ideas for fantasy games is that a young person is somehow divinely selected as the world’s savior. Of course, as long as the title provides entertainment, then it doesn’t matter how the plot itself is constructed. The Guided Fate Paradox gives us a very different take on common tropes. Protagonist Renya is indeed a young man, but he is chosen for a much greater role. For whatever reason, he has been chosen to become God.

This must be the greatest wish-fulfillment game ever, right? Well, not quite. Despite the incredibly imposing job description, his role is far less powerful than one would expect. God/Renya is not free to do as he wishes but must instead work tirelessly to fulfill the prayers of all living things. Via a machine called the Fate Revolution Circuit, he is able to hone in on specific wishes and make them come true. Said machine generates an alternate reality which can be manipulated by defeating enemies.

The Guided Fate Paradox Screenshot 1

So that’s how they wedge gameplay in with Godly powers. The Fate Revolution Circuit is a dungeon generator! With it, Renya and his angelic partner(s) are able to explore randomly generated dungeons to defeat enemies, level up, and grab loot. The gameplay takes on a distinctly roguelike edge with how it handles leveling up and death. After successful completion of a dungeon, your level returns to 1. However, there is an “overall” leveling system which never resets. If Renya dies, he will be ejected back to the hub with all his items and half his cash destroyed. It’s rough, but dying is definitely part of the picture.

What kind of wishes does God have to answer to anyway? The first chapter starts off in a way that shows every wish is valid, because the wisher is none other than Cinderella! Things get increasingly unusual from there. For all the same-y anime tropes wedged into some characters, other points have much more interesting narrative through-lines. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of The Guided Fate Paradox is how it presents itself. It works hard to look like it panders to fanboys with all women angels dressed in maid outfits from the get go. That, and the 17-year-old hero Renya who begins as nothing other than your “average teenager”. When the plot started to kick into gear I was honestly shocked by how good it turned out to be.

The Guided Fate Paradox Screenshot 2

Earlier I said that the game has a lot of roguelike elements. Don’t let this aspect turn you away, though. It is one of the easiest roguelikes that I’ve played (out of a dozen or so). Although The Guided Fate Paradox is not a breeze, there is a lot put in place to make sure players can make it through the game alive. The only thing that could have been improved was that the “fog of war” on stages gets far too enclosed at points. It is a conceit acknowledged by the game, but left me rushing into the arms of enemies without feeling prepared. This is a relatively small issue, all things considered. Positives of dungeon exploration include cute and/or weird enemy types and creative boss battles.

There is a lot of depth to playing The Guided Fate Paradox and it somehow manages to keep from becoming too complex. Dungeon crawling is a lot of fun, as is slowly revealing the story. The concept behind it sounds supremely goofy, but thankfully the full game reveals far more interesting aspects. The Guided Fate Paradox is a massive, and entertaining, surprise.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland Review

Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland  Featured

Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland Boxart

Developer: Gust
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3

Things were going fairly well for a teenager nicknamed Rorona. Sure, she was basically forced to work as an alchemist’s apprentice to pay off a debt, and her boss was a supreme creep, but it’s wasn’t that terrible! That is until the King decreed that her very shop was to be closed down – no townsfolk even care. This set of horrible circumstances are what awaits players as they play the introduction of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland.

As Rorona, it is the player’s task to do a series of assignments for the King to sway him into sparing the shop. These twelve tasks are assigned one at a time and each have a due date. The final one being after three in-game years. With this obvious goal in mind, Rorona must work hard to scavenge items, fight monsters, use alchemy recipes, and fulfill the many requests lobbed in her direction. You see, it’s not only the King that has tasks but also the townsfolk and even your friends. Yep, poor Rorona is in for a seriously busy three years.

Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland Screenshot 1

There is a very rigid overall structure to Atelier Rorona, which means players can only ever do so many things before time runs out. You can venture outside of town to collect items for recipes and fight enemies along the way. Or, you can scrounge up some money and buy them from shopkeepers. Of course, who you choose to help is also up in the air. If you want, it is possible to completely spurn the King’s requests and help townsfolk exclusively instead, or vice versa. Although it is worth trying to manage both, chances are you’ll still not get the “true” ending without consulting a guide (or being awesome at time management).

In some ways, the game is simplistic. Instead of having a variety of points to draw from in battle, there is only HP. Rorona’s health is utilized for everything. Whether you’re performing alchemy or using a special skill, HP is pulled from. Of course, being attacked also drains some. However, there is no way to die. At worst, losing a fight will send you back home to nurse your wounds for a few days until they heal. Of course, you don’t want this to happen because it wastes precious days. Aside from HP, time is your main currency and it’s always draining!

Using alchemy is a surprisingly simple task thanks to smart menu design. The menu will always pull you to a specific section of items when one is needed for a recipe. Various traits of each item are also displayed, although this can become complex as you learn harder recipes. Without the right traits, you may end up with a poorly alchemized product. Gathering items, however, is not as fantastic. You can only carry 60 at a time and transferring them between the storage box at home and back is a tedious exercise. There are no easy ways to grab a section of items which would have been incredibly useful.

Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland Screenshot 2

Visually, Atelier Rorona is still a beautiful game. If you can ignore the sometimes fanboy-focused attire the design is otherwise very pretty. The world is pastel colored and the cel-shading is still as lovely as ever. Some backgrounds look uninspired, but it’s easy to ignore them when being put at ease by the attractive animation paired with a great soundtrack. Then there are the still pieces of art which also look divine. They’re highly detailed, colorful, and far nicer than the standard anime fare. Unfortunately, some of the game’s crude humor makes it into these scenes which really detracts from the overall atmosphere.

Atelier Rorona is a game of surprises. It doesn’t seem like such a pretty game would require strategic play to complete with a good ending but it does. Sure, you can fritter away the years, but then be left with an unsatisfying conclusion. As good as it looks, there are still instances where the writing veers into trite innuendo which has already been provided in many other lesser JRPGs. Although it leaves me with mixed feelings, Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland still managed to sink its hooks in. I’ll become a master alchemist yet!


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut Review

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut Featured

Lone Survivor Boxart

Developer: Superflat Games
Publisher: Curve Studios
Platform: PS3 (Reviewed), Vita

When Lone Survivor originally came out last year on PC I was simply enamored with it. Everything seemed pitch perfect and developer Jasper Byrne, who makes no secret of his affection for Silent Hill, seemed to manage something of equal quality. At least, that’s how I felt at the time. Incredibly, a year can do a lot – such as exposing me to even more modern indie horror experiences. Now that I’ve returned to an updated version does it still hold that same intense appeal? Somehow, it seems my stance has changed. No longer am I simply overwhelmed by the subtle story, visuals, and music. I have become more critical on my second time through.

For those fresh to Lone Survivor, the game focuses around a man who believes himself to be the “lone survivor” of an epidemic. Now, the world is plunged into darkness with creepy monsters wandering around. As it turns out, he is not the only human left but those he meet all seem to have issues of their own – if they’re even real. As you explore, hints of the story are peppered throughout, leading the player to question what is real and what is simply a projection of the protagonist’s mind.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut Screenshot 1

Gameplay plunges right into survival horror’s past to provide an experience that forces you to be very careful with your character’s health. It takes only a few scratches or bites to kill him. As such, you definitely want to avoid enemies whenever possible. This is doable by purposefully placed hiding spots. When utilized properly, you can sneak right by creatures safely. In the beginning, these moments are tense. However, during the second main area of the game there are very few hiding spots to be found. This is not the end game, either! It causes you to have to fight but unfortunately you have to fight a lot.

Of course, just like retro horror games, you aren’t meant to be shooting all the time. Because of this, there are only limited bullets, flares, and the like to aid you in battles (for about half the game). The scarce resources are an issue because of the strange difficulty increase within this large area! Players must shoot with incredible care so as not to waste bullets. It’s true that you can use pills to regain items but these may change the ending received. If I were designing the game, I would reduce enemy encounters tremendously because having them so frequently causes more frustration than fear.

Along these lines of restricted ammo there are also a fairly small amount of food items (again, until a certain point later on). Food is necessary because the survivor needs sustenance regularly. He’ll even stop the game to share the state of his hungry stomach with the player. The intent is cool, but it also becomes a bit annoying if you get into fights too often. Damage can be healed by food, but even if you’re not damaged, you’ll still become hungry. Eating better food allows a longer time between eating but still not as much as might be expected.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut Featured

Finally, the coup de grace of classic horror is the requirement of saving in a specific way. You must venture back home and sleep in bed to save. Thankfully, saving is unlimited. How can you always get back? There are mirrors which act as warp points throughout the world. It’s a smart design for an overall archaic mechanic. It seems the point of deliberate saving at the bed serves the story, but it would make things a little less frustrating to be able to save at any time. Yes, it’s scary to know you’ve not saved in a while but that becomes annoying when you end up getting killed long after a save.

Even with all these qualms, the rest of Lone Survivor manages to shine. The pixel art looks fantastically crisp on a large TV set as well as on Vita’s OLED screen. Atmosphere was very carefully rendered to keep the game looking creepy, even if gameplay sometimes hinders it. The music itself is as fantastic as ever with a multitude of tracks that seem to hearken back to Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill soundtracks. Of course, there are even references back to Silent Hill 2, which certainly made me smile.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut Screenshot 2

What exactly about Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is so different from before? For Vita, there are added touch features and PS3 has rumble support. Neither are necessary, but hey. The meatier changes focus on new tracks, areas, side quests, and two new endings. Most of this content is locked behind New Game + though, making it so that everyone will first experience Lone Survivor as it was originally intended. All this added content came at Sony’s request and will eventually make its way back to PC as well.

So when it comes right down to it, Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is certainly the definitive edition of the game. However, it has a handful of issues that keep it from being a purely scary experience. Frustration induced by too many enemies, the survivor’s empty stomach, and losing a fair bit of progress to saves, are the main ones. There is also one extended chase scene which is seriously rage inducing to play on Vita as the pause button is in an awkward location (have never liked the Start/Select buttons on the handheld). Still, those who have not played it may still want to give the game a chance. Just be sure to heed my warning: Conserve your resources, save at every possible juncture, and still be prepared for a tough run!


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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