Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

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It looks like Fire Emblem is no longer Nintendo’s most neglected franchise (that dishonour has now been passed down to Metroid.) There was a time when the strategy RPG’s days seemed numbered, but the popularity of Awakening changed all that. In recent times we got three different versions of Fire Emblem Fates and Heroes brought the fantasy series over to mobile devices. It’s barely been a year since the last 3DS game came out in Europe and we already get a new instalment to play in the form of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia.

NORTH AND SOUTH DIVIDE

Shadows of Valentia is a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, a nineties NES title that never got a western release. Players take control of two armies led by childhood friends Alm (country bumpkin turned warrior) and Celica (a crimson haired priestess.) During the five-act campaign, which runs for around thirty hours, our teenage heroes march their troops across the war torn continent of Valentia. The region is currently in the midst of a North versus South feud akin to the current Korean conflict, only with less nukes and more dragons.

Like in past titles, battles are turned based affairs fought on grid-based maps. On one side are the human forces and on the other hostile AI minions consisting of soldiers/undead. The game’s mechanics are similar to other Fire Emblem titles, with a few minor differences. Firstly the infamous weapon triangle (swords beat axes, axes beat lances, lances beat swords) is absent from this instalment, which does reduce the level of strategy somewhat. Archers still inflict bonus damage to aerial units though and it’s possible to gain an edge over cavalry/armoured knights by learning special skills from weapons picked up during your travels.

NOW THAT’S GOOD EATING

Another change of note is that spell casters need to sacrifice a portion of their health in order to activate their magical abilities. I guess the penalty is in place to curtail the destructive power of sorcerers, who are by far the mightiest class in the game. Thankfully vitality can be replenished by calling upon the services of a healer or snacking on the grub found on village floors and musky dungeons. Gross. What’s the deal with these unsanitary video game diets? This reminds me of my Streets of Rage days, were players ate chicken found inside garbage cans.

One feature that I miss from this remake is the option of playing matchmaker with your militia. It’s still possible to build up the relationships between certain characters, via bonus boosting support conversations, but you sadly have no influence over what friendships lead to marriage. That may be for the best though, as the romance in Echoes is flat out bizarre. Alm and Celica are smitten with each other for example, despite only knowing each other briefly during their prepubescent days. The game also stars a yandere villager named Faye and a vestal who has a thing for older men.

VERDICT

My rating for Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a four out of five. It’s my least favourite of the 3DS Fire Emblems, but a fine handheld strategy game all the same. I suspect Echoes would have been more to my liking were it not for the pesky summoners, who annoyingly flood certain levels with endless waves of monsters. The low hit rate of my fighters was frustrating too and I also despised how enemy witches would sometimes warp behind my front line, leading to unexpected casualties. Thankfully it’s possible to negate friendly losses by disabling perma-death or rewinding back the action via a feature dubbed Mila’s Wheel.

As far as Fire Emblem remakes go Echoes is far superior to 2009’s Shadow Dragon. Intelligent Systems have put a lot more work into this project, as evidenced by the inclusion of gorgeous 3D cut scenes and voice acting. The developer also added some third person dungeon crawling to the mix, which is a nice change of pace from the constant tactical warfare. Exploring the labyrinths may unearth treasure chests containing weapons, accessories and shields. Coinage can also be procured by smashing the jars found in the catacombs. First we had Zelda and now Fire Emblem. Nintendo seem to have a thing for storing valuables in pottery. What’s wrong with using a good old-fashioned piggy bank?

Review of Persona 5 (PS4)

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Huzzah! After seventy hours of play I have finally beaten Persona 5. These days I try to avoid lengthy titles, as my leisure time is at a premium, but when a game of this quality comes out you have to make an effort to experience it. Sleep was sacrificed and I opted to play on easy to reduce the amount of grinding. Screw challenge. I am a filthy casual who is only concerned about the story. Let the masochist crowd, who can beat Dark Souls with a guitar controller, tackle hard mode in my stead.

YOU HAVE MAID A BIG MISTAKE

In this Shin Megami spin-off players assume the role of a hapless teenager who has been framed for assault. As punishment our semi-silent protagonist is whisked away to Tokyo and ordered to behave until the scandal subsides back home. Hopes of an uneventful yearlong probation in the capital are however dashed when he procures a mysterious app that teleports him into an alternate dimension infested with shadow creatures. Wow, these days there really is an app for everything.

Just like in Persona 4 the key to success is efficient time management. Dungeon crawling in the Metaverse is only a small part of the game. Aside from saving the world players have more mundane tasks to fulfil such as passing mid-term exams and fraternizing with a cast of twenty confidants. Boosting social stats is also important. There are numerous ways of enhancing your attributes. Some examples include bathing with naked men, stuffing your mouth with burgers and forgiving the maid cafe waitresses whenever they fumble your order.

PHALLIC CREATURES CAN BE DICKS

One of the best features about this latest Persona is that Atlus’ lazy level designers actually took the time to craft proper dungeons. Gone are the days of procedurally generated mazes were you stroll about searching for an exit. Every palace you explore has a distinct theme and is packed with puzzles/traps, which is a vast improvement over past titles. Navigating the stages was a joy, although I could have done without the stealth mechanics. Sneaking behind enemies is not a play style I enjoy. No tears were shed in my household when it was recently revealed that Hitman’s future is in jeopardy.

Combat for the most part remains unchanged. Encounters are resolved via turn-based battles, which are both tactical and snappy. Strategy boils down to exploiting a foe’s magical vulnerabilities. Hitting enemies with an element they are weak against rewards the player with an extra action. The types of spell that can be cast are determined by the demons under your command. In a sense, Persona feels like an edgier version of Pokémon. There are almost two hundred minions you can catch, ranging from cute snowmen to giant penis monsters.

VERDICT

Presentation wise Persona 5 oozes style. In fact it was initially too vibrant for my palate, as I prefer cleaner looking UIs. After a few hours I did however become accustomed to the slick visuals and appreciated how they meshed well with the jazzy soundtrack. Apart from the graphics I also liked the cut scenes, which are animated by Production I.G. On the audio side I have no complaints about the English language dub. Even the feline mascot’s voice is tolerable, although I wish he wouldn’t nag me so much about going to bed. Cats love naps almost as much as they enjoy vandalizing Christmas trees.

My rating for Persona 5 is five stars. JRPGs rarely get attention in the west, but Persona 5’s excellence has managed to buck that trend. The game has received universal acclaim from reviewers everywhere and it even managed to top the sales charts over here in Europe. We haven’t even hit June yet and I already suspect that 2017’s game of the year has been discovered. Huh, what’s that? Breath of the Wild is a contender for that honour too? Nah, I disagree. Zelda sucks. Okay, it’s time for me to leave. I suspect livid Nintendo fans are about to descend upon my blog with the ferocity of a miffed Cucco flock.

Review of Full Throttle Remastered

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Remasters are a wonderful thing. Not only do they allow younger gamers to enjoy classics on a modern system, but they also serve to remind me how unreliable memory can be. Full Throttle Remastered once again sees Double Fine Studios resurrect a LucasArts point n click adventure, by giving it a new lick of paint and a director’s commentary. At any time players can switch from the new hand-drawn graphics to the game’s original pixel art. The contrast between the two styles is quite the eye opener. Just like watching a cartoon from my youth, it’s shocking to see how garish the blocky 1995 visuals are. The artists of the 2017 backgrounds and character models have somehow managed to make the game appear like how my brain mistakenly recalls it looking.

OVERVIEW

Full Throttle Remastered stars Ben Throttle, the no nonsense leader of the Polecats biker gang. Players guide Ben on a quest to clear his name after he is framed for the murder of Corley Motors’ chairman Malcolm Corley. The real culprit is the company’s vice-president Adrian Ripburger, who is plotting to take over the business. If Ripburger gets his way Corley Motors will abandon production of Ben’s favourite choppers and will instead manufacture lame minivans. What a fiend! The game is the brainchild of Tim Schafer, the talented designer whose other works include Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Costume Quest and um… Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster. I can’t say that I have ever played that last title. Cookie Monster may be cool, but I cannot stand Elmo.

Unlike some earlier LucasArts titles interacting with the environment does not involve clicking on a menu’s assortment of text commands. Full Throttle instead uses a skull shaped ability wheel. By selecting the eyes, fist, boot or mouth it’s possible to examine objects, pick up items, kick ass and chat with the game’s cast of colourful characters. Speaking of conversing, Full Throttle has a great voice cast. The legendary Mark Hamill for example plays the role of Adrian Ripburger. If it weren’t for the end credits I wouldn’t have known because Ripburger doesn’t sound anything like Luke Skywalker or the Joker, which is a testament to the versatility of Hamill’s vocals. Roy Conrad’s gravelly speech also deserves a mention, as it is perfect for delivering Ben’s gruff dialogue.

VERDICT

My rating for Full Throttle Remastered is a three out of five. The game isn’t quite as good as I remembered it, but overall is still worth a purchase if you happen to be a fan of the point n click genre. Back in the day I loved Full Throttle because, when compared to its contemporaries, the puzzles on offer are easy to suss out. I could actually solve some of the brainteasers without resorting to a guide, which can’t be said of some other LucasArts releases. During my four-hour playthrough I couldn’t help comparing the game to the fairly recent Day of the Tentacle remaster. Out of those two remakes I would have to say that Day of the Tentacle is better. The gags are funnier and the conundrums you are pitted against are more cleverly designed.

In some ways Full Throttle is a bit like a Telltale game, because it is more concerned with delivering a good story rather than stumping players with head scratchers. That’s a design choice I can get behind, but the same cannot be said of the tedious highway combat segments that occur around the game’s midway point. During those battles players have to guess what weapon is effective against their randomly selected opponent and press the attack button at the appropriate time. It’s somewhat similar to Monkey Island’s swordfights, but less enjoyable because instead of selecting humorous jibes all you do is pick an object from Ben’s inventory. In the words of Guybrush, the biker duels “are a pain in the backside sir.” To which I would counter “your haemorrhoids are flaring up again eh?”

Review of Atelier Firis

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When it comes to video games I am a hypocrite. In the past I have chastised Activision for uncreatively releasing Call of Duty games every single year, but I myself buy Atelier titles on an annual basis. 2017 proved to be no exception with me purchasing Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey back when it came out in March. This latest entry in Gust’s long running JRPG series has players guiding teenager Firis Mistlud on a yearlong pilgrimage to the city of Reisenberg. Our heroine has 365 days to reach her destination and pass the exam held there in order to fulfil her dream of becoming an accredited transmutation expert. Should she fail to graduate before the deadline elapses Firis can kiss her tan goodbye, because she will be forced to spend the remainder of her days prospecting ore in a subterranean mining town.

OVERVIEW

Atelier Firis is in a way the Dark Souls of cutesy anime role playing games. The mysterious journey that Firis has set off on involves harvesting materials, confrontations with monsters and periodically resting at campfires. Unlike said FromSoftware game Firis doesn’t however consume the souls of her victims. Campfires are where the young alchemist replenishes her life points and plies her craft. Due to the nomadic nature of her quest, Firis doesn’t have a workshop located in town so she makes do with a portable atelier. From outside the atelier resembles a modest tent, but once you step inside a spacious building is revealed housing a bedroom, cauldron and quarters for Firis’ travelling companions. Just like a time lord’s Tardis! The innards are roomier than the exterior would have you believe.

The objective of Atelier Firis is to arrive at Reisenberg within the allotted time. Along the way Firis also has to secure recommendations from three licenced alchemists, in order to prove that she is capable of challenging the city’s alchemy exam. At first Firis is a novice who can only craft a limited number of things. By battling creatures, exploring the land, gathering ingredients and reading books she will however become more proficient – enabling her to create more items. Completing quests also rewards Firis with idea points, which can be spent on unlocking new alchemy recipes. In no time at all players will be able to fashion weapons, snacks and decorations for their abode. Alchemy is easy to master and so powerful. Perhaps I should recommend it to my pals Edward and Al, as a means of resurrecting their mom. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

VERDICT

My rating for Atelier Firis is four stars. It’s one of the better Atelier games I have played and a substantial improvement over its predecessor Atelier Sophie. The game’s biggest highlight would have to be its expansive open world. Unlike previous titles in the series, navigation does not involve teleporting between zones via the use of a board game like map. The journey from Firis’ birthplace of Eltona to Reisenberg will involve a lot of walking, so get your hiking boots on! I found the trek to be highly enjoyable, even if the sightseeing would have benefitted from stronger graphics. The game’s turn-based battle system is rather basic, but never mind because in Atelier RPGs combat usually plays second fiddle to crafting and funny cut scenes. If Firis were an anime it would be a slice of life show rather than an action packed shounen series.

One thing that is contentious amongst the Atelier fan base is the use of time limits. There’s a faction that likes the challenge of meeting a deadline whilst the other side abhors playing under that pressure. If you happen to fall in the latter camp don’t worry because Firis’ time limit is very generous. During my playthrough I reached Reisenberg with ample days to spare (over one hundred in fact.) In hindsight I should have taken some detours rather than hurry straight to the finale. Once the end-credits roll players have the option of completing unfinished quests at their leisure in the post game, so there is no need to fret over the story’s countdown. Don’t rush because, like a wise man once said, the journey is more important than the destination. Well, unless your name is Phileas Fogg. If it is getting to the finish line ASAP is kind of a big deal.

Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness Review

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Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is a visual novel based on the critically acclaimed cyberpunk anime. The story occurs sometime during the events of season one, which is just as well because most viewers consider series two to be a tad disappointing. I attribute the downturn in quality to a change of writer. For those of you who are unaware, a scribe who is known for gritty science fiction penned Psycho-Pass’ second instalment. The original Psycho-Pass was however written by a lighthearted chap named Gen Urobuchi, whose past works include a puppet show and cute magical girl cartoons. If you are in need of jolly entertainment I recommend checking out Madoka Magica. From the two episodes I have seen it appears to be just like Sailor Moon, but cuter.

OVERVIEW

If you dislike reading Mandatory Happiness is not the game for you. Makes sense given that visual novels are pretty much “choose your own adventure” books that have been enhanced with graphics and audio. I figure it is worth stating the obvious though, because a few months back I saw a website bash Steins;Gate 0 for having too much text. Insert face palm here. Anyways, upon commencing the game players are given the option of experiencing the story from the perspective of two rookie Public Safety Bureau agents. Inspector Nadeshiko (nicknamed Ms. Droid) is an emotionless amnesiac who tackles cases with logic. Enforcer Tsurugi, who is seeking his missing childhood friend, on the other hand uses his heart to decide what is right.

Mandatory Happiness’ plot spans across a total of four chapters. With the assistance of the Psycho-Pass team players will be expected to rescue kidnap victims, locate a rogue AI and tangle with youths who have barricaded themselves inside a school. How each investigation pans out depends on the choices you make. Decisions also affect your character’s mental hue, which is important because the Sybil System monitors the mood of Japan’s populace. Anyone who becomes emotionally unstable, which can occur when dealing with the stresses of law enforcement, runs the risk of being branded a latent criminal and having their freedoms revoked. Thankfully in game you can combat anxiety by taking supplements. In real life I prefer to unwind with booze or a Snickers.

VERDICT

As a fan of the anime I enjoyed my time with Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness. Interacting with the season one cast and solving mysteries was cool. When compared to other visual novels however I have to say that there are better titles out there for the PS4 and Vita. With that in mind I am awarding the game three stars. My first few playthroughs were enjoyable, but unlocking all fourteen endings was a bit of a chore. Unlike other VNs, which have branching storylines, Psycho-Pass’ narrative is more linear than a Final Fantasy XIII level. The choices you make influence what ending you get, a few key scenes and not a lot else. Replaying the game therefore became a ponderous exercise of skipping previously read dialogue until some new content popped up.

One neat thing about Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is that you are in effect getting two games for the price of one. Hidden in the extras menu is a mini-game that awards points, which can be exchanged for bonus artwork. Said puzzler is pretty much Threes/2048, with the only difference being that the numbered tiles display chibi faces of the Psycho-Pass characters. As someone who missed out on the Threes craze it was nice to finally see why so many people find this tile merging brainteaser to be addictive. I doubt that the development team at Sirvo approves of their game being plagiarised in this manner, but its unlikely to harm their finances as the Apps store is already brimming with unsanctioned clones that you can download for Three… um I mean free.

Review of Brave Dungeon

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Right now everyone is going gaga over the Nintendo Switch, but I am too much of a cheapskate to buy new hardware so I’ll continue to play on my 3DS… an old 3DS at that! Given my frugal nature, I often scour the e-shop for good deals. A few days ago my bargain hunt uncovered an inexpensive gem titled Brave Dungeon. For just under a fiver I got my mitts on a game that contains two of my favourite things in the whole world – turn based RPG combat and cute anime girls! The game’s premier waifu is a scythe wielding treasure hunter named Al who players need to guide, as she navigates dungeons in search of precious magical items.

OVERVIEW

Al’s spelunking adventure will see her traverse a total of five dungeons. Like a Megaman boss selection screen, you are able to tackle each level in any order you desire. Be aware however that enemies get progressively tougher each time Al descends down to a dungeon’s lower floor. If your party wipes don’t despair though, because the game has no death penalty. Whenever the player’s group is rendered unconscious Al is whisked back to the safety of town, where she can regroup and select an easier location to level at. How I wish that Dark Souls were this merciful. What do you mean I have lost an hour’s worth of souls just because I stepped on a concealed trap? Damn you Miyazaki!!!

If you detest random encounters you’ll be pleased to hear that Brave Dungeon doesn’t have any. Combat only occurs when Al steps on a monster tile. It’s impossible to bypass battles forever though, as a locked door blocks the stairway leading down to the next level. To unlock the exit Al needs to locate the floor’s key, which predictably is protected by a powerful guardian. Once a floor has been completely mapped out you get the ability to escape from battles, but I seldom took advantage of that option. Why miss out on valuable experience points? Besides, fleeing from a fight is cowardly and like Marty McFly I won’t tolerate anyone calling me a chicken.

VERDICT

My rating for Brave Dungeon is four stars. The game is a fun bite sized dungeon crawler that should appeal to retro gamers. It only takes around seven hours to clear the story, which is a fair length given the game’s low retail price. Best of all additional content gets unlocked once the final boss is vanquished. Not only does a bonus dungeon open up, but you also get access to some mini-games and New Game Plus. In terms of visuals I liked Brave Dungeon’s sixteen-bit pixel art and cute character designs. The foes you come across are so adorable that I almost felt bad about pelting them with offensive magic. For the greater good I was however forced to slaughter a horde of penguin torpedoes, cartoony spectres and muscular snowmen.

Brave Dungeon is a good game for fledgling RPG players because it isn’t too tough. Spending currency, procured via dungeon exploration, on stat boosts turns Al and chums into overpowered mob slayers. Trading loot for restaurant tokens also helps augment your team’s strength. Said eatery cooks meals that raise attack, defence, mind and agility. Which attribute gets increased is a mystery though because, like a McDonalds manned by inept staff, the food you get served is chosen at random. With minimal effort I completed the game using a team comprising of Al, the fairy healer and… a cat girl. Who can resist the allure of feline femmes? I can’t and the same goes for the folks who pledged $900k towards the Nekopara Kickstarter. For the record, I didn’t donate towards that project. As mentioned before, when it comes to spending cash I am a skinflint.

A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV Review

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At long last I played Final Fantasy XV… A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV that is! The slave drivers at work decreed that I should suffer seven successive night shifts, so I haven’t had time to play a lengthy RPG. I did however have the opportunity to complete this ninety-minute freebie, which was originally a Game Stop pre-order bonus. Now available to download off PSN, A King’s Tale is a retro styled 2D brawler chronicling how a young King Regis protected the land from a monster invasion. The game’s narrative is presented as a bedtime story told by Caucasian Regis to his Asian looking son Prince Noctis. There’s something suspicious about that. Is the Queen’s postman Japanese by any chance?

OVERVIEW

This pre-slumber tale begins ironically enough in the capital city of Insomnia, where monarch Regis Lucis Caelum uses his magical powers and swordsmanship to fend off a daemon assault. From there he ventures out to the plains of Duscae where he scraps with hostile flora and fauna, which include dancing cacti. Finally our hero ventures into a nearby cave to vanquish the final boss, who happens to be a hentai tentacle monster. All the stages I have described are brought to life via gorgeous pixel art, a graphic style that seems to be all the rage these days. Doesn’t it feel great to spend hundreds of pounds on a state of the art console just to play stuff that looks like something from the Super Nintendo era?

Combat in A King’s Tale is simplistic, but never dull due to its fast paced nature. Enemies swarm Regis from all sides so you’ll have to quickly decide who to target and what attack to use. Every foe you encounter has a specific weakness that needs to be exploited. Light attacks can reflect projectiles back at creatures for example, whilst heavy swipes are required to breach the defences of Samurai. Those pesky skeletons from Golden Axe are back and if you wish to crack their skulls you’ll first need to stun them with a shield bash, or else they will block your melee combos. Regis can also cast elemental magic to melt the Flans that are resistant to physical damage. Eat fireballs you evil desserts!

VERDICT

My rating for A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV is three and a half stars. When compared to other old school looking beat-em-ups I have to say that A King’s Tale was more fun to complete than the recently released Double Dragon 4. The game rewards skilful play by allowing Regis to call upon the aid of allies, should he manage to evade damage long enough to perform an uninterrupted combo. Compare that to Double Dragon 4 were players simply spam hurricane kicks to counter the obnoxiously cheap AI. Thank goodness that Double Dragon 4 isn’t VR compatible, because all that aerial spinning would have caused me to hurl faster than a US president dining at a Japanese banquet.

If you enjoy fighting games from the 16 bit era A King’s Tale is worth a go. You have nothing to lose as the game is gratis and it isn’t a big time investment either, as the story can be cleared in just over an hour. Anyone left wanting more will be happy to learn that besting the main campaign unlocks a new mode, which contains additional stages/challenges to tackle. Overall I had a grand time with A King’s Tale and am happy that it no longer is a Game Stop exclusive. That company doesn’t deserve my patronage, as they are guilty of underhanded practices (such as removing coupons from their Deus Ex stock.) Don’t tamper with the contents of a game without the buyer’s consent! In the words of Adam Jensen – “I never asked for that.”