Category Archives: Video game Blog

Disgaea 5 – Initial Impressions

I don’t really know if this can still be considered “initial” impressions considering that I’ve sunk almost 20 hours into this game, but hell, we’re gonna call it that anyway.

Who on this planet who’s already familiar with strategy games doesn’t know of Disgaea? Probably no one. The fifth entry finally arrived the past few weeks (which is actually the sixth main console entry, believe it or not) and what do I think? I would say ask you why I would spend 20 hours on a game I didn’t like. This game is that much fun.

Let’s discuss the plot first. Disgaea is a series based largely on its fun characters and usually highly silly plot – the fifth game takes itself a little more seriously than past entries but still has a silly overtone. While our main character, Killia, isn’t the most dynamic character ever, I’m still quite attached to his personal story just enough to stay interested in his personal motivations. Also joining our main character is Seraphina, a succubus overlord who has poor manners and a “rich girl” attitude, Red Magnus, a beefy musclehead, Christo, an expert tactician, and Usalia, a forsaken bunny princess. There could be more, but these are the star good guys thus far.

The story has some classic shonen staples, including introducing a general early on who you cannot hope to even scratch, demonstrating a difference in power. While many scoff at the idea, I love it – it makes me want to get stronger so I can destroy her the next time we encounter this general. Killia’s motiviations prove to be, more or less, the driving mystery in the story’s plot – why does he want revenge on the big bad, Void Dark, so badly? What is it he had done to him?

How about the gameplay? Gameplay is turn based strategy RPG split into “missions”, with five missions composing a “chapter”. In between every mission you’re permitted to return to your hub world in true Disgaea style, where you can power up your units, buy items, push a new edict through to the counsel, make a new unit, interrogate prisoners….there is no shortage of tasks you will find yourself habitually doing in your downtime. The best thing is that it will never feel like “work” or “grinding” – you will feel amazing as you continually make your units even more powerful than they already were. Yes, that is what I am saying – Disgaea makes grinding fun. Before you know it, you’ll have 15 generic units that you lovingly trained to be killing machines, and you’ll love every second of it.

The strategy RPG aspect is great fun. Because of the way commands are executed, you can do team attacks and set up combinations that would otherwise be impossible in a game like Fire emblem. Leveling up your equipment in “item worlds” is a great way to get experience and money while simultaneously making your weapon even better than it already is, and you can do this nearly endlessly. It’s an addicting cycle and it certainly works.

One of the best changes to the series is that in this version your generic units will actually class up without the need for reincarnation – one of the most irritating aspects in previous disgaea games was that units would need to reincarnate back to level 1 every time they went up one class. You can also further drive class growth by putting sub classes on any of your units.

The music is great. “Moving on”, which is the hub world music, is probably my favorite hub world track I’ve heard in the series yet. It’s soothing melody will calm you every time you decide to leave the game menu on while you get a snack. I like the track so much I even listen to it while I work. Even if you never play this game, give it a listen – you will surely leave with a fond smile.

There is also the trademark goofiness, such as requesting more money from the council by getting the council members drunk or bribing them, fighting over curry, or dealing with incompetent overlords. You’ll be sure to have a blast with this lighthearted but deep strategy RPG. Just know what you’re signing up for.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2

More focus, budget, bigger scale, and more involved than before – all of these words and phrases describe the transition between the original Hyperdimension Neptunia and Mk2 quite well. It’s been more than a year since I imparted my thoughts on the widely panned original – but how does the highly awaited, jointly developed by Comcept sequel play out?

Quite well. For those of you who were turned off by the original game’s rougher around the edges areas (Tedious battle system, poor graphic, performance issues, etc.), I can safely assure you that about 75% of those issues have been dealt with. Let’s get into the nitty gritty, shall we?

The story begins with Neptune, Noire, Blanc, and Vert having been captured by a syndicate dedicated to reviving the evil goddess Arfoire. Because their shares have grown so low, they’ve become unable to fight back as the syndicate keeps them captive in the CPU graveyard. In the limelight this time around is Neptune’s sister Nepgear (Who’s birth into existence is actually detailed in the first game’s remake, rebirth!) I.F. and Compa, unable to defeat the powerful CFW Magic and release Neptune and the other goddesses, retreat and work with Nepgear on turning the world against the CFW in order to save their friends.

ss-001For those of you that recall the first game’s true ending, you may be wondering “How could a sequel to this game ever be made?” Good question – with the goddesses having renounced their “godship”, what else is there to do? That’s easy – a retcon. While technically Mk2 takes place in a different universe than the first game, the game’s narrative and prologue lead me to believe it’s more “Pretend we retconned these things from the first game” than “This game has no relation to the first game at all!” What leads me to believe this? A few items.

  1. The Console War and the battle with Arfoire is laid out as the ground work for the game’s current conflict – The battles of the previously bickering and not-quite-so-friendly CPU’s is recounted, including how they put their differences aside and worked together in the true ending to defeat a greater evil.
  2. Character development and growth that occurred in the previous game seems to still be present – Characters that nurtured a relationship or feelings for one another retain those feelings in this game, most noticeably between I.F., Compa, and Neptune.
  3. Despite some aesthetic changes, the world is identical – Yes, we still have Planeptune, Lastation, Lowee, and Leanbox. They keep their aesthetics (although they’re no longer floating islands).

So what changed that technically makes this take place in a different universe/a retcon? Compa and Iffy are “Childhood friends”, the goddesses never renounced their powers (Retained godship at the end of the previous game), and that’s about it. Otherwise, this is a sequel, don’t listen to Idea Factory.

How about the gameplay? As is standard for the series, story events are divided up by small scenes, voiced or unvoiced, except that the interface and general feel of the game has been so starkly improved you may not even recognize it anymore. All the menu’s are crisp and easy to navigate, including the main menu. Good thing because you’ll be seeing it a lot as the game progresses onward! “Story flags” or rather, those events you need to see in order to progress the story onward, are clearly marked and easily denoted by event icons. So far, so good.

Dungeons are a huge improvement. Random encounters are gone and the battle system has been completely revamped. While I miss the cool, stylish perspective of the first game’s battle system I cannot deny that this is an almost objective improvement. Rather than each character having several actions and movements per battle (With ‘link’ operations performed after each full combo), characters move on a three dimensional battle space with turn based combat. Basically – you move, use an item, attack, defend, transform, or use a skill. Often times you will find that you can strike several enemies at once, which is quite nice. I particularly spend a lot of time finagling until I hit more enemies than I probably should be able to. Don’t worry – just because the battle system has changed doesn’t meant that the highly stylish, over the top skills are gone. They’re here in full force (Say hello to Cave!)

Also notable is that with the addition of the new battle system (Which is further tweaked and standardized in the sequel to this game), characters gain their staple trademark attacks and moves that stay with them for the series duration at this point. For example, Noire’s Lace Ribbon, Drop Crush, Tricolor order. Neptune’s Dual edge, Variable edge, cross combination. IF’s Demon Flames, LeDelphinus, etc. You get the idea. The point to take away here is that the Neptunia series is establishing itself as a franchise with some staying power.

The story is the darkest in the series to date and, in my opinion, the best. ASIC has essentially taken over Gamindustri and you must see a fledgling, scared, but resolute Nepgear to the finish. Just like you might expect, she’s not all buddy-buddy with the other candidates at first, either. Oh, what a “CPU Candidate”, you ask? That is the term used to describe the “Sisters” to the CPU’s, based on the handhelds of their country of origin. Obviously, Vert does not have one, and Blanc has two!

17-noscaleNisa and Gust are finally worked officially into the story. Their appearances will make you smile. ASIC feels truly intimidating and it feels as though your task is insurmountable. While Nepgear is really the main character, if it wasn’t for IF I doubt anything would get done – she’s the true leader, driven and focused. There are several new characters, including Linda (frequently called underling by the heroes), who is my favorite. Will she return to the series? I hope so.

Also included are the oracles of every landmass – think of them like a ‘head secretary’. Histoire, now no longer trapped and residing in Planeptune, is obviously a shoe-in for Planeptune’s oracle, with Kei, Mina, and Chika taking up the other lands. As was the case for the first game, the story is segregated into several “Complete thoughts”, which is great for the story’s digestion. Early on we are introduced to Linda, dubbed as “underling” by IF, who is essentially ASIC’s main helper-hand. IF recognizes her for the cannon fodder she is meant to be and thereby dubs her so. The thing is that early game, Linda is quite powerful – she almost destroys us. Thankfully, Nepgear learns to transform and forces her to retreat. As time goes on, Underling grows less and less imposing to the point that they mention to they do need to even go into “A boss scene” with her, and instead defeat her in the cutscene. Pretty humurous, all things considered. Neptune usually handles power creeps with grace.

Underling isn’t the only one they need to worry about – there are four judges that precide over ASIC, including Justice, Brave, Trick, and Magic. Brave goes down pretty easily, but Justice and Trick hang around for quite some time. Justice and Uni even have an interesting spat concerning pirating, and while it’s nothing new the commentary on the flashcart industry is interesting to note and personally one of my favorite moments in the entire game.

Slightly unrelated – beware of the battle with Nepgear and Uni vs Justice – it is easily the most difficult battle in the game.

The perspective is interesting – without Neptune as a protagonist, things progress very differently. What does gameindustri look like without Neptune? Hell, what does it look like without the goddesses? The result is a more intimidating, unknown world than previously presented, with IF and to a lesser extent Compa taking a mentor role to the fledgling Nepgear. Nepgear is forced to come to terms with her inexperience, along the way meeting the oracles and candidates of other nations with whom she doesn’t necessarily get along with initially.

I think that we can agree that in a heavily character driven RPG, your protagonist frames the narrative and your perception of the game’s world and story. Nepgear isn’t like Neptune at all – she’s responsible, thoughtful, careful, and resolute. Some claim that because of these ordinary qualities she makes a boring protagonist, but I disagree; by association of those around her, she shines quite brightly. Think of it this way – perhaps in a vacuum those qualities would fail to be interesting to most, but when contrasted with her allies, it makes things quite different.

The story progresses in a satisfying manner – the moment where you rescue the CPU’s in the CPU graveyard near the end of the game feels like the game’s “Ocean palace” event. After temporarily defeating those who stand in your way and freeing the CPU’s, it feels as though the story has really opened up – your party is huge and you have everyone at your disposal and on your side. You feel powerful, but the game still manages to loom an even greater darkness upon you.

Let’s put aside the story for a moment. The music has definitely improved. While I love the tunes of the first game, they no doubt suffered from a minimal budget. For whatever reason Idea Factory discards the first game’s OST for the remainder of the series and pretends it doesn’t exist ever again. Get used to mk2’s tunes, as you will hear them aplenty in Victory and all rebirth games. Is that a band thing? Certainly not, as there are several great themes – Solid Park (Normal battle theme), ASIC battle, World map theme, etc. Dynamic and more cheerful than the original, these themes also are consistent with establishing the series as a respected franchise.

hyperdimension-neptunia-mk2-nepgearI doubt you’ve read a single thing about this game that hasn’t mentioned the infamous conquest ending – while obviously not canon it is easily the darkest element in the series history to date. I won’t spoil it, but be prepared for some emotional twists and turns as well as some betrayals.

There are some problems, of course. The framerate still suffers massively in certain locations (Although performance is better overall). Despite the games better looks over the first game, frame rate issues have plagued the series, even to date. I think it could benefit greatly from running in 720p rather than a full 1080p. Could also use some anti-aliasing, but at that point I’m nitpicking a bit.

I wish the dungeons were more interesting – often times you’ll just be wandering around a plain field or factory with little of note. While the prospect of getting to the next story event is enticing, it would be far better if the dungeons had some puzzles or variety to them. More egregious is that dungeons are sometimes copy-pasted in the series – to be fair, they are the same locations between games so it makes sense, but I’d still love to see some real dungeons from the series.

No idea why they decided to go with 3d models in the cutscenes rather than the beautiful 2d portraits used in the first game. Thankfully, this is a decision that is never revisited in the series as in Victory they go right back to where they were. Trust me, for this we are grateful.

Also a nitpick, but goddess forms have received a serious nerf. To maintain your CPU form takes some serious SP, as it drains it every turn. You need to dedicate certain characters to just stuffing your CPU characters with SP chargers, which can get annoying. Again though, thankfully this is fixed in future installments like Victory or the rebirth trilogy.

Overall, what do I give HDN Mk2? It might surprise you, but I’d give it a solid 9 if I had to score out of 10. It has faults, it’s not perfect – but it has improved so exponentially on all aspects present in the first game and written with such dark twists and turns. Worth a play, and even though many may disagree, I’d still recommend you play the first outing before beginning this one. While this series isn’t for everyone, I think you owe the greatest Neptune game a cursory glance.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D – First Impressions

Courtesy of the fruits of Operation Rainfall, Xenoblade Chronicles arrives on the 3ds in full form. Having missed the original wii title the first time around, I’m in the process of experiencing this grandiose RPG for the first time. How does it hold up, and what kind of experience does it provide on the new nintendo 3ds? Please be aware that spoilers for the first 3 or so hours of the game are contained here. You have been warned.

There are, admittedly, a shortage of JRPG’s for the 3ds (although the vita is bathing in them), so I was eager to get my hands on this highly regarded JRPG. My impressions about 4 hours into the game are overall favorable – the game boasts one of the largest open worlds I think we’ve ever seen on a handheld device before. The colony and the open world offer no load times – it’s just one enormous world to explore (Although a new map will still be loaded when entering a ‘dungeon’). Enough first impressions – on to the nitty gritty.

The story revolves around a struggling humanity facing the looming threat of Mechon – devious machines that for whatever reason are seeking to snub out mankind. Made entirely of metal, they cannot be easily damaged by normal weapons – only the Monado, a legendary weapon, has the ability to cleave them in two. Dunban, a hero of the older age, was the only one able to control the Monado and keep the Mechon at bay, successfully defeating them. A year later, humanity and the colony enjoy the peace Dunban has afforded them, although he has not bought them that peace for free – many of his comrades were killed and Dunban remains bedridden even a year later.

It is not long before we meet our hero Shulk, dedicated to understanding the Monado that no-one save the hero Dunban can wield. He is joined by Reyn, an old comrade who often accompanies him in his missions to recover scraps, and Fiora, the younger sister of Dunban who cares for him. It is not long before the Mechon see a mysterious resurgence and a Mechon with a Metal Face appears, killing most of the colony and murdering Fiora. Shulk watches on in horror, grips the Monado, and manages to make use of its power against his metal foes. He dedicates his life to revenge – an interesting character flaw in contrast to his peaceful, resourceful demeanor seen earlier in the game.

That extends about as far as I’ve gotten in the game thus far. So what is the gameplay like? Battles are interesting – those familiar with the battle style of FFXII will feel right at home. Your character auto attacks when in range and can perform several Arts. You have the ability to use a chain attack too, when party morale is high enough (measured by a simple bar in the top left hand corner of the screen) – this consists of the ability to execute three or more commands in a row with your whole party in tow; very useful and even required for the first encounter with metal face.

Tension cuts high – Everything leading up to Fiora’s untimely and unexpected demise was tense and powerful. Something to consider is that Fiora had a full set of skills and attributes to learn. Typically when a character is to be ‘killed off’, their character traits suddenly die off after level 10 or so (Nei from Phantasy Star 2 being one of the earliest notable examples). Kudos, monolith soft. I certainly wasn’t expecting such a gutsy move.

Exploration is enjoyable – sprawling but not confusing. The world is doubtlessly huge but a quest marker ensures you won’t get lost or lose track of your objective. This is welcome as I hate wild, aimless searching for the next “story point”.

The game looks beautiful. It’s easy to see that it takes advantage of the 256 Mb of RAM and upgraded processor afforded by the new 3ds. That said, would it kill them to add some simple anti-aliasing? This was present even in PSP games from last generation – certainly it’s not too much to ask!

Music is the orchestrated wonder you might have expected – every booming theme is grandiose in scale, accurately representing the unbridled enthusiasm the game holds for its own tale.

The voices I wasn’t too keen on initially – I was hoping there was an option for the original japanese voices, but unfortunately this was only present in the wii version. I must say they grew on me as time went on; it’s certainly a different kind of experience but they’re certainly not bad. If nothing else I’m grateful that they speak quickly – some voice actors have a tendency to speak very slowly.

That’s about all I’ve got for now! It’s a promising game so far. For a classic JRPG experience on the 3ds, you can’t go wrong.

Final Fantasy Type 0 – Initial Impressions

Final Fantasy Type 0 is a remake of the highly anticipated japanese-only PSP game released back in 2011 that fans have been clamoring for ever since. While not exactly in the format that most people were expecting, it is here at last in all it’s HD glory. How does it hold up though, and is it worth playing? I’ve put about 10 hours into the game since it came out, so hopefully I can detail some of the more interesting aspects of the game, and pontificate on its strengths and shortcomings. And then maybe my own shortcomings.

Final Fantasy Type 0 places you in the role of class 0 – 12 artificially created students who adhere to the will of the crystal from a city called Rubrum that oppose the empire. Unlike most of the Final Fantasy ilk, combat here is action oriented, a-la kingdom hearts (although not quite as ‘button mashey’). You’ll be handling many of the RPG elements such as leveling up, learning skills, magic, equipment, etc. Each cadet learns their own unique skills, however, it should be noted that you can only have, at max, 2 skills equipped to any one character. This forced restriction guides you into “builds” or focusing certain students on specializing on certain attacks or strategies.

The structure is established quite early in the game – you have “missions” which are essentially the story driven campaign. Between missions, you are given an arbitrary amount of time to use as you please until you become forced to proceed with the next story mission. During this free time, you can talk to your other students, gather items, take on sidequests for extra loot or commands, and what have you. Generally, talking to students will use 2 hours of your time, while leaving Academia will take 6 hours of your time (Many requests will force you to take to the world map). You can also undergo classes, which you should absolutely do at every possible opportunity in the interest of raising your abilities (Each class uses 2 hours like conversations). Oh, about the world map..

You can access the world map at any time by leaving the gates of Academia. You can visit other towns, buy equipment from other towns, take requests from other towns, other activity same prepositional phrase. As mentioned previously, many requests will have you taking to world maps inbetween missions.

The missions themselves are quite tense and insanely fun. Think of them as dungeons – you will often be exploring an area where enemies will seamlessly appear and attack you – yes, that’s right – no “random encounters” or transitions to a new plane of battle, it happens right as you are moving along. The objectives in the missions are often, to my relief, quite simple, but that does not mean the game is without challenge – the Brionac encounter is surely to be the first fight to test you to your limits. Considering I only had 3 cadets left at that point in the mission, I had to develop an absurd strategy involving the student using the bow in order to defeat him. Afterwards you must survive for a minute against a level 140 foe. Not forgiving in the slightest.

The characters themselves are likeable enough and the combat is certainly satisfying and flashy. My only complaint would be the localization, rather, the voice acting – it’s very mediocre, the kind of production you’d expect from an RPG made around 2000, not a AAA square enix game made in 2015. If the Tales series can consistently have stellar voice acting (Xillia’s was fantastic), I don’t see why Final Fantasy should suffer the same fate. Unfortunately Nine’s voice was the final nail in the coffin – Missi and I quickly agreed to switch to subtitles with japanese audio, and haven’t looked back since.

The game is certainly an enjoyable experience – feels like a darker, more “historical drama” styled Final Fantasy. I highly recommend you check it out.

Kirby’s Dreamland 3

The year was 1997. The N64 was out for a whole year at this point, which means that as far as North America was concerned, the SNES was dead as dead can be. Who gives a fuck about 2d games now when we have shitty looking polygonal games? AW YEAH BOI.

Unfortunately, in the year 1997, I was also 7 years old which means that I had absolutely no means of disposable income or making money to buy a $70 SNES game. This means that, much to my chagrin, KDL3 had to go by the wayside and wait until a few years later where I would get the chance to be able to play it (but not own it, even so). When I was 10, I did use all of my birthday money on Kirby 64, something I am very proud of to this day. Yes, I don’t have many things to be proud of. Yes, I am completely disappointing no matter how you look at it.

Found this game at 1up and eyed it up several times, especially with an attractive price of $55 dollars (About 10 under market and that’s not even counting shipping). I told myself “Next time I go in there, if that game is still there, I am going to buy it.” And buy it I did, apparently ruining other’s chance at getting the game. I felt evil but as a collector, that is the most satisfying feeling one can experience.

I gave the game a test run and it’s just as I remember, although I admittedly never played it at launch. A colorful, crayon like aesthetic adorns the game with music that we still hear remixes of to this day. Abilities are not quite as fleshed out as they are in other installments like Kirby Super Star (or the fantastic, recent Kirby’s Triple Deluxe). That said, Kirby is still one of my favorites (my absolute favorite as a child) and I’m proud to add this to my collection.

Missi also picked up Wild Arms 2 and Parappa the Rapper. I personally have no childhood memories of either as I never owned a PS1 as a kid, so I won’t comment on those.

I also noticed a “Secret of Mana” cartridge popped up at the shop for a similar price…Hmm…I think I know what my next purchase will be.


Breath of Fire III

I never grew up with the playstation – I was an N64 kid back in the day where we didn’t have the luxury of a job, no money, and thus had one console choice. Unfortunately, for a great part of my life, this means I got snubbed when square decided to move from the SNES to the playstation and when Capcom moved their (in my mind) venerated Breath of Fire series to the playstation. This is to say nothing of the vastly superior Symphony of the Night to the “Castlevania 64” we got too. In any event, because of this, my PSX collection is pretty small – Legend of Legaia, Legend of Dragoon, Megaman X4, Megaman X5, Megaman 8, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night make up the entirety of my collection.

While I have replayed the first two Breath of Fire’s multiple times, isn’t it about time I move to the 3rd game in the series – which is said by some to be even better than 2? I’m highly skeptical about that but I’ll approach it with an open mind. Despite owning Breath of Fire III for the PSP I thought it would be a nice addition to my collection anyway.

I wasn’t going to buy it without the case to come with it, which luckily was included at a nice price. I’m debating getting the japanese art printed on the front to replace the somewhat generic fire sword it comes with on the North American release. We’ll see what happens.

Are there any other great Playstation 1 games I am missing? Feel free to throw me some recommendations in the comments below!

Breath of Fire II & Fatal Fury 2

Wow, look at that.. they’re both 2’s!

So, I picked both of these up at this fantastic local video game store that is definitely organized with a collector in mind called 1-up games. You can expect them to carry the sort of stuff you’ll never find at the video game store down the street (not to mention the place is much more aesthetically pleasing and considerably less dirty) – for example, as I speak they are carrying copies of Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, Chrono Trigger boxed, and even Harvest Moon.

Unfortunately I don’t have the money to buy ALL of them (as much as I’d like to) so it seems I was limited to one choice: Breath of Fire II. Why Breath of Fire II? It is one of my favorite RPG’s of all time. Chrono Trigger is great and all, but there is an arguably more complete version for the DS that is readily accessible anytime I choose. While I do indeed own the GBA version of Breath of Fire II I’ve always wanted to own the home console version. After giving it a spin for an hour or so yesterday I can conclude two things:

  • The music is richer than I ever experienced on the GBA
  • Accounts about the translation being “awful” are completely over-exaggerated

That is not to say that the script doesn’t suffer from some stiffness, but it is far from abhorrent.

Breath of Fire II is a fantastic game that is absolutely worth the $100 I put down for it (this is including the box). While the SNES boxart is garish in the style of He-man wannabes of the yesteryear, it IS nice owning it anyway. One of the other gentlemen at the store in question advised me “Not to throw the box away” when I bought the game. Thanks, I think I know that. I’ll be using cover project to create a box with the original, much better japanese SNES art on it eventually. More space is needed before that possibility opens up though.

Fatal Fury 2 is an excellent, classic example of 2d fighters when they first emerged – carrying all the charm (and issues) of early 2d fighters. While I had already owned the genesis version, I was betting that the SNES version was superior. I have yet to give it a test run but for $7, it was hardly an investment.

Kirby Triple Deluxe – First Impressions

I’ll save you the horribly-played-out-and-never-funny superman metaphor (‘It’s a bird, it’s a plane, etc.’) and begin with something equally uninteresting and possibly even more cliche: Kirby is back in a true to form 2D platformer using the Return to Dreamland engine that I love so much.

Triple Deluxe is not only a worthy sequel to what I believe to be the best Kirby game we’ve gotten since Kirby Superstar Ultra but also has more than enough merit to stand on its own. Where to begin? I guess the gameplay is as good a place as any. The game has the best game feel I’ve felt since RTD and SS – it’s amazing how damn polished this engine is and how easy it is to move Kirby around the screen. Movement is a treat and you never feel like you’re moving too slow or fighting the game for power over Kirby.

Abilities are also the best the series has ever had (We can thank RTD for this) – no longer are moves just “one button” moves – we’re back to the Super Star variants of several moves with each ability. Each ability’s moves are seriously fleshed out too; you’ll have A + down movements, neutral A, charging A, Side and aerial A, etc. This is…just about everything I ever wanted in a new Kirby game. Please, Hal Labs, keep up the trend of the much deeper and fleshed out abilities – The fact that I feel like I’m talking about a fighting game excites me (Good kirby bnb: 5A – 2B – 3C – just kidding). While we are on the subject of gameplay, blocking also makes a return in this game and unfortunately it’s still way too good. I love the idea of being able to strategically block, but there needs to be some sort of downside. I suggest implementing a shield mechanic similar to what Smash Bros utilizes. While shielding itself is nothing new, you CAN in fact roll dodge in this game. Not extremely useful, but a cool addition nonetheless.

What next? How about music? I love remixes as much as the next guy but I feel that a lot of modern Nintendo games forego working on new, catchy themes we’ll remember for years to come in place of remixing old ones we already DO remember for years. While this is fine (and even welcome in some instances), I miss the days where we’d get truly character defining themes. Thankfully, Triple Deluxe seems to have addressed this with a plethora of original music – and it’s great. I meant that, I love it. The happy tunes in the first world or the underground themes – even the circus themes stick with me now. Your ears will be pleased. I must admit that I am a bit reluctant to say that a video game featuring “new music” is a plus, though.

Graphics are just, uh, graphics, but the game looks stellar; if you want a reminder on just how strong the 3ds is, this might be what you’re looking for. While Kirby has never thrived on complex designs or elaborate concepts, even the simple designs show through the raw power the 3ds has at its disposal. I still wish we had a higher resolution than 400 x 240, I mean, come on Nintendo – it didn’t have to be 720p or anything but I was expecting a little more pixel fidelity than that. That system gripe aside, it still looks fantastic.

Included in the game are a few minigames which I have yet to delve into, but just going from name alone the one of them promises much. Please be a psuedo Kirby ability Smash Bros.

A bit more spoilery, but apparently Meta Knight isn’t in this game at all. What the hell? A little annoyed that’s the case here, but oh well. The presentation, music, gameplay – it’s all here just like it always is. If you enjoyed Return to Dreamland, you owe it to yourself; this right here is true Kirby bliss.

Hyperdimension Neptunia

Four console personifications, witty fourth wall breaking humor, light hearted story and endearing characters – what could go wrong? Hyperdimension Neptunia is a staple JRPG that isn’t afraid to make fun of itself but doesn’t exactly break new ground in terms of story, characterization, or gameplay. The short version is that the game nails it on the writing & characters but falls flat in regards to dungeon design, optimization, and 3d design shortcuts (fog, sluggish battle system, etc.) Before we are able to objectively judge this game though, I find it necessary to observe the game’s troubled development cycle.

Hyperdimension Neptunia was not a game developed with a large budget – it was delayed several times from fund issues and almost wasn’t even released. Despite featuring what I believe to be completely kickass character art, the game had hit several roadblocks in development. These issues are very prevalent in the game itself and do little to hide themselves. When first released, this game received a lot of criticism and some of it justly so – it does have its problems. That said – I still love it. If you’re interested in knowing why, read on! If not, the long and skinny of it is that everyone and their dog didn’t like this game; on paper and in technicalities, it is easy to see why. Now, actually playing the game produces different results, in my opinion.

Let’s start with the story. The four goddesses, who vaguely resemble and represent the game consoles of their respective nations, fight out for dominance in a celestial realm away from humans. They rule over humans by ruling each of their lands: Planeptune, Lastation, Lowee, and Leanbox. Arfoire, a fallen goddess who ruled in this celestial realm before the current four goddesses, sealed away their guardian Histoire and wreaks havoc upon the human realm. Due to her own hubris as well as the fact that the four goddesses do not get along, Neptune is forcefully ejected from her home in the celestial realm and loses all memory of her time there. Upon landing, she meets Compa, a nurse in training and IF (affectionately called Iffy), a guild member who doesn’t believe in the rule of the godesses. On paper, this sounds fairly typical – and it is – until you begin playing.

I’ll begin with the good elements of the game: The story, characters, and art design.

Purple heart conversing with White heart The writing is light and fun, and so are the characters reading the lines themselves. Neptune is an adorable airhead and somehow managed to not only never be annoying to me, but to be endearing. Compa, who takes the airhead thing to even further extremes, is also very likeable. Iffy is my personal favorite and without her I doubt we’d see much progress in the story, but she has a certain motherly quality to her in the way she watches over Compa and Neptune.

There is something wonderful and engaging about the story. Admittedly, you’re not playing the next Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy here, but I was genuinely interested in how Neptune would regain her memory or if Compa and Iffy would ever discern her true identity. There’s also a fair bit of story here; while attempting to find Histoire, you’re not just killing time, you’re doing world building – you meet people, you get put into comical situations, you learn more about the characters in your party; each part feels distinctly “it’s own”, if you will.

I’m not sure if the game was intended to be played this way but I began the game on Planeptune, then went to Lastation, Lowee, and finally Leanbox. Admittedly there’s not much to do on Planeptune considering you are playing their goddess, but upon going to Lastation, the game’s format reveals itself to you. Upon entering Lastation, you meet Noire, one of the goddesses who ousted you in the beginning of the game. Of course, she is unaware that Neptune has lost all her memories. Throughout the bulletins and dungeons, you learn a great deal about Noire – she’s very responsible, handles herself well, is a bit lonely, and is definitely a tsundere as the sky is blue. You also come to realize just how well developed Lastation is as a country – very industrial, technologically leaps and bounds ahead of the other nations. Along the way you fight an evil “walmart-esque” corporation hellbent on defeating their competitors and you even enter a tech convention. Such is the format of Neptune, and let me say – it’s a great one, story-wise. I found myself falling in love with these characters who, on the surface, are nothing more than tropes of characters we’ve seen several times before, but there was something magical about them this time.

gfs_165542_2_4Noire and Blance, easily the two “hardest of heart” of the goddesses actually like Neptune quite a bit despite their differences. Revealed in cutscenes and small conversations both inside and outside their basilicom, you begin to put together how the godesses really feel about one another. Did I care? Actually, I did – the tension between the goddesses and why they just couldn’t get the hell along was a major concern of mine.

Our human comrades have much to offer as well. Iffy is actually a member of the guild – a group of loyalists who don’t believe in the rule of the goddesses. This is particularly funny when you remember that Neptune is a goddess herself, whether she remembers it or not. Iffy’s motivations, personality, and sense of humor all come out in the dialog throughout the game. Compa is, well…Compa, but there’s something lovable about her as well – she’s always there to pick you up.

Of course, there is also your main adversary, Arfoire, the fallen goddess, who seeks to impede you at all costs. She’s a master of disguise, so naturally you see her in many forms. Armed with her trademark laugh and a care-for-nothing attitude, she’d love nothing better than to stomp the goddesses out of existence. We have a thing or two to say to her about that. Even Arfoire worked her way into my heart as a villain that you, honestly, felt sorry for but were fond of – think of a Team Rocket that was actually marginally threatening and wasn’t annoying.

While on the surface the game appears to have a very silly plot and hilarious writing (the scene with Neptune leaving her comrades because she’s stuck on the toilet comes to mind) – there is actually a serious story underneath the cute character designs and silly dialog. Arfoire resents her time in the celestial realm, resents humans, and resents all Histoire and the goddesses stand for. Iffy is conflicted about her duty to the guild and assisting Neptune and Compa with the goddesses. Noire actually wants Neptune as a friend, despite not outright saying so. Blanc greatly respects Neptune’s aptitude for positive energy, although she’d never admit it. Vert, who is easily the most understanding and mature of the four goddesses, believes the four of them would be better off working together.

Before I end my comments on the positive of Neptune, let me add a bit about the DLC characters Gust & Nisa – both are also great characters that I feel add a lot to the plot. I recall with much fondness the two brothers that impeded Nisa in her introductory cutscenes; these are some of the best moments of the game and where I feel Hyperdimension Neptunia stands the strongest.

gfs_165542_2_5Now, unfortunately, for the bad – the gameplay. The dungeons are repetitive and uninteresting, but thankfully they are rather short. They’re “randomly generated” but the gameplay focus is almost always on the bosses or combat, so it is of a minimal bother to me. The story had enough driving force to keep me chipping away.

Honestly, the game could be optimized better; it’s plagued with slowdown and draw distance issues, especially in battle. No doubt a result of the game’s budget, the models themselves look great until they move; they’re a bit stiff.

The battle system itself is actually really stylishly laid out, but does have some perfunctory weaknesses; limit breaking will cause you to have to do strange things like skip battle animations so that you can make the most out of the situation. The “combo” system that is present in the game is also needlessly complex and impossible to fully utilize. The animations, while really cool and very stylish, could definitely be seen as time consuming and annoying to many.

The CPU addon parts for the goddesses themselves also seem to be relatively useless – some equipment seems to serve no purpose at all.

The shares system is, unfortunately, one of the game’s biggest downfalls. The more Neptune dies in your game, the more your shares decrease. But hey, this isn’t a problem, right? Wrong. It’s permanent, and you aren’t informed of the consequences of these actions by the game itself. Furthermore, lacking shares will lock you out of the best ending near the end of the game where it becomes necessary to recruit the goddesses.

In game length, I never felt as thought the game outstayed it’s welcome. Other than the particularly egregious, I enjoyed the experience and honestly – I’d play it again. With witty dialogue and memorable characters, I can say it was an enjoyable romp. I may not need to play this version again, however. There’s a remake on the way this summer for the Vita that is supposedly much better and now ties in with the universe of Mk2 and Victory. Looking forward to it!

The bottom line? I’d give the game a solid 7.5. I feel the game was rather unfairly panned given its better aspects and with those aspects in mind, I declare it a resounding, surprising success; it’s rare to have a game exude such personality such as this. I’d much rather play a flawed game with personality and ingenuity than a perfect game with no personality, if that makes any sense at all. No, I’m not trying to be profound, goodness. Should you play it? If you want to kick back, relax, and enjoy some RPG action at your leasure and you’re okay with kawaii-ass anime girls, then yes. Give it a go. But make sure you play the sequels – they’re much better.

Pocky and Rocky – Review

I had the pleasure of learning the existence of – and playing – Pocky and Rocky for the first time yesterday. And boy, was it a lot of fun. I can’t believe such a great co-op game existed, lost by time in the SNES catalog.

Pocky and Rocky is a SNES game made by Natsume of Harvest Moon/Rune Factory. And given that…there is little to account for this! The gameplay gives you an overhead view of your character (Either Pocky, the shrine maiden, or Rocky, the tanooki) and is fast, frenetic, and quite unforgiving in later chapters. Much as you might expect, your duties are to expel traditional Japanese demons and defeat the demon overlord Black Mantle, who is a floating cape-ass evil dude. Why? Not sure! The story is mainly told through text-less (Unless there was something wrong with the version of the game I was playing) cutscenes with still images. It’s very chibi-ified, cute, and very harmless.

Most of the combat is done by holding the Y button, which will repeatedly make you throw whatever shit you’ve got in your arsenal. If you’re Pocky, this is a spiritual warding charm, and if you’re Rocky, it’s a leaf. Because he’s a tanooki, I don’t know man! The B Button will allow you to do a close quarter multi-hit attack that will deflect enemy projectiles (and deal damage to those close to you). You can push the X button to do a sliding dash that is useful for quick dodging – but it really can’t be spammed. There is a bit of required recovery after the slide is performed. It should be noted (and hilariously so) that if you slide into your ally you will cause them to ricochet off the wall every-which way; the whole time they will be invincible and deal damage. Melissa and I found out that if you do this in any area where the quarters are confined and there are lots of cliffs that it is a very bad idea. You will kill each other frequently.

The game sticks with a very 90’s manga art style – and I love that. Being a game from the 90’s this is entirely unsurprising, but how refreshing it is to see designs that are straight out of the hayday.

Something that is also worth mentioning is that the music in this game is actually pretty good; some well composed themes are hidden amongst the more traditional “Japanese-style” BGM’s that match the game’s theme very well. My particular favorite is the mountain level (the song is titled “Battle in the Sky”), which I believe is the fourth as well as the “Enchanted Forest”, which is the second level.

As you approach the end of the game, you’ll notice once you hit the third or fourth level the game gets precipitously difficult; it WILL kick your ass. Very, very badly. A particularly insideous segment lies in the chasm level as you approach the final level when the earth is repeatedly breaking apart and putting you in confined spaces with LOTS of room to fall off and die. Remember how I said to not dash in these areas? This is the absolute worst place to dash in the game. Don’t do it.

As mentioned previously, albeit briefly, this game is a blast with co-op. In fact I’d recommend playing it no other way. While the interaction between the two of you is at a minimum the strategy and cooperation you must have to be successful is imperative, especially in later levels.

All in all, an extremely fun game that I can’t believe I’ve never played. I’d give it a solid 8 out of 10. Looking forward to playing Pocky and Rocky 2!