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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Fri Apr 26, '13, 11:31 pm 
Bragatyr wrote:I keep meaning to comment on a particular review, but I just wanted to say in general that you write some darn good reviews, R-90-2. Really well-written, and about as objective as it comes. And you tend to pick pretty fun games to review, too.

Do you happen to write short stories, or keep a blog or anything like that? I'd be curious to know.


Feel free to comment on whatever reviews you like, whenever you like. That's half the point of me putting them here, after all. :)

Anyway, that's a negative on both. Blogging would require effort, and my other creative energies are currently directed towards tabletop RPG things.


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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Mon Apr 29, '13, 12:51 am 
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The White Chamber
Developer: Studio Trophis
Release Date: 2005
Platform: PC
Genre: Adventure/Horror
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The White Chamber is the first and only game released by Studio Trophis. Originally created as a university class project, the game was expanded into a full game and released as freeware for windows PC in 2005, where it garnered some rather startlingly high-profile attention, getting good notice and review from outlets such as The New York Times. The various revisions of the game have added features such as voice acting, and at this point has doubled the number of available endings in the game. It is considered to be something of a first-rate indie project, stacking up well against the adventure games of old.

The setup of the game sets it as the sort of game where finding out the story is the story- an unnamed woman wakes up inside a metal coffin on board an abandoned space station in the middle of nowhere. As she works to get the various systems up and running to find some way to escape, she not only has to piece together what exactly happened on the station, but also what role, if any, she may have had in it, but also deal with the fact that reality on board the station seems to be mutable and subject to change at a moment's notice.

The gameplay of The White Chamber is standard adventure game fare, for anyone who started out with the King's Quest games or the Lucasarts adventure games like Sam & Max or Full Throttle. The game is operated from a third-person perspective, with all navigation and interaction handled with the mouse, whether to examine or interact with things in the game world or the character's inventory. The actual play consists of collecting objects and using them to solve puzzles in the game world to collect other things or open pathways to new areas of the game. It is still quite possible to die in this game, but they tend to only occur if the player dawdles too much or attempts blatantly unwise actions, so in this way it resembles the later Lucas Arts games more than the more notorious Sierra kill-a-thons. The game also keeps track of how you have your character interact with certain phenomena, and your actions determine the type of ending you receive.

The expression of gameplay is where the game begins to shine, however. With perhaps a couple of exceptions, the puzzles are not terribly obtuse, and what is expected of the player can be reasonably deduced- it's just that what the player is required to do can be somewhat disquieting. Not many adventure games require one to sever the arm of an assumed corpse to take with you because you need it as part of the whole body you're assembling on a bed, for example. As one progresses, areas will acquire new items for no reason that can be immediately discerned, as the player's character is the only living being on the station. It must be noted hat not all "deaths" result in a game over, and "dying" may be required to progress. The game itself is not especially long, and like most adventure games, can be cleared quite quickly if you are already aware of what you need to do to solve the puzzles.

It is difficult to talk about the story without spoiling anything, a concern because the game is about finding out what the story is. However, as far as the general tone goes, the creator fairly obviously was inspired by games such as Silent Hill and movies like Event Horizon. the only bits of background the game provides are a number of audio logs made by a new transfer to the station, but the whole story isn't made clear until the end.

The aesthetics are a wildly mixed bag. The music is rather minimalist, and sometimes is merely ambient sound, and it only becomes intrusive when the environments do. The environments themselves are splendidly done, each room having its own rather distinct character, and the backgrounds themselves sometimes work to play with the player's expectations as to what may or may not happen next. The character designs themselves are a bit on the rough side- while drawing on a more stylized representation based on popular late-'90s anime isn't a problem in and of itself, there are some ways that it can be taken too far, and some of the designs in TWC are at least stepping on the line.

With more sane puzzle design than a number of adventure games of days past, The White Chamber is a fine freeware entry to the genre. While there is a far bit of content that could be considered on the horrific side, it is still a well-realized horror-type game that doesn't use excessive shock to cover its deficiencies.

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(no screenshots for two reasons. 1.) It's best to experience the game yourself, and 2.) Some of the screens that best illustrate the game wouldn't pass TOS.)


Last edited by R-90-2 on Mon Apr 29, '13, 12:51 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Mon Apr 29, '13, 2:23 am 
Yeah, I really enjoyed The White Chamber. I had a friend recommend it to me after the Trilby series. Have to agree that the puzzles were fair and well designed (and often required a little lateral thinking), and the atmosphere was pretty incredible. I found the story a little...ridiculous, or pointless, or something, in the end, but I tend to be pretty critical of video game stories as such, I guess.


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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Sun May 5, '13, 10:29 pm 
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Final Fantasy IV
Developer: Squaresoft
Release Date: 1991
Platform: Super Nintendo
Genre: Conventional RPG
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Final Fantasy IV was the first game of Squaresoft's flagship RPG franchise to be created for a 16-bit system, and the second in the series to make the journey over the Pacific. While the first game was brought over two years after its Japanese release, Final Fantasy IV was released in the US only four months after its release in Japan. The game was a large success for the company in its home company, but despite the good critical notice that the game received in its initial American outing, the game actually sold rather poorly, prompting Square's creation of Final Fantasy USA, otherwise known as Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. However, the game is considered as a classic in many circles, and is recognized as the game that put the characters as the major dramatic focus of an RPG. The game saw many re-releases, including releases that re-introduced some of the features that were excised from the original US SNES release- this review is based on the GBA re-release that includes the removed features.

The set up is as follows. Cecil, Dark Knight and commander of the kingdom of Baron's airship force, has been ordered to retrieve the various crystals of the elements scattered throughout the world. However, after seizing the crystal of Mysidia and massacring some of its defenseless inhabitants, Cecil starts to question his orders, and when he brings up those concerns to his king, he is stripped of his command and sent away on a secret mission to the town of Mist, along with a troublesome but skilled dragoon named Kain. Cecil is then drawn into a series of events that not only have him fighting against his former kingdom, but agents of a far more sinister power whose plans for the crystals are far more than just the conquest of other countries.

The gameplay of Final Fantasy IV revolves around the first use of what would become the Active Time Battle system, which would drive the next five Final Fantasy games in the series. While characters do need to wait for their turn, it is not strictly a turn-based system, as characters and monsters act after certain intervals of real time rather than after a side has taken their actions. Attacking or using items can be done instantly, but casting spells requires a further investment in time. the ability of characters to resist damage and cast spells is measured in the usual hit points and magic points, and certain characters may also have additional abilities beyond fighting, magic and using items, such as Tellah's Recall ability, which allows him to cast a random spell that may be off of his initial spell list.

The difficulty of the game can be rather variable, as the game does occasionally like to throw curveballs in terms of encounter or dungeon design, such as a dungeon where characters cannot wear metal equipment on penalty of being incurably paralyzed while in combat. In general, however, it is not one of the more difficult jRPGs out there, even if there is a jump in difficulty in the original version over the initial US release for the SNES. The dungeons are generally varied, and the game does do itself credit by not falling back on the usual elemental standbys in that department. the underlying mechanics of the game are solid enough that difficulties can generally be overcome without an unnecessary amount of blind guesswork.

The story progression is a mix. This was more or less the first game to have in-game back and forth character interaction be a major focus of the game's storytelling, and while it can seem particularly hokey at points, this attempt did allow the game to attempt twists that wouldn't have nearly as much impact if, as in RPGs past, all the interaction the party members had with each other were a few boxes of introductory text followed with being a block of stats with a gag order for most of the game. Unfortunately, these character pieces are the better part of the game's storytelling, as the game's quest story falls afoul of a device that Squaresoft would abuse in a number of its subsequent Final Fantasy games and other RPGs- the failtrain mode of storytelling. In order for the plot to progress as Square wanted, it, the game had to be engineered so that the player party would have to be aware of the villains' plans, attempt to stop them, and fail horribly, a situation repeated ad nauseum to the point where the only point where the player party is allowed to make any meaningful headway against the villain is once the location of the final dungeon is made available, or near to it. While the game most famous for this is Final Fantasy V, the contrivances created to maintain the circle of fail in Final Fantasy IV rank as what are most likely the worst in the entire franchise.

The aesthetics of the game do well enough. The character sprites in battle are basically chibis, and do have different animations for when their about to fight or use an item, or when they're working on casting a spell. The monster sprites, while well-realized and reasonably detailed, are almost uniformly static, save for a few who have alternate states during a battle (FF7 was the first FF game to have animated monster models of any type). The soundtrack, on the other hand, is amazing- Nobuo Umeatsu had started taking cues from Koichi Sugiyama, composer of Dragon Quest 3, and it shows, creating one of the most knock-out soundtracks to appear on the whole system from top to bottom. While he was not yet able to use the platform's capabilities to their fullest, it is still head and shoulders one of the best SNES soundtracks to be found.

While Final Fantasy IV is certainly worth recognizing as a pioneer in certain aspects of RPGs, the game is not without its lumps. While the general aesthetics are solid that the soundtrack is excellent, the story progression vacillates, sometimes within the same scene, between a genuine effort to provide an interesting character piece and a ham-fisted contrivance that pushes the limits of Hanlon's razor. However, the game is mechanically reasonable, so the actual playing of the game is enjoyable enough.


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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Mon May 6, '13, 10:36 pm 
ah FINAL FANTASY 4 !! One of the best RPG for me and my first FF RPG ! One of the best and the OST is truly fantastic ! :fiery:


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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Thu May 9, '13, 3:15 am 
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Monster Party
Developer: Human Entertainment (Published by Bandai)
Release Date: 1989 (US)
Platform: NES
Genre: Action Platformer.
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Monster Party is a game that has acquired something of a mystique in the past decade or so. The game was developed by Human Entertainment, the outfit that would later create the Clock Tower series of videogames (and whose most famous alumnus, Suda51, would form his own studio with the help of other former members), but the game was never actually released in Japan. While the game was always known for a being rather intensely bizarre, and having dodged a fair amount of Nintendo of America's then-largely draconian censorship policies, in the 2000s screenshots of the prototype ROM emerged that showed that the game was originally supposed to be even more gruesome and morbid than what appeared in its actual release. While these are the aspects that the game is most known and remembered for, the actual play seems to have been on the forgettable side by even those who remember it fondly.

The setup itself isn't the most bizarre bit, as it falls well within the standards of '80s platformers. On the way back from a ball game, Mark, our kid hero, sees a strange star in the sky that falls to Earth. It was not actually a star, but Bert, a big, bird-gargoyle thing who asks Mark to help him defeat the evil monsters who have taken over the Monster World. Mark gets volunteered to go, and to help him out, Bert actually merges with Mark to help out in the fight.

So, the gameplay isn't anything particularly terrible or amazing. The controls are quite responsive, and Mark has the usual set of platformer moves, such as jumping, ducking, and he is able to crawl along the ground while crouched. In addition, his bat can deflect enemy projectiles, and any non-boss enemy can be instantly killed by a reflected projectile. The enemies do drop power ups like health, which can be farmed to an extent- which is a good idea, since health is persistent. While finishing a stage does give you some health, you won't get a full refill. The other major powerup is the pill, which allows Bert to take over- while Bert can't deflect shots, he does have a much longer-ranged shooting attack than Mark's bat, and can actually fly- however, this transformation does not last forever.

The actual play itself involves going through the stages, going into doors and defeating bosses to earn the key to make it to the next level. Emphasis is on the plural, as there is only one stage in the game that has one boss that must be defeated, as most have at least two. The game does throw some curveballs- on one stage, one of the bosses is located to the left of the stage start, and in another stage there are three bosses. You only need to defeat two, but if you defeat the third one, the game actually takes the key away from you. While the difficulty is generally not super-hard, there are some bosses where it's far better to be Mark and others where it's far better to be Bert, and figuring out which is which is a fair part of the challenge. Boss difficulty is all over the map in general, and there's even one where you have to actually just take the boss at its word in order to win. The monster and boss patterns are not particularly inspired, however, only increasing in speed or number of projectiles.

Story progression is largely non-existant, as is the case for many older platformers, but the ending of Monster Party deserves, to be almost as notorious as exploding-head Hitler from Bionic Commando. The only dialogue present in the game outside of the intro and ending sequences are the proclamations made by the various bosses before they fight you (or not fight you, as the case may be), and enough of it is nonsensical that one wonders if the translator was just having a bit of a laugh.

The aesthetics are a bit mixed- the game does throw out a rather enormous grab-bag of monsters and bosses, many of which are references to Japanese myth or modern monster pieces, such as how the first boss was originally going to be a big call out to Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. The stage designs are varied enough that you're not retreading old ground, and the first stage of the game is rightfully famous for its rather sudden tonal shift in the middle. However, the soundtrack of the game is phoned in to an alarming degree- the game's tracks have a rather low loop time, and what's contained in the tracks isn't particularly inspired and even becomes grating in a couple of stages.

While Monster Party is deservedly well-known for its more off-the-wall qualities, it's not a game that excels at anything in particular. While the game is quite playable, it relies on a couple of tricks, such as early health-farming, in order for the rest of the game to go smoothly, and its only major offer is the idea of playing the same game with two spearate characters on deck, a concept far better executed in Castlevania 3. I have to be in a certain mood to play through this game, and while it does get played, it's not a game I care to come back to very often.

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I also did a longplay of the game for last Halloween.



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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Sun May 19, '13, 2:37 am 
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Touhou Eiyashou- Imperishable Night
Developer: Team Shanghai Alice
Release Date: 2004 (JP)
Platform: PC
Genre: Vertical Shmup
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So, this may require a bit of explanation.

The Touhou series is a set of indie shmups that saw its genesis late in the useful cycle of the PC-9801, beginning in 1996. the various games that comprise the main Touhou series are entirely the work of one Jun'ya Ota, known more commonly by his development alias, ZUN. While there have been thirteen games in the main series (switching over to Windows with the sixth game, Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil), with a fourteenth well on the way, the games have attracted a large cult following both in the East and the West, whether Westerners have acquired the normally Japan-only games through fair means or foul. The games do not share a single story arc, but all take place in Gensokyo, a land that's basically a preserve of Mythic Japan that's sealed off from our own, modern world. The games are mainly known for their superlative soundtracks, broadly-drawn characters who do the right thing for the wrong reasons, and the fact that there are no male characters that appear in the games themselves. Imperishable Night is the 8th game in the series, and is generally well-regarded.

The setup is as follows- on the eve of Gensokyo's harvest moon festival, a few rather perceptive residents of the land notice that something is amiss in that the moon has actually been replaced by a fake. So, in order to have time sort this out, the protagonists actually slow the passage of night to an incredible crawl and go out to investigate, and there are four pairs of characters who can attempt to blunder their way to victory: The bad-tempered shrine maiden Reimu and Yukari, the master of Boundaries who is as slothful as she is powerful; The witch and notorious thief Marisa, and the doll mage Alice, both residents of the forest of magic; The vampire Remilia Scarlet and her head maid/assassin Sakuya; and Yuyuko, the ghost princess and her half-ghost(!) gardener/bodyguard, Youmu.

The gameplay is, at the basics, nothing too unfamiliar to players of shmups, even the more recent ones. The came is a vertical forced-scrolling shooter where the character has a normal attack which can be powered up, limited-use screen-clearing "bombs", and one hit costs the player a life. the player can also "focus" which not only switches to the partner's shot pattern, but also slows the character's movement (moving fast in bullet hell games can become far more of a liability than an asset) and, more helpfully, displays the character's hitbox which, as is the custom these days, is far smaller than the character's sprite. Extra lives may be earned through collecting 1ups as well as collecting a certain number of point items. Also important in this game are time orbs, which are collected by destroying enemies or "grazing" (allowing bullets to rub against the character's sprite without actually touching the hitbox), as having enough of these slows down the advancement towards dawn that occurs at the end of each stage. The bosses are the real centerpiece of the Touhou games, and each boss, n addition to normal patterns also has Spell Cards, which are harder patterns that give a big score bonus for beating if the player clears them without dying or using a bomb.

The overall difficulty does remain quite high, as it is the current custom of the shmup community to only produce games directed at members of the hardcore shmup community. It does, however, have what's likely the easiest Easy mode in the franchise to allow the rest of us a shot at the good ending, which requires beating the game without continuing. it also has a deathbomb window, which allows the player a chance to survive a hit by hitting the bomb button within a short window of time thereafter. Still, as a modern shmup, the game demands a great deal of memorization as well as twitch skills, so getting the good ending on a first attempt on any difficulty is exceedingly unlikely. The actual attack patterns are tied quite well to what the bosses are- there werebeast's attacks behave differently wether your partner is out or not, Marisa is a thief, so she uses lots of attacks borrowed from prior bosses in the series, and so on.

The story progression is a little bit on the flimsy side, being a shmup, but it still does provide more than its fair share of oddball dialogue considering there's four pairs of characters to play through the game with. As the franchise as a whole tends to derive its characters from Japanese folklore, this game does draw elements from Japanese legends revolving around the moon as well as bits from the tale "The Bamboo Cutter's Daughter". Still, the interactions are fun enough, especially once one remembers that every single playable character in the Touhou series has also been a boss at least once.

The aesthetics do work well from the game's graphical perspective. The game's background do not allow the shots to blend in with it, so it is generally clear where the shots are at all times. However the game does fall afoul of one of the problems of the modern vertical shmup, in that the shots come so dense that it is difficult to appreciate the effort put into the artistry of many of the game's patterns without using the game's replay function, as it is necessary to focus on a rather small area of the screen in order to survive. The soundtrack does maintain the level of excellence that the series became well-known for, and as is the usual, every boss in the game has its own music track.

Imperishable Night is probably one of the two best games to get started on the series with, the other being its predecessor, Perfect Cherry Blossom. While the game is quite difficult, as shmups tend to be in universality these days, it is worth checking out for fans of the genre.

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An old, low-quality vid of one of my practice sessions.



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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Tue Jun 4, '13, 10:59 pm 
It has recently come to my attention that a number of my favorite indie shmups are actually being localized, so my next reviews will be all about them.

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ALLTYNEX 2nd.
Developer: Siter Skain
Release Date: 2010 (JP) 2013? (Other)
Platform: PC
Genre: Vertical Shmup
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ALLTYNEX 2nd is actually a remake of a game originally created for the Fujitsu FM Towns computer system back in 1996 by the developers who would eventually form the indie dev team known as Siter Skain, creator of a well-regarded trio of shmups that take place in the same timeline. The releases for Windows are notable for the fact that the games were actually released in reverse chronological story order, meaning that Kamui (1999) is actually the last chapter while ALLTYNEX 2nd is technically the first. Overall, the games are considered to be a peek into what might have happened if Rayforce/Layer Section had become the dominant shmup paradigm instead of the manic bullet-hell style shooters pioneered by Cave's Donpachi series and carried on by a bevy of other teams. The Windows trio of shmups created by Siter Skain are considered some of the best vertical shmups ever made for any platform.

The story, while thin, is as follows. In 2152, ALLTYNEX, the massive supercomputer that was used to aid in the management of Earth's military, political, and even cultural affairs suddenly went haywire. Armies of unmanned warships and other fighting machines launched an attack so ferocious that 85% of humanity was destroyed in the first 72 hours. While some managed to escape to the outer edge of the Solar System, the harsh conditions meant that it was only a matter of time until the free humans went extinct, so the survivors built a new fleet equipped with powerful new fighters to strike back against ALLTYNEX and make one last, desperate attempt to liberate Earth from the clutches of the rogue computer.

One of the ways in which Siter Skain games are distinguished from most shmups is that the player has a number of options with which to say no to bullet patterns in some fashion. The player's fighter does have a number of tools- first, the fighter can actually soak a hit before being in danger of being destroyed, and taking a hit does nullify almost all other shots that are on the screen. As far as offense goes, the player has two basic attacks- a normal shot whose power increases over time and with destroying enemies, and a powerful, short-ranged sword attack that destroys most kinds of bullets and automatically targets the nearest enemy, but has a short delay between "combos", and it slows down the fighter while sword mode is active. These buttons can be used in combination, and the result depends on which button was being held first. If the sword button is hit while the shot button is being held, the ship fires a homing laser that penetrates enemies and can destroy multiple weak targets in one go, and if the shot button is hit while the sword button is held first, the fighter fires a powerful beam that tears through most bullet patterns but renders the fighter very difficult to maneuver. Combination attacks deplete weapon power, meaning that overusing these weapons can leave you not only vulnerable when you need them most, but will also dramatically reduce the power of your primary shot, making even weak enemies able to withstand the gunfire of your ship far more than is comfortable. Playing the balancing act between your various tools is at least as important to the game as actually dodging shot patterns, and while the bosses are generally challenging, your craft never feels underpowered for the job. The game tends to rely more on tricky patterns or situations rather than sheer volume of fire, in any case, and the bosses have uniformly excellent design, with each boss having at least two distinct phases.

The scoring system itself is tied into the proper use of your tools, as well. The normal shot and homing lasers give you ever-increasing bonus points for chaining the destruction of multiple enemies in a short period of time, and every time you trigger one of these bonuses, your multiplier increases, and this multiplier is applied to the point value of any enemy destroyed with the sword or megabeam, so the game rewards you with high scores and lives for using your various tools correctly. As such, the difficulty remains a bit more reasonable than in many manic shooters, and the game places no conditions on achieving the game's true ending.

Considering that the game's story is not delivered at any point during the game, only at the beginning and end, there isn't much to review on that front- however, there is a bit of a twist delivered in gameplay and during the ending which serves as a tie-in with RefleX, the chronologically second chapter in the story.

Aesthetic-wise, the game is quite competent. Siter Skain did an excellent job of translating sprites from the previous version of the game into full 3D models, and while the graphics aren't amazingly stellar, the presentation of the game and the quality of the basic design does make up for it. The soundtrack is very good indeed, and as is the case in many indie shmups, each boss does have their own theme music to accompany their battle. The game also takes the course of not having a beak in-between levels, with no bonus or loading screen. Each section of the game flows into the next, creating the impression of one, continuous level.

ALLTYNEX 2nd is a rather unfortunately under-known gem in the world of shmups, but it does provide its own experience in that it makes all of the player's possible tools available to them right from the get-go, and success depends equally on using those tools properly as it does on the player's twitch dodging skills, to the point that intelligent use of the former can help lessen the need for the latter. Demo can be found here.
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Sample game video, not by me.


Last edited by R-90-2 on Tue Jun 4, '13, 10:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Wed Jun 5, '13, 1:07 am 
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RefleX
Developer: Siter Skain
Release Date: 2008 (JP) 2013? (Other)
Platform: PC
Genre: Vertical Shmup
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RefleX is a game that has a long and delayed development history. The original prototype of the game, Reflection, was developed for Windows 95 in 1997, but other projects, such as Kamui, as well as the onwards march of technology means that all the work done for Reflection was abandoned, and the project was restarted from scratch, only seeing the light of day in 2008. The game is the second in the ALLTYNEX trilogy, and is one of the most popular, as the game has received high marks for an extraordinary presentation and as a bridge between Kamui and the original ALLTYNEX.

Which brings us to the setup. After the ALLTYNEX system was destroyed, humanity re-settled the planet Earth and began to prosper once more. However, due to evidence of an alien presence within the depths of the ALLTYNEX complex, the new Earth government became decidedly militaristic in nature, and every whim was enforced by the power of the Global Unified Army, with the Earth effectively operating in an eternal state of martial law. In response to this, a resistance force called Valkyness formed and established a base on the moon, where Guehala Denis, the pilot that destroyed the ALLTYNEX supercomputer and the extradimensional warship codenamed "Satariel" developed a superfighter called the Phoenix equipped with a limited-duration but rechargeable reflection shield that could repel almost any weapon that the GUA had in its inventory. Valkyness's attempt to make a surprise attack the capital of the new government was intercepted by the GUA's air force, so now it's up to the Phoenix to defeat the GUA forces in between the retreating Valkyness forces and their base on the moon. And while this struggle goes on, an alien race begins to reactivate its godlike living weapons on order to get revenge on Earth for wrongs that humanity has long forgotten.

Siter Skain is keen on giving the player tools to defeat bullet patterns, and this game is no slouch. The gameplay revolves around the use of the reflection shield, which can be used to turn enemy shots back on the aggressors, and it is based on an energy bar which recharges when the shield is not in use. The lower the shield's charge is, however, the weaker the player's basic shot becomes, and shooting actually slows down the recharge process. In addition, missiles ignore the shield, and must be evaded or destroyed by the basic shot. The amount of damage will depend on the shot type being reflected, and so the reflection shield will be the player's primary defensive and offensive tool against the game's bosses. There are also large score multipliers for destroying enemies with reflected shots, so striking a balance between offense and defense with regards to the shield is important to survival. Also, while each of the eight continues only allows the player one life, the player's fighter actually takes seven hits to destroy until a certain event in the game, meaning the game is generally fairly forgiving of player mistakes. This does not make the game less challenging, however, as the game is well-designed around the player's capabilities. While the bosses do gradually increase in difficulty over the course of the game, even the earliest bosses assume that the player is proficient with all of the game's core mechanics, meaning that there are no bosses that are especially easy, even in the earlier parts of the game. A couple of the boss fights are entire levels unto themselves, meaning there are some rather lengthy stretches that inflict continuous boss-level intensity on the player, giving no time to relax and requiring the player to be on the ball at every moment. Each of the boss fights also have their own rather distinct "feel" to them that goes beyond their actual pattern, which is rather hard to do in this manner of game

The story itself is not as thin as it would be in RefleX, as the game delivers, in-game, a number of plot twists that is unusual for a vertical shooter. The fact that there are around three major plot twists in the course of the game means that the story has a number of complications more befitting an action RPG or such rather than an entry into this particular genre, however this focus on the narrative is rather welcome in a genre that has normally been rather reluctant to include even a small degree of complexity in its particular mode of storytelling. Even though this game is technically a sequel, the story is actually strong enough to stand on its own.

The aesthetic presentation of this game is incredibly strong. Well-defined and animated sprites give each enemy type their own sort of presence, and each of the boss fights also have their own rather distinct "feel" to them that goes beyond their actual pattern, which is rather hard to do in this manner of game. The sound and music design is also top-notch, making it very clear when the player's fighter has been hit, while the soundtrack is one of the best to have ever been given to a vertical shooter.

While I rarely declare a game to be a must have for a particular genre, I would say that RefleX would qualify on its own surplus of merits- and the localized version should be available in a few days.

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Gameplay video (not mine)



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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Fri Jun 28, '13, 3:03 am 
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SWAT 4
Developer: Irrational Games (published by Sierra)
Release Date: 2005
Platform: PC
Genre: First Person Shooter
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SWAT 4 is and remains something of an oddity, even among more realistic first person shooters. while Rainbow Six and ARMA did/do have a trend towards realism in dealing with the lethality and difficulty of firefights, the SWAT games are are a spinoff of the Police Quest adventure games, and so while the game does use the familiar old interface and have a great deal of tactical orders and equipment common to the realistic tactical shooter, the iterations of the SWAT games that have been first-person shooters for the PC (3 and 4) have actually been about being police officers, with an emphasis of following proper procedure, arresting suspects, and going so far as to outright discourage or even penalize the player from killing perpetrators- the player, after all, is an officer of the law. SWAT 4 itself was developed by Irrational Games, creators of the System Shock and Bioshock series, as well as the squad-based Superhero game Freedom Force.

SWAT 4 is a bit of an oddity as far as games in the genre goes, in that the main game does not have an ongoing story, aside from the fact that the player is a SWAT team leader and has to resolve a number of incidents that have gone out of the control of the normal police, or just plain involve incredibly high risk. However, the player does eventually get tasked with more and more difficult assignments, starting off with serving warrants on illegal gun modifiers and local murder suspects, and ending up with going after heavily-armed domestic terrorists and foreign arms smugglers. The expansion does have a plot, where the SWAT team deals with the results of a Soviet-bloc crime family, the Stetchkovs, moving in and setting up shop, giving guns to whatever militant organizations can pay the price.

SWAT 4's gameplay is effectively that of a team-based tactical shooter in the Rainbow Six vein, but only at the basic level. There is no way to automate your team though pre-planning, so any fancy maneuvers must be orchestrated within the mission itself. However, all of the other parts are intact, such as equipment selection, choosing entry points, and so on. As SWAT 4 is a spinoff of the Police Quest games, once in the mission there is a heavy, heavy emphasis on police procedure. You are penalized for shooting suspects who have not pointed their gun at you or a civilian, you have to be constantly on top of reporting new developments to Operational Control, you have to handcuff all persons who have not been killed or otherwise incapacitated, as well as making sure to pick up weapons dropped by suspects that have been dealt with one way or another. As the game rewards you most for taking suspects alive, much of the main gameplay is about setting up circumstances and using tools that would allow you to disorient and frighten suspects enough to force them to surrender without putting your team or civilians in danger, and lethal force is a last resort to be used only when the lives of you, your teammates or civilians are in immediate danger from an armed suspect- the gun is mainly a tool of intimidation which you use as ou try to shout down suspects (there's a key for yelling at people). You will never be penalized for kills done by sniper support or by your teammates.

At the end of each mission, you are given a rating based on the variables above, as well as how many suspects you managed to bring in alive and under their own power, how many SWAT officers were injured or incapacitated during the mission, as well as any penalties for improper use of deadly force against suspects. The difficulty levels of the game affect what the minimum required rating is to pass the mission and open up the next one. On Easy you can do more or less whatever you want, but on harder modes you need to do everything near-perfectly in order to have a chance at passing. There are thirteen missions in the main game, and each time you choose to replay a mission, the number of suspects, location of suspects and civilians, and to some extent equipment of the suspects will be randomized, within certain parameters, so missions remain fresh for a very long time. Unfortunately, there are just enough small problems in the gameplay execution to prevent this from being a truly great game. The team will sometimes be curiously unresponsive to your orders, may sometimes shoot you in the back to hit suspects, and a couple of the weapons are woefully underpowered compared to other, similar weapons on the list- the semi-auto shotgun is notorious for doing "tickle" damage.

As there is no real main plot thread to speak of, talking about story progression is rather unnecessary. Each mission is its own self-contained event, but each one does occasionally have its own twists and turns, such as in the mission where you need to rescue a diplomat from a hospital under invasion by a well-trained and equipped group of assailants of unknown origin, the evening news gives away your team's entry into the building. One small nod is given, however, as the SWAT instructor and commander is Sonny Bonds, the protagonist of the Police Quest series of adventure games.

The presentation of the game is quite strong. The use of music is limited, but the sound design is phenomenal, as to be expected from the creators of System Shock 2. Each of your teammates has multiple voice clips keyed to context, and each member of your team has their own personality to them- and so does each group of suspects that you encounter over the course of the game. Despite being urban and a real-modern setting, the game avoids the unfortunate "real is brown" syndrome that plagues many shooters, and the environment design is quite excellent. The developers did feel the need to remind the player that they were the creators of System Shock games, and occasionally include things in the level and sound design that are disturbing, but well within the realm of the real for the setting and tone that they have created for the game. The mission where your team needs to take down a suicide cult and their leader before they can blow their apartment building and the surrounding block sky-high with a fertilizer bomb is stark proof that you don't need supernatural or otherwise unreal elements to unsettle a player.

While there are some cracks in the gameplay that keep SWAT 4 from being a truly excellent game on its own, it is still a rather unique offering that should be explored if one is looking for something different from their first-person shooters. The rest of the design is up to the standards of Irrational Games. However, all of the game's outstanding issues have been corrected with a mod called Sheriff's Special Forces (currently at 3.2), which makes the game realize its potential- but it does require the expansion to function properly.


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