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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Thu Apr 10, '14, 2:28 am 
R-90-2 wrote:
Nah, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the great classic Western films directed by John Ford- you should probably check it out.

Oh, I have seen the movie many times. One of the great classics with an all star cast of John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Vera Miles, Woody Strode, Andy Devine, and Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance. Can't forget the cactus flower too. :wink:

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Mon Aug 18, '14, 11:37 pm 
So, as I'm playing Silent Hill 1, 2, and 3 largely simultaneously, plus I have recently watched the whole of P.T., my wits are starting to pack up and leave for warmer climes. That makes it the perfect time to write reviews.

Silent Hill
Developer: Konami
Release Date: 1999 (2009 on Playstation Network)
Platform: Sony Playstation
Genre: Survival Horror

The release and subsequent massive success of Capcom's Resident Evil caused numerous other game companies to throw their own entries into the survival horror genre, such as ISCO's Deep Fear, Square's Parasite Eve, and Climax's Blue Stinger. Some were much better than others, and then Konami jumped in with their own offering in 1999, Silent Hill. The game had a strong reception, as it offered a somewhat different kind of horror to the visceral jump horror that was common among Resident Evil's numerous and sometimes lackluster imitators. The game did well enough to spawn a franchise.

The game's setup is as follows: Seven years prior to the start of the game, writer Harry Mason and his wife find a baby abandoned by the side of the road. Taking her in as their own, they name her Cheryl. Though Harry's wife does die young, Harry continues to raise the girl as his own, even taking her on yearly summer vacations to the small town of Silent Hill. This time, however, something is different. After a police officer rides by them on the road, they pass by her abandoned motorcycle, and that moment's distraction causes and accident, as Harry has to swerve out of the way to avoid hitting a girl that wanders into the middle of the road. After Harry regains consciousness, he finds that his daughter is missing, the whole town is covered in deep fog and a relentless, unseasonable snowfall, and it is also entirely deserted by anything human. Harry's search for his daughter may well bring him into contact with the deepest, darkest secrets of the town, and survival is not guaranteed.

Silent Hill's gameplay is very much in the survival-horror mode of the time, being a third-person action/investigation game. The game relies on the tank-style controls that had been apart of the genre at least since the original Alone in the Dark, and this game finds more use for them. As the game's environments are true 3D instead of pre-rendered, the game does tend to reposition the camera when moving through certain areas, so being assured of moving continuously in one direction independently of the camera angle is a useful feature. The game features unlimited inventory space to minimize distractions from the progress and play of the game. The play progression is typical, in that it revolves on solving various puzzles in order to open up newer areas of the game.

The combat system is the same "aim then attack" system that has been the cornerstone of third person survival horror for the past 20 years, but Silent Hill does have an unusual emphasis on melee combat over its contemporaries. While the knife was basically punishment for failing to manage ammo in very many of Silent Hill's predecessors and competitors, Silent Hill provides a great number of hand-to-hand weapons, many of which are quite viable against the ground-based enemies in the game. The most dangerous point in the game, combat wise, is right near the beginning, when Harry has very little ammo and no decent melee weapons. One of the melee weapons, however, is so strong that it practically trivializes any combat you're able to use it in, which is why the really powerful melee weapons in later games tended to have some awkward drawback. This is also noticeable because Harry is a less-than-perfect shot with the guns that you do find.

What renders the presence of monsters a sometimes tense situation is the game's method of alerting you to them combined with the method used to conceal the Playstation 1's limitations on draw distance. The game gives you a hand-held radio which emits white noise and static whenever an enemy is near, but because the areas you explore are very often quite obscured in darkness or deep fog, even with the aid of Harry's flashlight, your radio's detection range is a good bit bigger than Harry's sight range, so your radio will go wild well before you can see what the threat is, where it is, and if it has even noticed you yet- and there also some things in the game that can give false positives. While the monster design is more than competent for the time, it is a bit undercut nowadays by the fact that it is done with late PS1-era polygon graphics. The game's bosses to provide a decent challenge, with at least a couple having ways of killing Harry instantly.

The story itself borrows much of its inspiration from a variety of horror works, with the most commonly observed inspirations being elements of the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Ira Levin. Much of the game's storytelling is done through the notes scattered around the various places in town, and there are some things that are even left unexplained, which does work generally to the game's benefit. Interactions with other humans is sparse, and the ones you meet either seem nuts, secretive, or some small combination of both, and even Harry's reliability is vary occasionally called into question. The game's storytelling is rather difficult to divide from it's presentation, however. The one stumbling block is that the game falls into the trap of a number of games that push multiple endings fall into- it takes a couple of obscure and easily missable actions to avoid getting any of the game's four regular endings except the very worst one. What's also helpful to the game is that Harry was one of the few "everyman" protagonists in survival horror, as most tended to be members of stressful and physically dangerous professions, such as police forces or even the military.

The game's presentation is excellent where it is important. The game's visuals are a mid undercut by the fact that it was a late-era PS1 game using polygonal graphics, but the choice of imagery remains strong. One of the driving design decisions of Silent Hill is to give the player as little distraction as possible as to what's going on in the game, which was behind the lack of inventory management, but also bleeds its way into other aspects of the game's design. Akira Yamaoka's soundtrack is excellent, but is also used rather sparsely, so the only ambient sounds the player is often exposed to in some areas are James's footsteps and the crackling of the radio- it's a horror presentation that's built around what isn't happening as well as what is. The voice acting quality is on the shaky side, but certainly much less so than other games in the genre that used such features. The game also understands the jump scares are a sometimes food- while they exist, it's a game rather removed from the "things jump through windows" procedure (there is the one time, but that's it).

While the game's graphics have not aged particularly well, and the choice of control scheme might be a bit off-putting, the rest of Silent Hill 1 still generally holds together as a game. While it would be surpassed by its immediate successors, that doesn't make Silent Hill 1 a bad game, and I would still rate it as worth playing.

Also, I think Silent Hill 1 has the best intro of the series, because it tells you almost nothing of what to expect.

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Tue Aug 19, '14, 12:58 am 
Fun fact: Production notes name Harry's late wife as Jodie.

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Thu Oct 30, '14, 1:36 am 
Lagrange Point
Developer: Konami
Release Date: 1991 (JP)
Platform: Famicom
Genre: Turn-based RPG

Lagrange Point is a Konami science fiction RPG and was one of a few games released for the Famicom/NES by Konami that incorporated some of that company's experimentation with cartridge hardware. Castlevania 3 and Mouryo Senki Madara both used Konami's VRC6 chip, which added new dimensions to the existing sound hardware, but Lagrange Point, released in 1991, was the only game to make use of the powerful VRC7 chip. Incorporating new memory management and an additional sound chip (the YM2413), the VRC7 was able to increase the NES's sound capabilities to the point where they were at least equal to some of the early efforts of the Sega Genesis. However, Konami's experimental hardware never got a Western showing, because the architecture of the NES did not support the enhanced capabilities provided by Konami's sound hardware, which is why the soundtrack of Castlevania 3 had to be reworked for Western release. Lagrange point was also not released in the West because, as it was released in 1991, it was near the end of the NES's cycle as the SNES had already taken off pretty much everywhere. Thanks to the efforts of fan translators, the game is now playable in English, so it's time to see how it actually stacks up.

So, here's the story. In the 22nd century, mankind has begun to move into space, and has constructed the Isis colony cluster at a Lagrange Point, consisting of two colonies, Land 1 and Land 2, the Vesta asteroid base, and a Satellite monitoring station. However, Land 2 is struck by a sudden outbreak as hordes of monstrous, mutated creatures poured out of the colony's biotechnology laboratory, killing many of the inhabitants and altering the environment to better suit them. To add to the Isis cluster's woes, three of the five members of the colonial board of governance, Oregi, Ledesma, and Weber, launched a coup on Land-1 after somehow discovering the means to transform themselves into powerful Bionoid creatures. Calling themselves the Bionoid Generals, and taking command of the army of mutants and artificial creatures which have infested the colonies, they capture one of the remaining two members of the board, while the fifth escaped to the Satellite to organize a resistance. In the chaos, communication with Earth was cut off, so Earth sent three recon teams to find out what was going on. The first two were completely wiped out, and the third was attacked on landing, and the only survivors were the team captain who is too wounded to go on, and Gene, their shuttle pilot. The captain asks Gene to continue the mission, and find one Doctor Stolte, as he is the key to unraveling this whole mess.

Lagrange Point is a conventional turn-based RPG in its basic mechanics. Travel is mainly done on an overworld, and there is space travel between the various installations in the Isis Cluster through the use of spaceports, as in Phantasy Star. Characters gain experience and levels through combat, which is handled in a first-person Dragon Quest/Earthbound manner. The game does have a large number of its own quirks. Every action in combat, from basic attacks to special skills, use up a character's Battery Points (BP), which is required for almost any action a character might take, with the exception of using items. Characters do not increase their max BP through gaining levels, but through buying higher-capacity battery tanks as one goes through the various towns of the game. Many characters also have Super skills, which, while potentially very powerful, also cost a non-trivial amount of HP to use. Because everything a character does costs something, consumable items have a great deal of importance, and managing one's limited item capacity is key to navigating the game. Almost all overland travel is handled with vehicles, and the player gains more vehicles able to handle more and different types of terrain as the game goes forward. While there are only four members in one's active party, there are ten possible characters, divided into three types- Humans, cyborgs, and robots. While Humans and cyborgs are generally interchangeable (Humans get higher HP growth by level, cyborgs generally get higher stat growth), robots operate a number of special rules. They can't be healed through normal healing skills or items, requiring their own items for repairs, they use different armor, and they don't equip weapons normally, gaining attack power and capabilities through the use of consumable upgrade parts. However, robots just don't get the protection, firepower, or skills to be viable towards the end of the game even at their maximum upgrade levels. All types of characters gain skills not through leveling, but through the acquisition of kits and tools scattered throughout the game that enable the character that can use them to perform those skills. As there are numerous kits, and each character has four skills max, each character has a largely unique skill list.

While armor is bought normally, the same is only true for a relatively small number of weapons. Most of the weapons in the game, especially the most powerful, are acquired through Weapon Fusion, where characters can combine weapons for a cost based on the power of the new weapon being made. Weapons are ranked from level 1 to 6, and combining two weapons of the same rank gives one of a higher rank, and here are a total of 72 weapons to be found or made in the game. It's a much simpler and more friendly crafting system than one finds in other games with such systems, as there is no chance of failure and you get a preview of not only what weapon you're getting, but who can immediately use it. Weapons do have stat requirements, and if a character lacks the necessary strength and intelligence, they simply cannot equip the weapon without gaining some more levels. While this is an interesting and important component of the game, it only becomes available after the first boss is defeated, which is more of an undertaking than it may sound.

There are some enemies which are nasty in the dungeon environment, but overall, grinding for cash and levels isn't as obnoxious as it was in pre-1990 RPGs, though that is an admittedly low bar to clear. The bosses themselves can be a pain and a half, as they really test whether or not the player has been paying attention to the necessities, such as item management and weapon fusion- being unprepared in either area will in all certainty lead to death for the whole party. There are almost no bosses that one can sleepwalk through. One's expectations for this game should be set with the idea that there will be rather significant challenges in combat and party management.

Despite being released around the same time where character-driven RPG plots had started to come into vogue in JRPGs, Lagrange Point's storytelling is very much in the mode of '80s RPGs. Party members only ever speak when they join you and each has a small handful of lines in the ending, and NPCs usually exist to dispense exposition, information, or helpful skills and items, with only a few gaining more characterization. The villains do have more motivation beyond the usual "Conquer the Everything" story one usually finds, but it's still rather basic, and begs for more narrative space than it is given. The story itself is rather unsparing- Konami was not about to be outdone by Phantasy Star 2 in terms of child-murder, and there at least a couple of times when you will return to older areas after some plot point and find that an NPC that used to be there is now gone, having been killed in an assault by the Bio Corps. The setting, while not greatly explored, is still interesting- Erath is only barely mentioned by the colonists, and they talk about it as if its something of a dump, and there's also the fact that this game is one of the few RPGs that has a "pure" sci-fi setting, without even psionics or some other stand-in for magic one usually finds.

The visual design of the game can be hit or miss. The environment design is really good, and because the Land-1 and Land-2 space colonies are based on the ever-popular O'Neill cylinder, the overworld maps actually loop vertically but not horizontally. There's even a segment where your party needs to exist through one of the airlocks of Land-1 and maneuver in zero-gravity across the surface to another airlock, in order to get to a town that the party can't reach with their vehicles. The fact that they chose to make this a gameplay sequence with its own different but still playable movement physics further sells the idea that the development team decided to use the game's space setting as more than a mere background prop. The hit or miss part comes in the monster designs. There are a number of monster design choices, especially in the early areas, which just seem rather uninspired and unthreatening, especially for the story of crisis the game is trying to tell. While there are many monsters which are well-designed, those that aren't can be rather jarring. The sprites for regular monsters are static, but bosses are animated when they attack. The soundtrack is already very well-composed across a wide range of moods, from friendly to tense to action to haunting, but that is lent a great deal of oomph by the use of the powerful VRC7 chip, which elevates the sound quality to something approaching that of the Sega Genesis, or at least well above what one normally associates with the NES.

While Lagrange point does have some questionable decisions in both its gameplay and graphic design, there is far more good than bad to be found in the game, and it should be checked out if one can find some means of getting a hold of it. This goes double if one is a fan of NES-style RPGs, but wants one with a bit less grinding and a bit more depth in how one is expected to handle one's characters.

Predictably, I have made boss videos. annotations are somewhat mandatory.

Boss #1: Oregi (both encounters)
Boss #2: Ledesma (first encounter)
Boss #3: Ash
Boss #4: Ledesma (Second encounter)
Boss #5: MetalRobos
Boss #6: Weber
Boss #7: Bio Kaiser
Boss #8: True Bio Kaiser

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Wed Nov 5, '14, 1:55 am 
Deadly Premonition: Director's Cut
Developer: Access Games
Release Date: 2013
Platform: PS3, PC
Genre: Action-Horror

Deadly Premonition was largely the creation of Hidetaka Suehiro (More commonly known as SWERY), and was a project that only barely managed to escape cancellation four separate times, and as such, SWERY was forced to fit his ambitions for the game into rather limited resources . The game drew a great deal of inspiration from David Lynch's Twin Peaks, and SWERY has some of his people fly out to rural Washington so that they could more faithfully recreate the types of towns found there for the purpose of the game. The original game's reception in 2010 was spotty at best, receiving both extremely negative reviews, and extraordinarily positive ones as well, depending on how much weight was placed on the game's technical faults and odd gameplay decisions. The game soon acquired a cult following, especially in the US. Three years later, a Director's Cut of the game was released for the Playstation 3, and eventually for Windows computers. This review is based on the PC version of the game.

The story is as follows, and stop me if this sounds a bit familiar. The small town of Greenvale, Washington is shocked when one of the locals, Anna Graham, is suddenly murdered. Due to the particularly brutal, and even ritualistic nature of the killing, FBI special agent Francis York Morgan is sent to Greenvale due to his particular talent for dealing with crimes of this nature, due to being a prodigy at criminal profiling. He also has the help of his split personality, Zach, and he'll need it. York will have to dig deep into the dark secrets of the town's residents and history to unravel the reasons for Anna's death, while also trying to escape his own demise at the hands of the killer in the red raincoat.

Deadly Premonition is an open-world third-person action-horror game that controls rather similarly to other third-person games with an over-the shoulder camera. There's nothing especially noteworthy or amazing about the game's basic functions, except for York having a stamina meter for actions like running (during the brief sections you play as other characters, they don't run out of breath- only York does because he's a heavy smoker). York has two separate inventories, one for his various melee and ranged weapons, and another for food, drink, and health items. York himself does have to sleep and eat in order to avoid death from starvation or sleep deprivation, and he does have cash with which to buy food and other things, which is awarded by the FBI for completing sections of the game. There are ways to earn extra cash, such as defeating enemies, exploring, finding collectibles, shaving, and making sure to change York's clothes, as leaving them alone for too long will cause York to be penalized by the bureau for being stinky and will cause flies to start buzzing around him. The driving does not handle well, but this is forgivable, as driving badly does not have huge consequences, plus York is established right as the start as an irresponsible driver.

Combat itself is rudimentary and rather dull, tempered only by the fact that enemies in this version are less durable than those on the easiest difficulty of the original release (SWERY didn't even really want there to be regular combat in the game, but he was forced by the publisher.) Combat is carried out in the rooted Resident Evil 4 style, where one button readies the weapon, the stick aims, and another actually pulls the trigger. York's starting gun has infinite bullets, and melee weapons can be found which are powerful, but tend to break after a few uses. The enemy variety is rather small, and only the game's few bosses really add any extra difficulties to the combat in the game.

The real meat of the game is dealing with the town itself in the open world. the game does have a day/night cycle and tracks the hours and minutes, and every single NPC that you can interact with has their own separate routine that they carry out each day and night in the town. This also affects when certain stores and other locations can even be accessed, as there are no 24-hour businesses in Greenvale. This timer also affects when you can access certain story events. These NPCs also give you access to the game's fifty sidequests, and the sidequest listing is very helpful, as it tells you which NPC gives you a given quest, and what chapters you can actually complete that sidequest in, as there NPCs enter or leave the game at certain points in the story, so those sidequests do have expiration dates.

The game's story itself hinges greatly on the oddities of the various residents of Greenvale as well as York himself. The game has no troubles in having new characters make a strong first impression- York's own introduction involves him driving really fast on a country road at night during a rainstorm, while smoking, examining evidence, working on his laptop, and talking on his cellphone to explain how obvious it is that Tom and Jerry are in a codependent sadomasochistic relationship. York's consultations with "Zach" are often before the player has to make a decision, seemingly putting the player in the shoes of York's other personality. Beyond York himself, Greenvale is filled with a variety of sometimes odd and even extremely colorful residents, a few of which are also very directly references to characters from Twin Peaks (such as this game's Sigourney the Pot Lady vs. Twin Peaks's Mrs. Weaver, the Log Lady). Interactions with these people give the game a kind flavor that other horror or even conventional mystery games generally don't have. York himself isn't exactly an island of sanity, due to his own social deafness (never ask York about his previous cases over dinner). These interactions are a large source of the game's humor, intentional or no, but this lighter touch is not something often found in horror video games.

The plot itself has a generally satisfying, if rather unsparing and brutal progression, even though there are certain aspects of the game that are never really explained in the game itself, like the creatures that attack York in places that have come over some dark influence. Because York himself is established to not be entirely mentally sound, it is left unresolved for a long time as to whether or not York himself is an unreliable narrator. The game's progression does occasionally make use of extremely disturbing graphic imagery and themes as York follows the tracks of the Raincoat Killer. I have played a great number of games in my time, and the final segment before the last boss is probably the hardest watch I've had to go through in gaming. However, this is in part because SWERY has also managed to introduce what is probably the most loathsome antagonist ever to appear in this particular genre, bar none, due to the nature and extent of his crimes. The Director's Cut also offers a new intro as well as extra cutscenes which form a new framing device for the story.

The game's presentation exists at an odd point, due, perhaps to its original status as a budget title. It looks too good for the PS2 generation, but not quite good enough to be a part of the PS3 generation. The game does now run at 720p natively, rather than the original's upscaled 480p, meaning the game looks far more crisp and less blurry than in the original. A fair number of the character models just look a bit off, in one way or another, and the vehicular physics were definitely not a huge testing priority. The clipping of clothes through character motels is sometimes an issue, where things like ties and other loose pieces are concerned. However, there are some cases where the technical deficiencies and limitations actually add to the atmosphere. Due to the slightly limited facial geometry, York has ended up with a seriously creepy smile, and during one sidequest where you have to find one of the Sheriff's missing dumbbells, if you give it back when he's at the bar rather than working out in his office, he will still start pumping iron right at the bar counter where he's sitting right after you give it back. The soundtrack is quite good, though certain of the lighter, more jaunty tunes are sometimes played at what may seem to be inappropriate places- which is, of course, another reference to how Twin Peaks sometimes used its own soundtrack. However, the audio mixing is also off, making the music or voices much louder or quieter than they should be during certain moments.

The PC port deserves some extra mention because it is quite shaky. There are some hardware configurations where crashing at certain points in the game seems to be guaranteed (though there are some odd ways around that). The PC version also has almost zero graphical options, but that problem has also been the subject of a fanmade patch by the same person who made a similar patch for the PC port of Dark Souls. While your computer may suffer no problems at all, it is something to keep in mind before deciding on which version to purchase.

How much one enjoys Deadly Premonition is entirely dependent on how much one is willing to look past the game's gameplay and technical faults and enjoy the bizarre and quirky story and characters that it offers. There is no guarantee that you will like the game at all, but is still a rather unique game in its own way, much like the early products of Suda51. In general, if you can find it cheap, give it at least one good try.

Much like Snatcher, the game has also contributed to gaming's culinary spread.

And remember, Life is Beautiful.

Last edited by R-90-2 on Wed Nov 5, '14, 1:55 am, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Thu Feb 5, '15, 11:45 pm 
Reviewing a Falcom game? Who would've thought

Legend of Heroes VI: Trails in the Sky FC
Developer: Falcom
Release Date: 2004 (JP) 2011 (NA) 2014 (Steam)
Platform: PC, PSP.
Genre: Conventional RPG.

Sora No Kiseki, known elsewhere as Trails in the Sky, was the first game in the Kiseki series, a continuation of Falcom's Legend of Heroes series, which in itself was a continuation of Falcom's Dragon Slayer series. While Trails in the Sky was originally supposed to be two games, the first game turned out to be too large to complete on any deadline, and so the first part of Trails in the Sky was split into two parts, First Chapter (FC) and Second Chapter (SC). Even though the game was split, the game did receive some degree of critical success on its release, and was successful enough for plans for the rest of the trilogy to go head.

The story is like this. Ten years ago, there was a war between the Kingdom of Liberl and the more powerful Erebonian Empire. Despite being almost completely outmatched in firepower, the Erebonian invasion was defeated in a hundred days thanks to the masterful strategies and airship technology of Liberl. Five years later, Cassius Bright went back to his home in Rolent from a job as a Bracer (a professional adventurer), bringing back a mysterious, wounded boy named Joshua to live with him and his daughter, Estelle as family. The two grew up together, and now, in the present, they're about to take the tests to become Bracers themselves, but their entry into the world of professional adventuring will get them entangled in events both small, large, and things that may even threaten the country of Liberl itself.

The game itself is a fairly standard JRPG in gameplay, based around controlling a party of characters and freely exploring various locations. Characters get stronger through leveling up, but there's a practical limit to how far one can level in each segment of the game, because experience scales based on the level difference between characters and monsters. Actual cash money for getting new equipment and items is handled through other means than defeating monsters, but rather through Bracer Jobs, a reminder that your characters actually make a living through being gainfully employed rather than random pillaging. Bracer quests also yield Bracer Points, which can increase your Rank in the Guild, and each promotion has a reward item, many of which are unique. Some of these are actually hidden in devious places, such as one which can only be done between when you've beaten the final boss and when you actually go to trigger the actual, final ending sequence. These sidequests do not linger forever, and as you pass certain story triggers, they will disappear as other members of the Bracer Guild take care of them instead. There is the usual array of healing items, but also food items that can be crafted through ingredients and recipes which can produce more interesting effects, like buffs and other such things, and apparently Estelle and her party have the freakish ability to learn exactly what goes into each food just by eating it once.

Monsters can actually be seen wandering on the overworld, and it works by Earthbound rules, as attacking an enemy from behind gives you a free round, while the reverse is also true. Combat occurs on a grid and is turn-based in the same way as Final Fantasy Tactics, as each character has a speed that determines when and how often they act in the turn order. Characters have three action options outside of items and just moving about. There are regular attacks, there are Arts, which don't come out instantly but are effectively magic (and can be interrupted by certain skills), as well as Crafts, which are special battle skills specific to each character which are fueled by Craft points, earned only in combat through the process of giving and taking damage. The most powerful of these are S-Crafts, which can only be used at 100, but become even more powerful when at the maximum of 200 CP. Also, turn "slots" in the turn order might also have a bonus attached to them, like a critical hit, extra damage, healing, and so on, and so manipulating your and your enemies' place in the turn order through careful use of using Arts, Crafts, and eliminating certain foes does make a difference in the difficulty of battles. While the overall difficulty is not especially high (especially if you're vigilant about Bracer jobs), there are a number of encounters, both mandatory and optional, which can surprise you. The rewards for defeating monsters includes experience, but no money. Instead you get sepith fragments, which can be traded for money, but are also used for the game's magic system.

Sepith is used to make Quartz. which are items that slot into a character's Quartz grid. Each of these has a passive bonus effect, like increased stats, adding a chance of effects to a character's attacks, and an element, of which there are seven: Fire, Wind, Water, Earth, Space, Time, and Mirage. Each quartz you equip has an elemental rating, and the combined elemental rating affects what Arts your character has access to in battle. Sepith is also used to increase the number of active slots on a character's grid, and many characters (everyone except Estelle, basically) have a couple of slots that only accept Quartz of a certain element. The system presents a surprising amount of complexity for a Falcom game, and there is at least one optional win in the game where your pre-battle setup determines whether you'll even have a chance of winning.

Trails in the Sky is a very story-heavy game, and anyone playing through should be forewarned that you're going to have to expect to go through a lot of text before the game is over. This is because Falcom had taken the approach of taking a great deal of time to establish how the country works in usual circumstances before feeling the urge to begin to put the setting in peril. It's because of this that the game works at a bit of a slow boil, but it also means you get to spend a lot of time dealing with each of the characters in your party before the main crisis is actually revealed, and each of the game's first three chapters are spent introducing you to Estelle and Joshua's allies, two characters per chapter (You only get to choose your party composition at the very last dungeon). While some of the characters do make use of certain stock archetypes, there are other aspects of the game's general setting and story that almost make the game feel like it's a JRPG from Bizarro World. For example, despite the fact that all of the usual suspects in the RPG villainy lineup are present, neither the Empire, the Church, nor the setting's God-equivalent are antagonists (in fact, most characters are at least superficially religious, even if Estelle sometimes veers off to sneaker-worship as well), and the use of technology isn't some foul taint which is destroying the land. In fact, characters view technology as a valuable ally, and our heroes even have to make use of a Quartz-powered mainframe computer at least a couple of times. All of this is carried by the strength of the writing, which, as per the XSeeD localization standard, never ruins the mood a scene is supposed to project, whether humorous or otherwise. This game is also one of the few times Falcom has elected to deploy an actual plot twist, and it is actually worth playing the game for. The game itself will take about 35-40 hours from start to completion, and ends on a cliffhanger, but that's because it's only really the first part of a longer story.

The game uses the game graphics decision as many other Falcom games of its time, using well-animates sprites for most characters and 3D models for environments and huge monsters, much like they did in the Napishtim Engine Ys games. The sprite animations are high-quality, and there are are only a few environments that could be described as dull. The soundtrack does make some interesting choices in its composition. This is not the game to go for if one is looking for a soundtrack that's all about the whole Epic Grandeur thing (that's what Ys is for), as the soundtrack is more mellow, in general. Which fits, as it's generally a more mellow RPG, and the music only starts to ramp up to a level one might call "exciting" once our heroes actually get involved in the story's inevitable crisis. There's no track that merits avoidance, however, and it at least a pleasant listen.

Trails in the Sky is probably the best JRPG on Steam at the moment, and XSeeD is definitely going to follow up with the rest of the story. It's well worth the play if you're looking for a new RPG. Or even an RPG at all.

(A small note- FC and SC cover the main story. Third Chapter is basically about setting up the rest of the Kiseki series).

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Tue May 19, '15, 11:57 pm 
Galaxy Angel
Developer: Broccoli Co.
Release date: 2002 (JP)
Platform: PC
Genre: Visual Novel/Real-time Tactics.

Project G.A. Was a multimedia mix of manga, anime, and video games created by BROCCOLI Co. The first result was intended to be Visual Novel/Tactics game Galaxy Angel, but schedule slips meant that the anime ended up airing in advance of the first game, which was released in 2002. The game was created as a mixture of Visual Novel character interaction and tactical combat sequences, something which was not unheard of in other visual novels. The game was successful enough to go through with a whole trilogy, as well as a second set games under the title of Galaxy Angel 2. All of the games in the original trilogy ended up being fan-translated.

Setup is as follows: 600 years ago, an event called the Chrono Quake brought an end to the old galactic civilizations. Interstellar travel and communications became impossible, and so every star system was left to fend for itself for over a century. Recovery began in the Transbaal system, where the technology of the mysterious artificial satellite, the White Moon, allowed the people to recover the old methods of deep-space travel and communications, and ships struck out to reconnect the isolated peoples of the galaxy, and in time the various star systems united together under the banner of the Transbaal Empire, causing a rebirth of interstellar civilization. After standing for over four hundred years, the Empire is now in peril- The disgraced Prince Eonia returned from his exile beyond the frontier with a massive force of automated warships as well as a team of skilled mercenary pilots, and struck at the Transbaal system itself, savagely bombarding the Imperial capital world and killing almost all of the Imperial family, while declaring himself the legitimate ruler of the Empire and leader of its glorious new dawn. Commander Tact Meyers's own squadron is caught up in the middle of the chaos, but is rescued from Eonia's attack. Because of his known aptitudes, Tact is taken to the Elsior, a powerful ship built with technology from before the Chrono Quake, with which the last member of the Imperial family, Prince Shiva, was kept safe and hidden. Tact is also assigned to work with the Angel Wing, an all-female team of eccentric but skilled pilots normally based on the White Moon who fly fantastically powerful space fighters created with Lost Technology. Milfuelle Sakuraba, around whom any probability curve turns into a probability line, making the extreme as likely as the normal. Ranpha Franboise, a hard-charging martial artist with a competitive streak a mile wide. Mint Blancmanche, the telepathic daughter of the head of the Blancmanche corporation, the most powerful corporation in Imperial space. Forte Stollen, gun collector and senior officer of the Angel Wing, solid and stable to counterbalance some of the more hyperactive tendencies of her teammates. And Vanilla H, workaholic animal lover and nanomachine specialist who serves as the Elsior's secondary doctor. Tact's mission is simple: Deliver Prince Shiva to safety, reunite with the Imperial loyalist fleet, and devise some way to defeat Prince Eonia and his armada before the Empire becomes subject to his iron-fisted rule, all while forming bonds of trust and friendship with the pilots of Angel Wing.

Easy, right?

The game is very much cut from the same cloth as Sega's Sakura Wars series in that the game has two major components- Visual Novel segments for the character interaction interspersed with battle sequences. The Visual Novel segments make up the greater part of the actual play of the game. Part of the sequences come as a matter of course, but in many chapters there will be at least one free-roaming segment where you can visit the various members of the Angel Wing while both you and they are off the clock. The game will expect you to make a number of dialogue choices, and doing this correctly will raise their trust level with Tact, which boosts the pilot's combat stats at certain thresholds. sometimes the payoff is not immediate, such as in one sequence where a company man from the Blancmanche Corporation will offer ridiculous discounts on supplies in order to try to ingratiate himself with Mint to climb the ladder, and if you refuse all of his offers you'll later get a big boost of trust from Mint for not using her as a bargaining chip in a business deal. The dialogue options to raise trust are generally obvious, but there are times when you need to have been really paying attention in order to get a good handle on what meshes with the pilot's personality. The trust values are not hidden, as at any time during the free-roaming segments you can reveal the trust level of each pilot by visiting the Elsior's indoor sea to consult the resident space whale, who is aware of the mood of the entire crew, through the caretaker of the wildlife on board the ship. However, as you only tend to have six "actions" per each free-roaming segment, the fact that this takes an action encourages some amount of save-scumming, even though the game has an inexplicably limited number of save slots. The trust value also has a second function- Tact will have the option to pursue a deeper relationship than battle buddy with one of the three pilots who like him the most out of the five. The choice you make will actually affect which cutscenes and VN scenes play from that point forward.

The second mode consists of the 3D real-time tactical space battles, where you actually command the Elsior and Angel Wing in battle against Eonia's forces. By default, the Angel Wing will move out and attack based on the plan that's often discussed prior to the battle, but orders can be given at any time to move, attack, defend, or use a ship's other abilities, like the Harvester's repair function. The game automatically pauses while you issue orders, and automatically restarts when you're done. The general status of all of your ships is shown as a set of icons on the left side of the screen, displaying their remaining health, Energy for attacks, and their special attack charge, which when full, allows that fighter to launch an immensely powerful attack when ordered. The Angel wing and Tact also have a radio chatter box where they talk about what's going on and their combat status. Your battle camera can be locked to a unit or moved freely, and if you lock your camera to one of the Angel Wing fighters, they also have some comment or reaction to being watch which ends up in the message box. These sequences are generally easy with a few exceptions, but the trick is to keep the capabilities of your various fighters in mind. While your fighters have more than enough firepower to destroy pretty much anything you want at almost any time, you also need to keep the enemy from being able to focus most of its attack on any single one of your ships, because, strong as they are, they can be knocked out if left to their own devices. A fighter being taken out doesn't prevent you from using it in later battles, but the pilot does lose some trust with Tact. Each battle also has a 15-minute time limit, which can be safely ignored without worry due to the quick pace of fighting- you will never be in danger of running out of time.

The game's actual plot is fairly simple, without any particularly large or surprising twists or turns (save one), but that's largely to stay out of the way of the fact that the real meat of any VN is going to be in the character interaction. While serious things are treated seriously, the game's character interactions are usually given something of a lighter touch. Again, much like Sakura Wars, the game's tone outside of certain parts of the main plot is largely lighter and even comedic, and the characters' personalities are allowed to shine through more when off the clock. However, the game's writing never makes any of the characters annoying or grating, managing to keep the game from falling into the realm of unfortunate farce. The various characters are written broadly but competently, well enough to engage enough interest in order to carry the visual novel portions of the game all the way through the end, and even enough to make which one to pursue a relationship with an actual decision to consider. Like in Sakura Wars, each of the pilots gets a focus chapter where their foibles and background are explored, at least in part. The supporting cast is decent, and with the Hell Hounds fighter pilots being standouts for being the exact kind of hilarious losers who would have their primary aspiration be to be someone else's rivals.

The game's aesthetics follow the usual mode for visual novels with static character images over equally static backgrounds. However, this is occasionally replaced by alternate graphics for special events outside and above normal conversation. While the various conversation images for characters are normally competent, there are a couple of characters who suffer a bit of fisheye (No! Too far apart! Bad artist, bad!) on occasion, which is an unfortunate oversight. The ship models are middling for the time, and it's obvious that more attention was given to the Angel Wing's ships and the Elsior. This is forgivable, however, given the enormous amount of missiles, beams and other lethal projectiles that are bound to be flying around in any given engagement at any given time and that this was originally made for a time when Win2K was still a thing. The animated cutscenes interspersed within the story are quality enough, at least. All of the dialogue is voiced generally well (Tact's voice acting is reserved only for certain scenes and cutscenes- a common cost saving measure due to the fact that the lead in VNs often has by far the most varied dialogue). The music is at least tonally consistent with the scenes in which the pieces are used, but there aren't many standout pieces. However, the use of the long-form version of the main song in the final battle is quite fantastic.

Galaxy Angel does not have any single stand out feature, but it is made of many competently executed elements that work together very well. The combat sequences are not amazingly deep, but still require the player to pay attention and take command, and are at least visually interesting with all that they have going on. The Visual Novel portion doesn't really reach for plumbing out the furthest emotional depths, but it doesn't feel like it was really trying to do that in the first place. In the end, it was just too hard to not have fun with this whole space-opera thing (I also got a case of the post-Visual Novel blues, but don't worry, it's not nearly as bad as it sounds).

(Note: Some of you might have had experience with the Galaxy Angel anime. The PC game series and the TV series share almost nothing except character designs.)



Last edited by R-90-2 on Tue May 19, '15, 11:57 pm, edited 2 times in total.

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Wed Jul 20, '16, 12:53 am 
Developer: Sukeban games
Release date: 2016 (NA)
Platform: PC
Genre: Visual Novel

VA-11 HALL-A (pronounced Valhalla, nothing special there) is a Cyberpunk Visual Novel developed by Sukeban games, an indie game development outfit based in Venezuela. Rather than being based off of existing cyberpunk properties, such as the Shadowrun games or the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 game from Projekt Red, the game is something of a throwback to '80s Japanese cyberpunk and the PC-98 adventure games and Visual Novels that used the same feel and aesthetic.

The story that the game gives us is as follows. In the late 21st century, the Glitch City Metrapolis has become dominated by Megacorporations ruling through a puppet Prime Minister. The city is used as as a giant social experiment where privacy is hard to come by and the line between man and machine becomes ever more blurred, with celebrities being literally manufactured. It's home to all sorts, such as newspapermen looking for the next source of clicks, androids, hackers, cyborg assassins, private detectives, 24/7 livestreamers, all under the scrutiny of a powerful and private police force, the White Knights. And you? You're the bartender. Because at the end of the day, any and and all of these people need a place to settle down, have a drink, unwind, and dump their troubles on someone who'll listen without repercussions.

Time to mix drinks and change lives.

Being a Visual Novel, the gameplay is on the minimal side. Jill, the bartender, already has a strongly defined personality so you don't even really get the benefit of dialogue options. Instead, the way that you maneuver conversations is through the drink mixing. In breaks in the conversation, the various clients will place orders, and you go through a bartending menu to create the proper mixes out of the five ingredients that the game provides. The orders can range from either specific by name, preferences of type, riddles about the history of the drink, or even downright cryptic, depending on the customer. Each character also has a specific alcohol tolerance, and it's quite possible to get people drunk and see different conversation branches depending on that, and paying attention to the customers means that you can sometimes get away with serving something other than what they asked for, which is crucial for some ending purposes. At the end of each game day, Jill is paid based on your performance with the drinks, the total cost of the drinks you served, and whatever bonus your boss decides to give you. There is no time pressure or penalty if you mix drinks wrong- you can always reset- the sole difficulty is getting some of the orders correct, so the game doesn't offer a huge challenge. At the beginning of each work day you can also control the game's soundtrack by choosing what tracks play in the jukebox.

Money is used in the apartment phase of the game, which is not only used to customize the look of Jill's apartment, but also buy things that keep her from getting distracted- if she is distracted, her mind will wander in the mixing phase and it won't display the reminder of what the customer's order was when you're making the drinks. It's also possible to buy new music tracks for the Jukebox, as well as specialty drinks for the bar. However, it's good not to splurge too much, as Jill has got bills to pay. The Apartment phase is also where you can read up on the news and message boards about the state of the world and the rumors surrounding the goings-on outside of Jill's life- some of which can make a big impact on the customers. The one odd gameplay quirk that doesn't really exist in most Visual Novels, however, is the fact that there's no save-anywhere option. You can only save the game either during the Apartment phase or during Jill's break in the middle of the work day.

Visual Novels live or die on their writing, especially games like this one, and the writing in this game does manage to pull its weight. The game does have a cast of colorful, strongly-defined characters on both sides of the bar counter, with their own network of problems and relationships that they bring a little piece of into the room, Jill herself being no exception as her own personal story mingles with everyone else's. As the larger situation in the outside world is not within the player's control, the characters are necessary to bring the outside world to life, and the writers did do a rather decent job of it. The general writing combines the use of some rather heavy themes with occasionally extremely raunchy humor, which isn't a combination usually found in video games but can be found here and there in the greater cyberpunk genre. The game actually not only has multiple endings but variable length endings, as there is a basic Ending, but also additional ending segments that you can earn through your interactions with the various customers. The game is not heavy on references, but does occasionally sneak in a nod to Bubblegum Crisis, Shadowrun, Snatcher, Robocop, Metal Gear, and the PC-98 itself.

The game's aesthetics borrow extremely heavily from PC-98 adventure games as well as '80s anime, such as the aforementioned Bubblegum Crisis. Not just in the art-style, but in the soundtrack itself. There are 66 tracks that you have or can acquire for the jukebox throughout the game, and very, very few of them are duds. the game uses very competent pixel art, and all of the characters are provided with a strong range of expressions, both subtle and otherwise. Even though the environment variety is lacking- most of the game takes place in the titular bar- it still has a strong, consistent sense of world design.

While the game doesn't offer a great deal in terms of varied gameplay, VA-11 HALL-A is still an extremely strong first entry into the visual novel arena by Sukeban games. With a strong sense of drama and humor, the game has a good bit to offer for those who are into the genre or those who are looking for an entry point into the same.







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