Most anticipated games of 2018

Fate Extella Link (PS4/PSVita)

Astolfo

How great to see Marvelous keeping Vita version for Fate Extella Link ! PS4 version obviously getting a huge graphical overhaul, it was far from guaranteed. But yes, we’ll be able to fight for the holy Grail in cross-play, with new fun or classy characters like cute Astolfo or sexy Sacthach. There’s even a full Mah-Jong game in the limited edition !!

Girls und Panzers Dream Tank Match (PS4)

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Girls und Panzers on PSVita already being a good adaptation, I’m looking forward to experiencing the same sensations in a prettier, smoother and richer PS4 entry. Girls und Panzers Dream Tank Match features all the characters, all the tanks and all the battles from the movie, all this also in multiplayer.

Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet (PS4)

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At long last ! Three years… I’ve been waiting 3 years for an SAO game taking place in the fantastic universe of Gun Gale Online, featured in the Phantom Bullet arc. I’m gonna be able to SNIPE at will as Shinon or the original avatar. Because Bamco finally understood that the player wants maximum choice : you’ll have Kirito and his friends plus an original character to create yourself, who’s gonna have its own story. Artworks looks extremely promising and multiplayer should be implemented again. It’s time for SAO to be back on top.

Senran Kagura Burst Renewal (PS4)

Yomi

Thanks to Senran Kagura Burst Renewal, we’ll almost be able to wipe the series history clean of Nintendo systems. The founding game telling the story of the first two ninja schools is being remade for PS4 in splendid 3D and 60 fps, with redesigned menus.

Shining Resonance Refrain (PS4)

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Clearly no one expected Shining Resonance to show up again. And when you think it’s coming back with a whole new scenario in which you have Jenuis and Excella from the start, the hype goes high ! The story would need to be re-written entirely, and I’m curious to see how.

Death End Request (PS4)

Shina

Compile Heart is in dire straits. Sales keep dwindling, new ideas and skillfullness lack clearly. Their last hope is Nanameda Kei, Compile’s new star illustrator, and the Galapagos RPG team. Taking place in an MMORPG from where the heroine Shiina cannot escape, Death End Request seems to be the innovative and deep title the company needs, not to mention it respects Compile’s spirit.

Caligula Overdose (PS4)

Son

Yet another remaster with additional content, but this one is interesting : adding to new friends and foes, Caligula Overdose includes an “if story” in which you’re gonna side with the opposing gakushi, and explore their personalities as you did for your allies.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 (PS4)

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Was it all a bad dream ? I kind remember playing a failed Action-RPG called Valkyria one year ago… Yeah, that was surely a dream. Valkyria Chronicles, the real one, is coming back like it has ever been, in an episode featuring the missions of the Atlantic Federation (you know, the diplomats trying to lure you in the first game) against the Empire in snowy lands. Game system, battle system… everything is inherited from the original Valkyria Chronicles (they understood that it was better not to change anything) and characters seem charismatic. This means a big 14’000¥ collector’s edition for me.

Soul Calibur VI (PS4)

Sophitia SC6a

SoulCalibur’s return was sure desired, but less expected. But still we’re gonna be able to cross swords a 6th time. Namco has mention some ideas about reboot and “simplicity”. Quite not what I want to hear but they did a good job with Tekken, so that should go well…

Catherine Full Body (PS4/PSVita)

Rin

This wasn’t expected either, even less on PSVita. Thanks to that handheld version, I’ll be able to experience that strange dating/puzzle game. Vincent, a unresolved young man, spends his days in a bar where a girl called Catherine tries to seduce him. During the night, Vincent is trapped in his dreams, in which he must escape by climbing a sort of Jenga tower ! A clear UFO that will be perfect for commuting.

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim (PS4/PSVita)

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Let’s say it again, 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim has the potential to become the next 2D adventure masterpiece thanks to its incomparable atmosphere. A handful of high-schoolers must act before and after the end of the world, helped by strange mechas. With time and choice parameters, it looks absolutely outstanding.

Final Fantasy XV (PS4)

Luna

Final Fantasy XV development is going smoothly according to SquareEnix, who publishes Active Time Reports on a regular basis.There will be an early access version on PC in a few weeks, with only 4 playable characters (not the best ones). Probably SquareEnix will polish the game at this occasion, before hopefully giving all the information on the final version.

Zanki Zero (PS4/PSVita)

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Quite austere Survival-RPG, Zanki Zero was back at TGS with new interesting hints. As developers had already shown, the characters should age, and there seem to be some strange resurrection mechanic… Well, the fate of those 8 survivalists is still shrouded in mystery.

The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel IV (PS4)

Dubally

Trails of Cold Steel IV is a nightmare for Western fans of The Legend of Heroes (you, actually). The first pictures are potential huge spoilers about Trails of Cold Steel III and they’re being shared everywhere in the world as we speak. But of course, for me and Japanese fans, those informations are highly valuable for knowing what to expect.

Granblue Fantasy Re-link (PS4)

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The gameplay video of Granblue Fantasy Relink surprised pretty much everyone. No one expected such high end graphics and exciting action. We should have though, because the people behind this are the geniuses of Platinum Games. Although the talented developer seem to stay on Nintendo’s side, we’ll gladly take such epic heroic-fantasy, especially since it will be in VR too.

I’m also waiting for Persona 5 Dancing Star Night (PS4/PSVita), Persona 3 Dancing Moon Night (PS4/PSVita), Project Lux (PSVR), Ace Combat 7 (PS4), Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4), Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4), Ni no Kuni II Revenant Kingdom (PS4), Code Vein (PS4), Senran Kagura 7EVEN (PS4), World End Syndrome (PSVita) and Bullet Girls Phantasia (PS4/PSVita).

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My games of the year 2017 (GoTY 2017)

Best Action game

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Fire Emblem Warriors (Switch)

For a first Switch game, Fire Emblem Warriors has been an awesome pick. Omega Force delivers here one of the best Warriors game ever : the ferocity of the fights blows everything that has been done before, and general direction was quite good. Loaded with the best characters and clever maps, it was an amazing experience all the way.

Runner-up : Nier Automata (PS4) & Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash (PS4)

Best Shooter

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Call of Duty Modern Warfare Remastered (PS4)

Generally I don’t agree with the « it was better before » whole narrative. But when it comes to FPS, well, that works. The multiplayer in Infinite Warfare is garbage, so you ought to come back to what’s good. And here we must admit that « before », Call of Duty mutliplayer was remarkably well-designed and provided a lot of fun. What else then than embracing this excellent remaster?

Runner-up : none

Best Fighting game

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Tekken 7 (PS4)

While having an underwhelming solo, Tekken 7 does things right on the important part : online. Matchmaking is effective, music options very nice, costumization as good as ever, moves are over the top and gameplay still is an absolute reference for the genre. Clearly a must-have to enjoy figting once a while.

Runner-up : none

Best Racing game

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Gran Turismo Sport (PS4)

Gran Turismo Sport scared me at release : without any solo championship, I wondered if the IP wanted to commit suicide or something… Fortunately, solo leagues came via update about a week ago, a necessary addition to the driving challenges, which are a cool part but insufficient alone. With trickier driving than before, GT Sport has of course a dream-like concentration of models and an awesome photo mode for car lovers.

Runner-up : Wipeout Omega Collection (PS4)

Best RPG

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Atelier Firis, the Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey (PS4)

I spent January 2017 on Atelier Firis and that was absolute delight. The series had recovered everything that had made it great (limited time, alchemy challenges, hidden bosses…) while adding a massive innovation : an astonishing open world that transformed management. 70 hours of exploration, wonders and surprises. Atelier Firis is probably going to be unique.

Runner-up : Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

Best Puzzle game

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Shin Yomawari (PSVita)

Unable to trigger another revolution (because basically copy/pasted from the original), Shin Yomawari still gets its deal of searching and puzzles. Gameplay is a bit more irritating than the in first one, but the game is loaded with intense secquences than will put you on edge.

Runner-up : none

Best music

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Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

No hesitation in this category this year : I’ve been listening to Great Ace Attorney 2’s OST for 4 months now! Capcom’s game is never ending greatness for your ears, the entire soundtrack going from good to magnificient. Joyful melodies, dark themes, epic orchestrations, there is nothing that Great Ace Attorney 2 doesn’t do well.

Runner-up : Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana (PSVita)

Best narrative

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Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

I’m still shaking. My heart almost couldn’t take it at the end of Trails of Cold Steel III. Falcom obviously wanted to make it spectacular, so that the slightest information on Trails of Cold Steel IV is pure gold. Of course, even before that, writers placed several key reveals and intense secquences. A clear intensification of Trails of Cold Steel story-telling.

Runner-up : Death Mark (PSVita)

Best atmosphere

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Death Mark (PSVita)

I cleared Death Mark over a long week-end. That was fortunate, because I couldn’t imagine myself dropping the game to go to work. I was completely hooked by Death Mark’s hypnotic atmosphere. Experience’s game is the darkest I’ve ever played, it was even difficult to breathe given the fear of what could come out. Music and sounds reached perfection.

Runner-up : Shin Yomawari (PSVita) & Iwai Hime Matsuri (PSVita)

Best design

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Death Mark (PSVita)

Death Mark is memorable for a reason : its design perfectly fit the horror genre. The look of the environements alone scares you to the bone. Terrifying details are rife, atrociously mutilated bodies too. And I don’t even mention the Ghosts : after chapter 3, I couldn’t even turn off the lights at night…

Runner-up : Nier Automata (PS4)

Best game you might never play

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Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

Notice that I won’t mention Death Mark here. I’m confident that NIS America or some other company will bring it to the West. Regarding Great Attorney 2 though, that seems toasted… A shame, because that second part of the Victorian spin-off had super great story and humor.

Runner-up : Iwai Hime Matsuri (PSVita)

Most disappointing

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Cyberdimension Neptune 4 Goddess Online (PS4)

Compile Heart needed to fix years of IP mismanagement with Cyberdimension Neptune 4 Goddess Online, and they failed miserably. This Action-RPG is poor in every departement and doesn’t inherit the Neptunia spirit. The Neptunia IP is weak now, the lack of ideas eventually ended up being lethal. Tsunako is being out-fashioned by Nanameda Kei, and producer Mizuno is ridiculous compared to other teams at Compile.

Runner-up : Nights of Azure 2 (PS4/PSVita)

mini Platinum-trophy Game of the year

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Atelier Firis, the Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey (PS4)

The king of RPG-Management was back this year. I could feel once more the delight of adeventure, the heat of battle and greatness of never ending frontiers. The alchemy challenges in an open world is something that had never been done before, like a wave which you need all all your might and wits to resist to. The Golden Age of Atelier was back.

mini gold trophy Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

mini Silver_Trophy Death Mark (PSVita)

mini-bronze_trophy Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana (PSVita)

Review – Nights of Azure 2

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Nights of Azure 2 bears a strange relationship with the first one. It begins the exact same way : Aluche is granted the title of Templar and her first mission is to escort priestress Liliana to where she will be sacrificed. As you could guess, Aluche is not too hot about letting her childhood friend die like this, even if that’s for the sake of saving the whole world from the wicked Moon Queen. From there, Aluche decides to disobey the Church and will seek to eliminate the Moon Queen all by herself.

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PS4

Fans of the original Nights of Azure might be taken aback by the storytelling here. Because while Nights of Azure 2 tries to mimic its prequel, it’s surprisingly disconnected from it. The story of this second installement does a awful job at explaining the links between past and present : where the heck does the Moon Queen come from ? How did Arnice turn into a enemy ? Is there a reason why Camilla’s last name is Alucard ? Numerous questions raised by the story aren’t properly answered in the narrative, which is frustrating at best. You even have to look into the encyclopedia within the game to get essential details.

Nights of Azure 2 Myuvel a

PSVita

Actually, the narrative in a whole is one giant mess with big holes and almost no plot (the real one). In the end, the story is nothing more than « search & destroy the Moon Queen ». Every other story element is blatantly underused : the Rurud Order, some big organisation supposed to compete with you, doesn’t do a thing. The Church has almost zero screentime whereas it was a the center of the intrigue before, and your allies’ indentity and personality lack details. If you liked the subtilities of Nights of Azure 1, I regret to inform you that it will be a distant memory here. That said, I did feel some good storylines like for example the relationship between Aluche and Myuvel, but here again everything happens so fast that it can’t be felt epic or emotional. It would have needed far more background/cutscenes to feel truly great. With approximately 20 hours to clear it, Nights of Azure 2 looks simply too short to tell a proper RPG story.

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PS4

Very limited in its main story, Nights of Azure 2 tries to make up for it with substories for each secondary character. Aside Liliana, you can date 6 other girls. I say « date » on purpose because while it’s a little exaggerated, the theme of the series still lies in the yuri, that is to say the attraction between women. That’s a bit new because the previous one was centered on Arnice with somewhat little relationship feature. You will thus be able to progress on any of your buddies’ own story by completing the quests they propose. Nothing fantastic, because it will always be matter of taking the girl with you to slay some demons or lead her to a certain location. Eventually meaningless in terms of gameplay or experience, as you’ll quickly be sighing over the abysmal dialogs. As said before, all this lacks a whole prologue dimension and much better writing to be efficient.

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PS4

In terms of gameplay, you’ll find again combos mixing square and triangle buttons, like in the first one. There are a tad more variations in this sequel, so a slightly richer action part. Buttons are customizable if you need to adapt the controls to your habits. The player can still use other weapons : the two-handed sword, the cristal sword, the great shield and the mirror shield. This part is fairly underwhelming, as both swords and both shields perform identical moves. Worse, the weapon-changing system is blatantly unconvenient, which prevents you from having fully access to those powerful great swords. Again, a significant step back from the first one. And the big problem remains : your blows still lack a sensation of impact or power, making battles very slack. Even boss fights were uninteresting, whereas they were absolutely great with Arnice.

Nights of Azure 2 tag

PSVita

The big new thing of Nights of Azure 2 is tag battle, because you’ll always have one of the girls as ally when going into dungeons. Each of them has her own personal abilities, focused on attack or defense. Liliana for example can revive Aluche from KO, useful when you consider the cost of losing in this game. She can also boost attack status for a few seconds. More offensive, Veruschka can kill an enemy in one blow or cause damage on a wide area. There are also two gauges that allow super abilities known as Double Chase and Lily Burst, two types of combined attacks that deal maximum damage.

Nights of Azure 2 Moon

PSVita

The world of Nights of Azure 2 is composed of several dungeons themselves divided in very small sectors. Those ones are rather flat and empty, except for some various traps not so dangerous anyway. A pretty much uneventful progression and poor level design that doesn’t live up to the architecture of the first game. The time you can spend outside the hotel is still limited to 10-20 minutes depending how far you’ve developed Aluche’s status, but the huge revolution here is that you also have a limitation in terms of days, exactly like in an Atelier game! Every sortie costs you one day, symbolised by moon phases : if the moon gets fully dark, it’s game over. A little bit of organization is therefore essential on who you take with you and where you go, especially if you intend to complete character routes. You also need to fight well, because every KO brings you back to the hotel.

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PS4

Fortunately, each main boss you defeat rewinds the Moon phases, and in the worst case scenario you can always redo the whole chapter. The problem is that unlike Atelier, the schedule is kinda tight and getting to maximum friend level is difficult at first. Unless you know the conditions for good end in advance, the game sends you straight to bad end.

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PS4

Nights of Azure 2 brings back the Servants, those friendly monsters helping you in the fights. But here again Gust made radical but unappropriate changes. First, you now only have 2 Servants following you, whereas in a previous game you were allowed to bring as many as 4 groups of 4! The monster deck is of course no more, and the entire strategic side of the feature has vanished : no way to form tactical groups like before. Servants also have new roles : remove obstacles on your path or turn themselves into weapons for Aluche. Servants are hidden in some places on the maps, often in a blocked path. So in order to secure all the Servants, you need to permanently have with the Servants that can clear the path, which makes the others pretty much useless. It’s especially annoying in terms of weapons, because you’ll almost never bring the Servants that transform into the weapons I mentioned earlier. Hence you’ll rarely have the occasion to use them. Another consequence of all this is that Aluche can’t transform like Arnice did, another key feature of Nights of Azure that has been sadly ditched here.

Nights of Azure 2 Camilla

PSVita

In a trailer published early July, Gust underlined that they had made considerable effort to improve PSVita version (although they probably knew it would never reach the West). Indeed, there is a huge leap in graphics and modeling, it’s even pretty neat. But you still have to expect far less good frame-rate and hiccups. Lightning effects are reduced among other drawbacks, but it runs well enough to ensure confortable sessions outside. Ironically, Nights of Azure 2 represents the improved PSVita version of a game itself in sharp decline.

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PS4

On PS4, you’d expect something a lot more beautiful, but it’s not always obvious. This home console version is quite close to the portable one on certain cutscenes, to the point you’d come to wonder if it’s the PSVita doing a record best or the PS4 being low quality. I would tend to think on the latter, because despite much more good-looking fighting (numerous effects during attacks, etc.), aesthetics go from correct to subpar. This is when you realize that in promotion videos, Gust had been using mostly pre-rendered cutscenes! Not very fair… In real time, modeling is average and facial expressions non existent. In terms of graphics or animation, Nights of Azure 2 on PS4 is not even remotely close to Blue Reflection, a game released six months before by the exact same developer.

Nights of Azure 2 Rue

PSVita

But that’s not the end of it because the game crashed on both systems, and includes numerous annoying sound bugs : voices and sounds effect are time to time inaudible in battle. The sound environment wasn’t very good to begin with, because of the blatant lack of lavish sound effects in battle. The soundtrack will partially make up for this, with orchestration is still great in every possible tone. Then a question needs to be raised : was it relevant to develop 3 versions of Nights of Azure 2 at once, especially when you know that PS4 version alone accounts for more than 60% of total sales in Japan? This latest Gust title has all the symptoms a of rushed product lacking a compelling story and decent polish. We’re glad to get swimsuits for every character, but having a complete experience along with them would be nice.

Nights of Azure 2 is a disastrophic sequel any way you look at it. The delay didn’t help the slightest. Far from living up to the first one, Nights of Azure 2 is nothing more has ruined gameplay and a story in shambles. By releasing such a poor product Gust and KoeiTecmo deal a fatal blow to a promising franchise. Both publisher and developer should rethink the way they’re doing this, because it would be unacceptable to see Atelier Lidy & Soeur suffering from such pathetic development circumstances.

Review – Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana

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Following the outstanding success of Tokyo Xanadu, which is largely regarded as a new IP, Falcom gets back to one of its established franchises with Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana. This newest episode has a particular taste since it’s likely to be Falcom’s last Vita game.

Ys VIII Adol

Already active is past Ys games, the red-headed adventurer Adol Christin is again a the center of this action-RPG. He’s travelling on board of the ship Lombardia when the latter gets attacked by a giant sea monster that sinks it without mercy. Adol wakes up in a desert island he recognizes at once : the cursed island of Seiren, well-known for causing shipwrecks. The fearless explorer has nothing more than a rusted blade to defend himself. He will thus seek help and form a small group with Laxia, an aristocratic girl good at fencing, and fisherman Sahad. Joined by the captain of the Lombardia and Adol’s old pal Dogi, they start building a small village to shelter themselves and the remaining refugees.

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In his sleep, Adol will have visions of a priestress called Dana. Despite living in distant eras, Dana feels she’s linked to Adol somehow and will seek to help him by interacting from the past. Thrown into each other’s mind at night, Adol and Dana will complement each other to solve the mysteries of Seiren, a bit as if Falcom had written Your Name before Makoto Shinkai. The player follows both stories in parallel until those two scenarios connect in a beautiful way, and give a new and strong momentum by reaching superior stakes like in any good JRPG. Dana’s part was absolutely remarkable on the emotion side, with relevant narrative steps and perfect emphasis on important scenes.

Ys VIII pirate

Like a virtual Indiana Jones, you’re going to explore the numerous parts of the island one after another. Let’s stress right away that the mini-map is (finally) removable and that you can choose to experience a more old-school progression if you like, finding your way only by the general map. And you’ll need it, because Ys VIII features one of the biggest worlds ever created on PSVita. Dense forests, lots of ancient ruins, muddy field, dark caves, mountain peaks and even underwater parts! The progression constantly renews itself and is an adventure like you’ve never seen.

Ys VIII Ricotta

Despite being a bit linear (the regions of the map unlock very progressively), the game features interesting level design, it being complex terrain where you can get lost easily. Verticality is very impressive, has the game has you cross tortuous mountain paths or a large tower. It also leads to diversions given the hostile environment : the nature of Seiren will make you bite the dust, but the thrill of exploration is totally there. Sure enough, Ys VIII has some Xenoblade vibes in it. Even better, you’ll everything on a yet again splendid soundtrack. Seldom music will have enchanted the player as he runs in the wilderness. Lost in Green or You’ll See the End of the Tales come to mind, but there are many more like that.

Ys VIII discovery

The wonders of Seiren will enchant you too as Falcom borrows Zestiria’s discovery system. The exploration continues even outside the main scenario since you may come back to previously visited locations equipped with new exploration items (for example the feather allows the double jump) or new recruits in the drifting village, and thus uncover new secrets such as underground temples, etc.

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Ys VIII doesn’t forget about leisure either because the fishing mini-game will be available all game long, including dozens of species to fish.

Ys VIII Tina

To progress in the story or in subquests, you’ll need to move the rocks blocking your path here and there. You can achieve this only if the number of inhabitants in the drifting village is high enough. You therefore must search every corner of the island in order to locate the survivors. Every newcomers trigger new quests or offer new services : Alison can sew new clothes, Catherine will be your smith and Tina will establish the barter counter. Indeed, you’re in a desert island and there’s of course no currency! The inventory is managed by exchanging more or less rare natural resources, so as to gather the necessary materials for new weapons and armor.

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As always with Falcom, those secondary characters are fairly varied and deep : numerous sub-events explore the personality of each character out there, important rule in JRPGs. You also find quite some mini-stories that illustrates subquests, which makes them more enjoyable than usual. In particular, direct allies have a quite detailed personal story (a lot more than discreet Adol) and arouse empathy. Ys VIII has this particular humor of JRPGs, in which you hear the most unexpected lines in every situation. Hummel is top in that, given his seriousness in his strange “job” in the middle of the wilderness. After many hits in the field, Falcom is now at the forefront of modern JRPG, keeping that classic spirit when other threw it away for more money.

Ys VIII Laxia battle

Combat has the same action-RPG feeling as Dragon Quest Heroes : a base 3-hit combo plus a special skills to choose between four. The L/R skills are varied and pack a punch, depending on the weapon used by the six playable characters. Dana for example owns two immense chakras that she can throw or make dance in long combos. Hummel can perform numerous types of shooting with its rifle, etc. Good news for those who like their gameplay habits : all buttons can be changed at your liking.

Ys VIII dodge

If we talk battle, we need to underline the guard and dodging systems. Performing a just guard or dodging at the very last moment respectively slow down the enemy’s movements and raise your critical rate to the maximum. Both grant you a few seconds of invincibility : you’re free to beat down the opponent. You need to master that in order to win in higher difficulty modes, but the skillfulness demanded makes for delightful fights. In normal mode, like in Tokyo Xanadu, there is moderate challenge but hard more in Ys VIII is significantly more interesting : damage taken is no joke, potions very limited and status ailments unforgiving. In order to ease the pain, the game allows you to recover HP by resting on the map, this however not being possible in dungeons.

Ys VIII boss

The bestiary of Ys VIII is impressive : ferocious beasts, sea monsters, ancient golems and wild dinosaurs, combat is renewed in every place you go. Rare enough to be mentioned, you almost never see the same type of enemy twice! Further evidence of Falcom’s outstanding effort to make a rich world. Boss fights are awesome as opponents boast complex movesets and strategies. Strong and sturdy, dinosaurs will make you sweat, especially in defense missions. It so happens that fiends will regularly gather around the village and it’s up to you to repel them. Defense missions occur like a survival mode : monsters come in waves and you have to stop them from destroying the fence. Them coming from all directions, all you can do is to hit everything in sight as violently as you can. Exhilarating. You’ll also be able to build defenses, traps, barricades to withstand increasingly heated assaults.

When other choose to ditch classic JRPG, Falcom keeps the magic of the genre. With charming characters, a fantastic battle system, splendid music, multiple quests and an incredibly rich world, Ys VIII is a must-have for those who have been faithful to the genre for 15 or 20 years. Immersive and glorious in many aspects and despite very minor drawbacks, it is an amazing potion of youth.

Review – Blue Reflection

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What would happen if you gave more power to illustrators than to game’s directors? Blue Reflection gives a glimpse of the answer to that ludicrous interrogation, because the keyman of Gust’s JRPG is no other than Mel Kishida, the brilliant designer of the Arland part of Atelier games. Can the man lead Gust to success once more?

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PS4

Hinako is discouraged : her dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer gets shattered when she suffers an incurable ankle injury. Wandering like a ghost in her new school, she’s bewildered when she realizes she has the power to enter her classmates’ mind to relieve their anguish. She’s a magical girl : she transforms and wears a frou-frou dress, gaining some magical abilities in the process.

Blue Reflection Yuzu Raimu

PSVita

Brought along by her magical girls comrades Yuzu and Raimu, Hinako will pursue this “career” for a reason : her dearest wish will come true when she achieves final victory against the genshu, demonic creatures at war with humanity since ancient times. Her dialy activities will always be to walk around within the school and help anxious pupils. Each time, the three heroines will be sent in the Comon, spiritual world built by the collective unconscious, a bit like the Mementhos in Persona 5. There, the game will simply ask you to defeat 1, 2, 3 or 4 enemies of the same type, or collect fragments here and there in super tiny maps. Sadly, it never gets more elaborated than that.

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PS4

Blue Reflection is a turn-based JRPG, with a timeline on which the order of action of all characters and enemies is displayed in real time, like in Child of Light. Combat has 3 parameters : HP, MP and Ether. While the first two are well-known, Ether is the big particularity of Blue Reflection and does a lot of things. For example, Overdrive allows one of the girls to use several skills during the same turn, dream-like capacity because you can attack and heal in the same time.

Blue Reflection mission

PSVita

By clearing secondary quests, you’ll be able to obtain fragments. The magical girls can equip those fragments and affect them to one particular skill in order to maximize their effect : better healing, absorb HP/MP or boosting attack power when Ether reaches a certain level (50, 40 or 30%). Those fragments work like passive abilities in Atelier, and thus allow you to build a general strategy, although less precise.

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PS4

But the biggest innovation in Blue Reflection is undoubtly the Active Command. Between turns, you’ll have 1 or 2 seconds to hit one of the direction buttons, each of the 4 having a different effect. By keeping it pushed, you’ll boost defence, speed or heal the girls, but your Ether gauge will be depleted fast! Ether management is thus the cornerstone of the game, and you need to keep some characters in defence so that your Ether never dries up. Given how fast-paced it is, it’s dynamic enough to liven up boss fights.

Blue Reflection Ako

PSVita

Like Persona, Blue Reflection includes many secondary characters who can be invited by Hinako for a chat or a stroll in town. The game laso features a friend level for each girl which greatly depends on the answers you give, so there is a little yuri sim aspect in it. The problem is that unlike Persona, the girls in Hinako’s high school aren’t very charismatic in general, nor do they have a solid background or a strong personality.

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PS4

The only exception to that was Yuri : gifted with off-chart IQ but suffering from a rare syndrome, she was by far the funniest characters and had the most touching story. I barely remember the others (maybe Shio and her bizarre humor) since their personality traits were thin. Voice acting was almost non-existent, which is a big mistake in this type of game. Reading all that leads to boredom and fatigue. Blue Reflection really would have needed that investment so that school life feel more lively and the characters more convincing.

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PS4

On the plus side compared to Persona, the allies are with you during the boss fights. You can call them quite often and they show up in a funny little animation, granting immensely useful effect to your party. Those girls can attack, heal, resurrect, boost your stats and refill your Ether gauge! They also react to the evolution of the fight : they run away when they’re afraid that the boss might win, and they come back when you take the upper hand. It’s pretty enjoyable to have a real integration of secondary characters in gameplay.

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PS4

Boss fights are the strongest aspect of Blue Reflection because they’re super well directed. At each key moment of the story, gigantic genshu will advance on the school to wipe it out, like Evangelion’s shito. The giant creature actually progress during the fight, and if it reaches our line of defense, it’s game over. As it gets closer, music changes, the facial expression of the characters also.That is extraodinary direction, in particular in the cutscenes that come just after, in which Hinako deals the final blow in pure magical girl style, living up to the best animes in the field. Very cool moments visually speaking but unfortunately the story fails to renew itself and find a new stage.

Blue Reflection Hinako

PSVita

Those fights are rather long and complex because bosses have numerous parts that regenerate all the time : you need to manage your offensive to keep to parts in check, because they attack you too! Despite all that, battles are a bit simple, as the game is in a whole. Even difficult mode won’t resist very long to veteran JRPG players who’ll master the use of fragments and Active Command. Blue Reflection is in fact a light experience in terms of gameplay : no game over (except in boss fights), experience comes from completed quests and not from battles, and fighting in the Comon becomes soon tedious.

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PS4

Blue Reflection is thus better felt by your eyes than by your hands, the 3D engine having been tailor-made for that. It’s astonishingly beautiful, so much that Blue Reflection feels like being that game passing the baton between PS3 and PS4. Not only for Gust who clearly here went to the next step, but also for the all the developers of similar scale who now have to keep up. The world in it may not be very large, but 3D modeling totally lives up to Mel Kishida’s wonderful designs, and battles are just breathtaking. Lightning, shading, reflects, textures… Blue Reflection sets a new technical record in everything. And that’s not all, because interface, monsters and bosses are classy. The illustrator certainly did a great job in supervising all this.

Blue Reflection Hinako 3

PSVita

The PSVita has been somehow correct and I played via cross-save to the very end. Graphics were perfectly good in handhelds terms, except some really ugly decors here and there. The only issue was frame-rate during fights because there were significant drops when using flashy skills. It doesn’t replace the PS4 version of course since the interest lies in graphics, but it was cool in order to progress a bit on the go. Nothing at stake here however, since KoeiTecmo Europe abandonned the Vita overnight after years of boasting their support to the system. Sad but business is business…

Blue Reflection is a fetish-centric game. This had been suggested during the initial teasing so that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The extra care given to the graphics serve a purpose, which is staring at gorgeous bodies and sexy costumes from every angle. Funny enough, choosing the option “streching exercises” leads to a pool event with 100% probability! There are plenty in the same fashion, including showers, dressing room, drenched clothes, etc. The swimsuit (additional costume to wander in the school) was even offered as preorder bonus for every character! Clearly Blue Reflection sells its fan service and does it well.

Frankly, Blue Reflection is average as an RPG. This is what happens when the designer grows more important than the producer : the game is a great visual experience, but isn’t great in its writing or in its gameplay in a whole. You can feel that KoeitTecmo didn’t fully invest in it and that doesn’t help. It’s like a art gallery, some parts are good, some aren’t. Personally I was rather satisfied with it despite the drawbacks, given the art/graphic qualities, and Yuri’s part which was definitely memorable.

Review – Accel World vs Sword Art Online Millenium Twilight

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After the considerable disappointment experienced with Sword Art Online Hollow Realization, I had stopped believing in BandaiNamco’s capacity to make something good with Dengeki’s famous IP. The choice of Sword Art Online Lost Song as base was more reason to skip Accel World vs Sword Art Online. However, Japanese articles ended up showing some attractiveness in it, which proved to be true.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Persona Vabel

Forget your desire for an epic story : this one is again quite badly structured or written. It starts as a masked witch calling herself Persona Vabel gatecrashes Alfheim Online. Nothing big, you might think, but the damsel actually comes from 1000 years in the future and makes eras collide in the process. Vabel doesn’t stop here and kidnaps Yui, whose removal, she thinks, will lead to a brighter future.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online villain

As you’d expect, Kirito and Asuna fly to rescue their daughter. Problem is that the game is a complete mess as it merged with the Accel World universe, whose characters starts coming one after another. Kuroyukihime and her pals will soon cooperate with Kirito’s group : like in Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney, the VS” is just for show. The real snag is that the distortion also invited Accel World’s villains, who will block your path in every possible way.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Yui

But that leads to a very long secquence in which nothing really happens : 30 hours of eventless exploring and fighting on 40 in total. Besides, numerous events feel unclear without a certain knowledge of Accel World’s scenario, and it’s not re-explained as you progress. You do have to wait the very end and the ultimate truth about Vabel’s identity to experience a SAO-like narrative. The ending is pretty much inventive and somewhat moving, but that’s little in the whole adventure.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Kuroyukihime

While the main story is uneven, the side events in Accel World vs Sword Art Online are a lot better than before. First and adding to Persona Vabel’s identity, it leaves quite interesting hints for future developments, particularly in Yûki’s case because her destiny might change considerably in this gaming non-canon part. The second point is that character events are a lot funnier and feel newer because Accel World brings characters with personalities as eccentric as their outfits : Kuroyukihime has a bust size complex, superior beingMetatron keeps looking down and shouting at you, and Ashe Roller’s true self is a memorable laugh. SAO characters participate to the fun no less, with more wacky humor and less of the childishness Hollow Realization kept imposing us.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online kuroyukihime

Jokes also becomes quite lewder again, fan service aspect which had progressively disappeared and that we have been missing since Hollow Fragment. Renewed fan service and better sides events lead to more enjoyable artworks : nearly all of them are great (kinky or not). The side content of Accel World vs Sword Art Online hence was made a lot spicier for the core fans to throughfully enjoy the game between gameplay phases. This episode contains a few real time cutscenes, but no more anime-style ones. The 3D looking cheap on PS4, this is actually a lesser experience. As we’re talking about side content, let’s stress that there are only 2 sidequests, which weren’t very great because they rehash the same bosses/fields on uninspired writing. You do have the usual hunt/fetch quests : nothing fantastic but it’s always nice to complete them while leveling up, and there’s a nice trophy as reward.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online blood leopard

The publisher doesn’t hesitate to brag about the record number of playable characters in this episode. DLC taken into account, that makes 44 characters available in the game in a whole, that is to say… 44 times more than last year’s game ! Undoubtly an excellent decision… And that’s not meaningless PR talk because each Accel World character has a unique fighting style, while SAO characters still see their actions determined by the weapon they use (plenty of them by the way, including the bow this time). Blood Leopard for example transforms into a crimson beast to tear up enemies, Aqua Current has a variety of water abilities, etc. Those moves are thus extremely varied. Customisation is different too : you have to collect BP & materials to improve their attack stat, and acquire external modules to add various status effects. Accel World characters cannot fly unlike the others but are a lot quicker and agressive on the ground. The complementarity of gameplay of this cross-over is an outstanding success.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Rain

As for your usual SAO characters, you’ll find the same aerial gameplay you had in Lost Song. It’s still far from perfect especially in getting the right height and managing distances, but it does benefit from magic spells to make it more RPG-like. Accel World vs Sword Art Online also adds a certain number of ultimate moves, like, much to her fans’ delight, Shinon’s sniper rifle. Last innovation but not the least, Skill Connect allows the player to chain several abilities, which deals 10% more damage each time you do it (a bit like in Star Ocean series). Slowly but surely, BandaiNamco is delivering deeper combat in SAO games.

Alas, Accel World vs Sword Art Online inherits the terrible animations that were in Lost Song. Characters are stiff and battles end up a bit dull despite the effort put on more dynamic super moves, some of them meant to be impressive. Small consolation within a dated technical showing. On PSVita the frame-rate is so bad that I ended up dropping that version entirely. That’s too bad because character modeling was good on the handheld.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Lux

On PS4, it can be considered okay at best : some characters are prettier than others, one field is significantly more detailed and good-looking, but we’re still talking about a slightly enhanced 2-year old PS3 engine. The most annoying aspect was difficulty balance. The main story is quite easy but postgame gets really hard all of a sudden, not to say unfair since the game forces you to use one or more characters. Let’s say it again : it is unacceptable to impose characters if you the game doesn’t have them level up at the same time as the others. Even though you can tweak that with BP (at considerable expense) or by changing the difficulty settings in last resort (often disheartening).

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Alice 2

DLCs are symptomatic of this. The road leading to Alice is tough and getting her to join you is even harder. You can always see the good side of things and reckon you’ve finally got challenging trials ahead, but I’m not so sure about struggling to desperation to obtain a charcater you’ve bought with real money.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online Shinon swimsuit 1

Nevertheless, this season pass has its merits, especially for Persona Vabel playable at once, Heathcliff included and an array of very nice outfits.

Accel World vs Sword Art Online plain

Last improvement of Accel World vs Sword Art Online, the progression system is better. The fields might feel identical to the ones in Lost Song, they are far larger in height ! Maximum altitude has been doubled, there are new underground locations/floating islands, the landscape has been made chaotic, etc, so that it feels actually new. You can go higher and farer, and the game has been made far less linear, giving a few hints instead of marking everything on the minimap. You’ll come across a few clever puzzles, true searching phases, which gives the satisfaction of overcoming the trials by your own wits and skill.

While short from being the necessary evolution to make Sword Art Online games as great as the movie for example, Accel World vs Sword Art Online does fix a number of mistakes made those past 2 years. The cross-over aspect has definitely be well conducted, ensuring a variety of gameplay and an enjoyable universe. Still not immersive enough in graphics, animation or direction, it’s however this time a nice buy for SAO fans.