Review – Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash

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Those who follow Kenichirô Takaki on twitter know that Marvelous’s star producer is a big fan of western FPS. Despite being busy on its own projects, he still saves some time to play Call of Duty, Battlefield and the likes. From there, merging that interest with the Senran Kagura series was only a question of time, and here we are with Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash.

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The beginning is worryingly similar to Senran Kagura Estival Versus : the girls from the four shinobi schools suddenly get warped on some island paradise, where they are asked to compete against each other. Yes, that’s the second time in a row that the scenario writer comes up with some old tournament coming from nowhere… The teachers Kiria and Suzune are in charge of the commentary (in a hilarious way) of that strange competition in which the heroines will face each other using… water guns! To be frank, the five storylines felt anecdotal and the story in whole is once again quite meaningless. Nothing like the first episodes of the series, but with such a wierd main topic, building a serious narrative seems contradictory. It’s very clear (and logic) that the devs whould keep a light-hearted tone while trying an unnatural genre.

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The story still has some merits as it announces major changes in the timeline : central characters seem about to leave their respective groups, with very interesting perspectives, and others like Ayame officially join as main characters. Certain side stories are still lot of fun, like the now famous Ryôbi/Ryôna duo who never run out of ideas in their SM relationship. The way the story is told is still modest (simple dialog and plain text) despite being once more nicely illustrated. The narrative is slim and maybe the producer was aware of that, because Senran Kagura 7 is cleverly teased at the end and we can now expect the story focus to be back.

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The solo mode is composed with several storylines corresponding to each faction. Those mini-stories are themselves divided into short missions where you have to beat larges group of robots, other characters or an entire opposing team. The player has 4 life bars so as to withstand entire matches in which water is coming from all directions. Yet the normal mode is piece of cake and you’ll prefer hard or ultra-hard to enjoy it more : IA becomes a lot more aggressive, asking you to be fast and precise. Ally IA is a lot less satisfying as it’s totally erratic. They can sometimes clear the mission on their own, but in other stages you’ll have revive them constantly.

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While standard missions can feel tedious, this episode introduces bosses at lot more interesting and innovate than ever in the series. Those objectives are hard and make an intense and rewarding end for each storyline. You’ll have to fight giant robots, some in limited time, but there’s also a cool Easter Egg to the anime as you’ll be facing a giant Ryôna bathing. Last but not least, the final boss is absolutely glorious : fun, with crazy music and behavior, it makes the best use of the wacky side of the game.

Basic gameplay is voluntarily close to your average western shooter : you aim, fire and jump with the same buttons. No problem for players used to FPS or for anyone for that matter, it’s thoroughly intuitive to play. Like in any competitive shooter, Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash gives you the choice between a lot of weapons of various fire(water?)power, reach or firing rate. Again, it’s like any FPS out there so everybody can enjoy the game in its own playstyle, at close, mid or long range. The double jump being quite vigorous, you can achieve impressive aerials with the sniper rifle.

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The gameplay is based on aim assist, which can seem childish at first, but is justified by the very fast pace of the matches, where opponents’ moves are a lot more unpredictable than in Battlefield or Call of Duty. The jet pack for example allows you to go through the map at astonishing speed. Very clearly, players would spend their time missing with just manual aim. The focus is non stop action from the first second to the last, and it works pretty well : camping is useless, everybody has to move to get some points.

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But aim assist is no auto-aim and you’ll need to be careful to fire from a correct angle, otherwise you’ll just be throwing water into the air. Water storage is limited, so you have to refill liquid like you’d change ammo, making you vulnerable. You’ll therefore look for the scarce cover points to do so, or do it while jumping which accelerate the refill. In short and despite the new type of game, Senran Kagura keeps its dynamic gameplay.

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Adding to weapons, the game will ask you to prepare a deck of cards. This TGC is in fact a transformed version of the smartphone game Senran Kagura New Wave, the rules of which being adapted to Marvelous’s TPS. After each mission, you’ll receive a booster pack including several cards with a chance to get super rare ones. Exactly like how you’d by a booster pack in reality, in fact. There are several types with various effects : protecting/healing yourself, attacking opponents, boost your stats or hinder enemies’ actions. The diversity of those effects adds a little strategy in matches like you’d find in Call of Duty.

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The cards can be reused after a short cooling time. You can therefore use your entire deck several times in one match. And for the first time, you’ll be happy to get duplicates since all extra cards will be transformed in experience points and allow you to boost your characters’ HP and the weapons’ power. With a total of 821 different cards, the collection is vast and can keep you busy for some time. The only drawback of this system is that sometimes the cards are more efficient than shooting, which is contradictory to the central idea of the game.

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Senran Kagura being what it is, the competition will deliver its deal of risqué scenes. The kune kune finish replaces the puru puru finish in Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash : it’s about sprinkling water at maximum pressure on a KO girl to take off one part of her bikini. The game doesn’t falter on the fan-service it wants to deliver, and also the kinky angles of the defeat poses. Costume break is still on the menu, and now you have a selection of costumes that can get wet to see through them.

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Among the good surprises, you can now who you want to see as shop clerk in the in-game costume & accessory shop. The amount of fan-service clearly doesn’t disappoint, even though it’s less varied than in the previous game, and graphics & animation benefit from the PS4 exclusivity (richer animation and far more effects on the screen).

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The Georama allows you to make very fun, cute, but also very hot scenes thanks to the numerous poses and accessories. But the changing room mode is where we come to miss PSVita as the touching loses all the fun despite the fresh sprinkling.

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Like any shooter, Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash include online multiplayer. There are two main parts : cooperation and competition. The survival mode can unite up to six players who’ll have to protect bases against 50 enemy waves. It gets real hard at wave 30, so you’d better build solid teamplay to repel increasingly resistant foes. That’s when you can take advantage of the nure power-up : when allies splash you, you can benefit from an aura that allows you to fire (water?) at will without the need of refilling.

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In competitive ranked matches, the multiplayer get a lot less fun. Battles are 5 vs 5 players and include domination, team deathmatch and now capture the flag. The problem is that everyone has lvl 10 characters and weapons, so you don’t stand a chance unless you’ve grinded quite some time in solo play. Maps are rather tiny and movement very fast, so it gets very confusing most of the time, making it difficult to achieve anything. Weapon and card balance is still wobbly, so it’s not as accessible as the producer promised. Matchmaking isn’t very effective, taking long minutes to find players. Finally, lag is still bothering on 1.07, thing that didn’t happen in Estival Versus. So the competitive side isn’t living up to today’s FPS standards.

Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash was a risky project giving its unexpected genre, but Kenichirô Takaki manages to establish a wonderful compromise between TPS and the Senran Kagura spirit. Despite the poor story, the successful conciliation of lavish fan service, fast-paced gameplay, high-end visuals and traditional TPS features guarantees a lot of fun for series fans. A shame that the multiplayers remains a half-full glass, but solo play has everything you need for enjoyment.

Review – Tokyo Xanadu

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In the long list of Falcom’s action-RPGs since the 80’s, I find names like Ys, Brandish, and the more discreet Xanadu. Distant successor, Tokyo Xanadu drops the heroic-fantasy of its ancestor to deal with urban legends in more contemporaneous anime style.

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Kô is your average high schooler, spending his time between school and part-time jobs. Not very passionate about anything, he lives with the memory of the giant earthquake that shook Tokyo 10 years before. This very day, he and his childhood friend Shiori saw large red mark in the sky. This trauma will soon haunt him again as one day Shiori vanishes in another dimension. From there, a mysterious girl called Asuka appears before him and reveals the existence of a menace from a parallel universe. The disaster 10 years ago was no quake, and Asuka urges Kô to help her prevent it from happening again.

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Tokyo Xanadu has a Persona-like progression system. The game is strictly divided into different phases coming on a regular basis : main story, main dungeon and free time for preparation and distraction. Falcom has put efforts in the narrative and it makes significant progress : every chapter introduces a character and goes in depth about his background and personality, exactly what you’d see in a good anime series. Thanks to this rigorous story-telling, all characters have equal importance and there’s no shallow or underrated character. Every one of them has a clear role, a real importance in the narrative as a whole and all get their time to shine.

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All the side narratives have some meaning in them, sometimes very strong and emotional : Rion’s past brought me to tears. On the other hand, Sora’s troubles for example felt a bit flat. But anyway, the title is packed with emotions and should captivate you increasingly more as you progress. Lots of side quests are also touching, many of them referring family as a general theme in a very mature way. The end the main narrative is truly tragic, unless you manage to get the true end. In short, Tokyo Xanadu is simply humane, beautifully.

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Leisure parts allow you to wander in an imaginary Tachikawa, deepen your relations with other characters or dive into annex dungeons in order to collect materials. You’ll even go at the butcher’s or the greengrocer’s to buy ingredients, because cooking exist in Tokyo Xanadu just like in Trails of Cold Steel II. Like the latter, each character has his/her favorite meals and you’ll have to choose your cook accordingly. The game also includes several mini-games like fishing or the card game here again from Legend of Heroes. Falcom adds a sort of dexterity game based on Alisa (from Trails of Cold Steel again) disguised as a magical girl.

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Battles look like a standard action-RPG like Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy Type-0. There’s a base combo on square, a charged blow on triangle and a long distance attack on circle. You can bring up to 3 characters in a dungeon, the basic principle being to swap between them in order to strike enemies on their weak element, or to let one recover HP. That’s for theory. Actually, the game is a little too easy : the greeds (that’s how you call monsters in this game) neither are very solid, very fast, nor are there a lot of them, so Tokyo Xanadu doesn’t provide that exhilarating feeling that action-RPGs should. The slowness of enemies is especially to blame : you can chain an entire combo between the moment they announce their attack and when they actually strike! Besides, Sora’s charged attack can OHKO most monsters. Is that because Trails of Cold Steel II was felt too hard? In any case, Falcom considerably diminished the challenge for this one.

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The 8 characters have their own fighting style and a personal Soul Device (how you call weapons in this game), which guarantees a nice variety of gameplay. Asuka si your classic JRPG swordswoman, nimble and forceful. Kô stands out with his whip sword of good reach. Sora excels in power and speed, while Shio moves more slowly but can cover a larger area. Those two should really have got a nerf because they can crush everything on their path without problem. The most technical character remains Mitsuki : the head of the student council can deploy a shield that can protect her and at the same time damage opponents. She can thus block hostiles but also deal a decisive blow when activated at the right time.

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Like often, boss battles are the most exciting. In difficult mode, dungeons are still piece of cake but bosses become more dangerous. Let’s stress that you can tweak difficulty any time form easy to difficult, another gesture from the developer to non-experts. A Nightmare mode exists but it cannot be modified afterwards. Your risk. Either way, in high difficulty later Elder Greeds are really unpredictable and require skillfulness, which makes extremely enjoyable fights, all the more intense that they weigh heavily in the story.

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Like in Trails of Cold Steel II, you’ll spend a lot of time strengthening your Soul Devices. Tokyo Xanadu borrows the quartz system from Falcom’s other franchise, so it’s definitely convenient for Falcom fans. Those little spheres are to be placed on the grid symbolizing the Soul Device in order to boost HP, strength, defense, etc, and S-Rare quartz grant special effects like absorbing HP or increasing damage when your HP are full (absolutely devastating when used on Sora).

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You can change the Master Quartz of any Soul Device in order to modify its natural element and its specialization (physical or magical). This is especially important since enemies and their characteristics are announced before starting a dungeon : you need to gather a team that can strike every weakness. Kô, as he’s locked in the team for most part, will have access to any element. Also, you’ll be able to improve the grid itself so as to unlock passive skills : resist KO, support an ally or chaining X-Strikes.

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Technically, the developer delivers quite a good work with Tokyo Xanadu. The 3D engine is very similar to Legend of Heroes on the same system, but we you look at it well, it has been improved because the modeling appears sharper. More than that, animation is impressive as it runs perfectly without any frame-rate drop, something difficult to achieve on a handheld. Falcom doesn’t forget to make it spectacular, with lavish X-Strikes and a diverse, immersive and stirring. Dungeons, however, did look very average.

Climax of Falcom’s efforts to make story-telling a great part of the experience, Tokyo Xanadu is a fine JRPG in all aspects. The flawless balance in its scenario and characters bring variety in entertainment, key part of a great JRPG. Its only mistake, in the end, is to fail to provide sufficient challenge. Big mistake or not? Everyone will have his opinion on that.

Review – Mary Skelter Nightmares

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How to renew Dungeon-RPG? In a genre fairly common on handheld due to its low profitability threshold, we might come to think we’ve seen everything. But here comes Compile Heart, determined to bring some changes in a now classic gameplay frame with Mary Skelter Nightmares.

Mary Skelter Nightmares takes place in a town that has slumped 666 meter underground. The cause of this disaster is an eerie tower that has sprouted from nowhere, unleashing countless fiends called Märchen (pronounce merhen) that capture inhabitants and torture them in the dark building. Jack and Alice are two of those prisoners waiting for their turn in anguish, until a young girl member of the local resistance, the Reimei, helps them evade what some already call Jail. After generations struggling to get rid of the Märchen, humans finally got their trump card : the Keshiki Shôjo, girls of unbelievable strength capable of slaughtering Märchen. With Alice, the group is large enough for the resistance to carry out its long-lasting plan : reach the surface through Jail.

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Although fragmented (because told between extremely long dungeons), Mary Skelter Nightmares’s narrative felt more interesting than your average Compile Heart plot. Given that the IP gave birth to two novelizations, you’d expect no less. It manages to create a suspense in which every character around you seems suspect. Dialogs also were more interesting than usual since it has a somewhat dark atmosphere full of suspicion that fits the horrible story. You can’t help being disappointed by the ending though, very unsurprising for a scenario that definitively had potential to impress. More than that, the lack of proper epilogue is a huge letdown since the player would expect to learn what happens to the main characters after the end.

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Mary Skelter Nightmares being a “girl game” like they say in Japan, the girls are lot more interesting characters than Jack, himself being being a perfect example of weak-minded hero always walked all over by the chicks. A purposeful gap rife in this kind of game and base of most of the fun dialogs. Girls have some eccentric personality that make all the fun : Kaguya is too lazy to ever do anything, Oyayubihime has acute size-complex and Gretel views everything scientifically but has zero common sense.

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Like in Makai Shin Trillion, each girl has a friend level that goes up when you offer presents. The system however isn’t as nice as in Makai Shin Trillion in which all presents had bizarre and fun designs/descriptions, whereas here they’re just a small written line. Interface is not as good also. As the cleverest of you might have noticed, every of the main characters represents a fairy tale : Alice for Alice in Wonderland, Shirayukihime is the literal translation of Snow White, etc. Quite a lot of anecdotes will be about that.

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But as this is Compile Heart and not Disney, the player has its right to steamy events. At high friend level, the game will provide special illustrations of the heroines, and some aren’t exactly soft. Given Compile’s poor offer recently in that matter, it’s rather satisfying despite the feeble quantity (quite less artworks than usual for the publisher).

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But all this is nothing compared the extra-lewd (but not mandatory) mini-game invented by Compile Heart for its newest RPG. It consists in wiping Märchen‘s blood off the heroine’s body by means of Vita’s touchscreen. I’ll spare you the erotic specifics, but it’s clear that Compile’s hardline is back after years of tasteless compromise. Idea Factory International has re-confirmed its intention to leave it is exactly as it is.

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Jail is a living being : your actions will impact its needs. Killing monsters feeds it and walk without picking up a fight allows it to sleep. At a certain satisfaction level, the prison will paradoxically grant you a random bonus like a heal, a buff or an increase in probability to meet the wandering merchant, key-person for your equipment and your relationships because he has the exclusivity of 90% of items in the game! Another point is that the dungeons are insanely large : surface is roughly twice or thrice Moero Chronicle for example. Fortunately, the developers had the wonderful idea of setting teleporters at each floor, which makes the progression quite comfy in the end. Progression that will also put your brain to test by various puzzles (blocks to be moved following more or less complex rules, slippery-floor mazes…) and many traps.

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But the main innovation in Compile’s latest game is fear and panic. Every dungeon is guarded by a Nightmare, large and hideous creature that can take you by surprise at any moment. The Nightmare is invincible : all you can do is drive it back for a short time, after what it will keep hunting you down in the corridors. You must then run away as fast as possible to lose it, without thinking where you’re actually going. Actually, you can’t, because the mini-map is deactivated automatically at this very moment, increasing the risk to run into a dead end! The Nightmare is vulnerable only after you’ve destroyed one of Jail’s hearts, generally hidden deep into the dungeons. You therefore have to progress during hours in anguish before the final confrontation with the Nightmare.

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In terms of gameplay, Mary Skelter Nightmares chooses a job system with various specialties like the Paladin focused on defense, the Blue Mage capable of casting any enemy magic, or the Blood Chemist who regulates the flow of blood in battle. Each job modifies the appearance of the characters with plenty of cool outfits, and we appreciate Nanameda Kei’s design once more in the nicely 2D animated models. The Blood Chemist is the only original job of this game, for it’s at the center of the blood system. Every Märchen beaten spills a certain amount of blood on your team. Once a character receives a certain amount, she’ll switch to Genocide mode, which multiply her power and almost nullifies the MP cost.

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But depending on how tainted the blood is, the character is at risk to activate the Blood Skelter Mode, far less desirable state since the ally become uncontrollable while still powerful enough to wipe out her own team in a flash. That’s where Jack comes in : the hero is placed in a supportive role, just like Ion in Moero Chronicle, and will use his own blood to avoid or cure the Blood Skelter Mode. There is a constant risk-management in this because Jack is liable faint depending on which actions you take.

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Despite introducing all this new gameplay stuff, Compile’s title fails to use it the best way. For example, many jobs grant skills that can target all enemies on the screen and usually allow you to end the fight within 2 or 3 turns. In the end, you’ll end up doing just that while healing yourself time to time. Jobs felt rather unbalanced, with few of them giving a real advantage. No strategy is really needed, as the item dealer can cover you fairly easily, so it’s nowhere as interesting as Moero Chronicle or Dungeon Travelers 2-2 in terms of pure gameplay. Battles remain shallow from back to front, most bosses not being that hard either.

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The only interesting boss fights were the ones taking place on several floors, as you actually need to activate traps to weaken the Nightmare while escaping its assaults and random battles. The flavor of those sequences (only two in the game though) lies in the fact that you can’t open the menu, thus can’t heal yourself between battles, forcing you to get the perfect timing.

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It’s obvious that Compile Heart designed Mary Skelter Nightmares to be more accessible than your average D-RPG : you can save anytime, go back to the base anytime without any limitation, characters are fully healed when leveling up and battles aren’t so frequent. Characters keep all skills from previous jobs, and they can change every ten levels, so it makes a party a little bit overpowered at some point. It can be played relatively easily but not with the same enjoyment as more challenging D-RPGs.

Loaded with nice and innovative stuff, Mary Skelter Nightmares paradoxically gives up on hardcore gameplay to let the player enjoy the new stuff without getting demotivated. The introduction of fear and panic elements, a better storyline, splendid design as well as hardcore ecchi stuff make it quite entertaining despite lengthy dungeons. Good but not perfect, Mary Skelter Nightmares is nevertheless Compile’s best offering this year.

Review – Caligula

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Furyu isn’t giving up. Despite the flop of Lost Dimension, the small publisher signs again on PSVita with a new original RPG with tactical elements. The decent success of Caligula in Japan (50K copies shipped) and the reception of Lost Dimension in the West (freshly released on PC) urges Atlus to bring it to us under the name of The Caligula Effect.

Caligula’s beginning is pretty sudden : the main character finds himself in an unknown school, in the middle of a ceremony where he doesn’t recognize anybody. Startled, he tries to flee but comes across a student with a grotesque face. He quickly understands that he’s not in the real world any more, and will meet a strange group of students calling themselves the kitakubu. Those young men and girls a little cleverer than the rest, aware that this world they are in is pure illusion, are seeking a way to go back to reality. Kitaku litteraly means “going back home” : great pun since kitakubu generally describes students who don’t belong to any school club, thus going back home directly after class.

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Those boys and girls have a special power called Catharsis Effect, metamorphosis that will alter their look almost as much as their enemies. The Catharsis Effect is a symbol of Caligula’s general design, purposely dark because based on layers of grey, all that so as to match with the main themes which are death and illusion. This trance gives them the strength to accomplish their goal : kill μ (pronounce “Mew”), the creator of this false world called Moebius.

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But before reaching μ, you’ll need to defeat the fearsome gakushi who approve this world and help keeping it running by composing music. Μ is a female AI singer who lures students by singing. Every villain, every dungeon has its own music. And not some random music because Caligula is actually making a allegory of Hatsune Miku : every track is made of Vocaloid music. For this, Furyu has made a deal with famous Vocaloid artists like CosMo@暴走P and 蝶々P who had work on Project Diva F. Distorted Happiness by CosMo@暴走P has actually accents close to its Sadistic Music Factory in Project Diva F. That gives to Atlus’s game a powerful soundtrack that makes fights dynamic, notably Sin and Cosmo Dancer. Even more impressively, the lyrics actually fit the personality of the boss. The only black mark on Caligula’s musical record is that it chooses the slowest rhythm at the beginning, which doesn’t help getting into the game.

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But Caligula’s greatest quality is its remarkably well written story. It deals with extremely serious topics (illness, loneliness, professional future…), but the point is the thinking behind it, because Caligula calls out to the player through the debates between the heroes and the gakushi. Those conversations ask relevant questions : do virtual worlds and social networks cut us from reality too much? Is reality necessarily better that fiction? Caligula does an impressive job raising those social issues and it’s fascinating from back to front. Despite the weak graphics, the general direction is clever enough (very good camera work for example) to deliver a great narrative. The somewhat disturbing design here again gives a strong effect to the events, and makes the game unique. You will remember it all your life.

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Like any Persona-like, all our friends have their own story divided in various chapters throughout the game. Those might be side stories, they’re as well told if not better than the main scenario for they include huge surprises and a certain suspense. Like in the rest of the narrative, the clever writing goes along with an equally clever use of humor : the jokes that the characters are throwing at each other are excellent. Beside the main characters, the game allows you to recruit any NPC in your party, feature already used by the developer Aquria for Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment for example. But given those NPCs are duplicates of your own partners in terms of abilities, that option quickly turns out to be meaningless.

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Progression system is where Furyu’s system gets far less impressive. Dungeons come one after another is a very linear way, without any side-quest or activity to unwind. That lack of overall content wouldn’t be bothering if Caligula had interesting dungeons or a good game structure, which is unfortunately not the case. Caligula is in fact a corridor-game plagued with uninspired level design and very unclear maps. Those maps are often nothing more that a long chain of battles before reaching the boss. It’s pretty easy to get lost in those areas, and to lose patience because of the great number of enemies in the tiny corridors. The very last stage is symptomatic of this : it features nearly identical sectors with no clear landmark, driving you crazy in no time. I mean, I’m OK with mazes and searching in JRPGs, but progression here was more tiring than motivating. Tech performance makes things worse because of excessively long loadings, outdated modeling, painful frame-rate and unacceptable freezes for an 1.05 version…

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With such tiresome progression, Caligula had better provide enjoyable fighting. It indeed really succeeds in that department, Furyu giving us here an ATB/turn-based system capable of chaining attacks like you’ve never seen. First important thing : it shows you the future. When choosing your next move, you have an indication of what type of behavior the enemy will take, allowing you to adapt your strategy. Depending on the type of offensive coming, you’ll have to choose from different counters to get the upper hand. Once you’ve started a counterattack, you can build complex combos by throwing opponents in the air (and then use moves with aerial bonuses) or onto the ground (and launch moves effective against downed enemies). On the other hand, the timing to chain powerful moves is tricky and you’ll have to adjust the start of your turn on the ATB line to get your attack bonus. Fortunately, the time stops at this moment so that you can think and decide carefully. By the way, you can stop the action manually anytime if you want to take classy screenshots.

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Last but not least, all enemies have a “risk” level that makes them increasingly dangerous. But it’s first and foremost an important gameplay leverage because your attacks benefit from the risk level of the opponent in front of you : Mifue for example will only be able to use her moves if the enemy is of risk 2,3 or more. Similarly, some overdrive attacks can be used only when the enemy has reached risk level 5, the highest. Building the perfect is thoroughly enjoyable and you never get enough of it, all the more true that the game grants you some little appraisal (Cool, Stylish, etc.) like Devil May Cry in its time. As much as the battle system is brilliant, the challenge isn’t always satisfying as bosses lack aggressiveness. Actually, only groups of enemies are tricky to defeat.

Caligula is as fascinating as it is wobbly in its structure and technics. That’s the kind of game you will inevitably remember for its writing/artistic qualities and innovating features features, despite having raged on the irritating dungeons. A rather good Persona-like all things considered, and a definite step forward for Furyu, who said they are working on that base for a future title.

Review – Summon Night 6 Lost Borders

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Starting with Summon Night 5 released in 2015 in Europe and the Americas, BandaiNamco’s series debuted only recently in the West on… PSP! Sony’s unwavering first handheld thus was the first home of this series of strategy RPGs, which had previously been on home consoles too. Therefore, it lead the way to Summon Night 6, now coming to PS4 and PSVita.

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Summon Night 6’s story opens on Rage’s (yes, that’s his official name) bucolic life. He lives in an closed and barren world called Filuja… of which he’s the only inhabitant! Filuja’s particularity is that stuff continuously rains from the sky, so Rage can make a living with food cans and other resources fallen from nowhere. This monotonous life will end when he finds actual people coming down. Amu, young and quiet girl bearing a large hunting rifle, experiences the same life and events. Before them, a huge white wall, like the surface of a cocoon. With the help of their new partners, they’ll look for a way to find out the truth about the wall, and solve the mysteries of Filuja.

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Amu, Rage and the strange “manager” Yst turn out to be the only new characters of Summon Night 6, because their comrades fallen from the skies all belong to previous episodes of the series. The cast is fairly large tough since the entire Summon Night series turns up for this sixth game. For example, you’ll find Alka from Summon Night 5, Rachel from Summon Night 4 or Natsumi from the very first one among the 30 characters or so. That re-use is hardly an issue for us, because westerners will likely discover all those characters for the first time. The choice offered is more than satisfying and like Fire Emblem, the designs and personalities are varied. Note that in Japan, free DLCs added several secondary characters as playable ones.

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Ragu/Amu will be able to deepen their relationship with other characters via night talk. This has on impact on the end of the story because very character has its own ending provided the friend level with the main character is maxed. This gives Summon Night 6 lots of different endings.

Summon Night 6 Aty

PSVita

On the other hand, Summon Night 6 has countless references to the scenario of past episodes, which implies a good knowledge of the series in a whole. Otherwise, conversations are pretty hard to follow. From the point of view of Summon Night 6, all the previous characters come from worlds that are parallel to Filuja, which can even welcome the same person twice, but of different look and destiny. Misunderstandings are frequent and will lead to many comical situations in the dialogs between the characters.

Summon Night 6 features kilometers of chat, most of the time disconnected from the story and, frankly, not stellar even with the best tolerance you can have. The biggest issue is that very little talk is actually dubbed : most of the (never-ending) dialogs are text only and it can be tiring fairly quickly. So Summon Night 6 kinda looks like a Summon Night All Stars, not very immersive because to main story gets drowned in a flood of idle gossip.

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PS4

The progression is divided into chapters, each one including a battle, very much like Fire Emblem. That’s not the only resemblance with the king of the genre because the battle screen looks exactly the same as the legendary Path of Radiance of the no less great GameCube : characters are represented in 3D on a squared map also involving the height factor. Distance is also a key-element as weapons have various reach (sword, spears, bows, etc.) and magic can be used too. For example, katanas allow you to attack diagonally and prevent the enemy’s counterattack. The game is full of small parameters like this, creating a wide range of possibilities. As in Super Heroine Chronicle for example, the height difference is to be taken into account because it impacts accuracy.

Summon Night 6 summon

PSVita

But the long list of gameplay elements in Summon Night 6 doesn’t end here. In Summon Night, there is Summon and that’s not coincidence. Each character can summon certain creatures to assist him/her. Only way to use elements and cure, those little friends will be increasingly important as difficulty goes up : tough monsters must be attacked with magic and with the right element which supposes analysis and knowledge. Because like weapons, summon stones can be upgraded at the shop for more power.

Summon Night 6 Rachel Aty burst

PSVita

In battle, the summoner can ask nearby characters to assist him and improve the effects of the blow : that’s called Summon Assist. Even better yet, two characters can unite their summons to call a massive and powerful beast : this Summon Burst strikes on a wide zone, which makes it the strongest move in Summon Night 6. Be careful not to hit your other characters though, because friendly fire is activated.

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PS4

After the victory screen, there are still tactical choices to be made. Every time a character destroys an enemy unit (and even more for the last one), he/she earns some SP that allows him/her to learn new active or passive skills. There are lots of skills like that and they have extremely precise and varied roles/effects. By analyzing those effects, you can easily build your own playstyle. For example, Enishia can gradually replenish MP to adjacent allies (something you definitely want to have if you rely on powerful summons). “Connect” allows characters to assist each other for physical attacks, “item throw” allow you to heal distant characters, “counter” saves turns, etc. The choice is even larger because when characters change class, they can use a different weapon which multiply the potential skills he/she can use. With all this, Summon Night 6 is great for those who like micro management.

Summon Night 6 S

PSVita

The game system being that rich, Summon Night 6 would have been among the best S-RPGs if only it hadn’t made some stupid blunders. Difficulty setting is one of them : the challenge is badly distributed in the game, more than half of the chapters being super easy. It’s not uncommon to see your best trained characters taking 1HP damage every turn… in hard mode! The last missions are tougher and thus more interesting, but in a whole it’s not very compelling. Besides, there’s no permadeath and you can swap characters from reserve anytime. The only hardcore element is this : a KO character cannot earn experience. A questionable choice because it affects party balance.

Summon Night 6 battle1

PSVita

The Felistella/Media Vision-developed game suffers from other aspects. The first thing a player does in a S-RPG is to overview the map to assess the situation. That’s where it gets annoying : the camera “blocks” around 90° when you try to turn it. There’s just no way to see the map from the desired angle! That might be seen as a detail, but it’s really bothering in actual gameplay. Combat interface could be better, moving and choosing various actions not being very intuitive. Moving distance is also too low, creating bottlenecks within the group.

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PS4

Summon Night 6 features some mini-games and secondary activities. Fishing is available and fairly complete with various baits to use. Cooking can keep you busy also, provided you can get ingredients (since they’re pretty rare). Side missions will have you form groups of 3 characters thrown into some sort of survival mode in which they face waves of enemies. It’s a convenient way to get experience, except that here you don’t control the party members : the IA fights on its own, the important thing being to choose allies whose element will have the advantage.

Summon Night 6

PSVita

Of a design very much like old Fire Emblem, Summon Night 6 is visually stunning on PSVita : frame-rate and animation never waver, graphically it’s clean and detailed, characters look absolutely wonderful for a portable game. The game is strictly the same on PS4, so this version isn’t very interesting comparatively unless you want to record your gameplay. The sound environment is uneven : sound effects are way to discreet to liven up the atmosphere, but some musics are very cool, like the victory themes or the 3 village melodies.

Benefiting from a rich battle system and a great casting, Summon Night 6 could have been a reference in its genre had the story and challenge been more compelling. Beautiful, but not always passionate, it can still be attractive for fans of the genre for its design and its unit management.

Review – A Rose in the Twilight

ROCT

Nippon Ichi Software, or NIS, is not done creating dark and bloody universes. After an outstanding Yomawari, the niche publisher seeks the same success with A Rose in the Twilight. Can this one avoid the drawbacks of the very frustrating Firefly Diary?

You play as Rose, a young girl whose past is unknown, in a 2D puzzle game much like The Firefly Diary. She awakes alone in an abandoned castle and finds herself victim or the Thorn Curse, which in return gives her special powers. Several notes you can pick up on your way tells the history of this curse as the previous cursed person lived it. The story is thoughtfully dark and pessimistic, which prepares the player for the horrific atmosphere.

A Rose in the Twilight blood

Rose can thus do two things : stop time for one object by sucking blood, or make time flow again by granting it. In actual terms, that means stopping a falling rock, make a key fall, etc. Also, she can stop an enemy’s movements and have it move again when useful. She can bear only one «stock» in the rose on her back, so you need to think well about where to release it. In case you’re stuck (which inevitably happens), Rose can simply commit suicide so as to respawn at the last checkpoint. Yes, that’s the kind of atmosphere…

A Rose in the Twilight giant b

While wandering in the castle, Rose will meet a Titan. But this one won’t attack and even offers to help the child to get out of the place. That’s where you get to see the true gameplay of Rose and the Castle of Twilight, because Rose and the giant are essential to each other. It will be able to carry Rose to help her go through traps unscathed, or throw (!) her towards higher ground. It can also carry heavy objects in order to take them out of the path, or place them to create it. Unlike Rose who’ll die at the first contact with an enemy or a hazard, the giant is invincible and can go far deep in the level to bring back stuff or push switches. To make it more complicated, Rose and her big pal must be together to exit a zone.

A Rose in the Twilight books

A Rose in the Twilight features a large array of puzzles, varied and of increasing complexity. There’s nothing obvious and you’ll often have to consider the problem from different angles. In short, think out of the box. The game never feels repetitive because it constantly adds new elements to think about : the watering can make plants grow and stimulates insects, the canon clears the path, barrels can be either a weapon or a hiding place… You’ll also be challenged in filling paintings according to various rules, or placing books in order following some far fetched narrative.

A Rose in the Twilight giant

Fortunately, the gameplay is lot more precise than The Firefly Diary : the unbearable inertia is gone, and the fact that you control both characters independently (you switch simply by pressing R) prevents any frustration. Yet it’s not perfect since the controls have some issues. Square is used for almost everything, which brings confusion. For example, the giant pick up Rose with square, but the same button is used to throw her whereas it is circle to just put her on the ground. In those conditions, the player is likely to throw her when not wanted, and sometimes a bit too far… This problem applies to objects : I’ve already sent a bench in her face by accident! Another small problem lies in the “moving” sequences (while sliding or on moving platforms) because the jump command is not always very comfortable to use. Still, the general gameplay is definitely a huge improvement compared to the previous game.

A Rose in the Twilight hanging

This game is sinister. It is even darker than Yomawari. A Rose in the Twilight revolves around themes like death, suffering, exclusion… It’s actually an experience of constant death, Rose being trapped by the curse in the life & death cycle. This focus on dark themes makes NIS’s new game an truly unique but wicked experience, without being negative. The progression also has the suspense and the fear of the unknown which was so terrific in Yomawari. The discreet music lets hear the sound of your steps in a quite eerie manner. The design, as usual with NIS, is astonishing by the contrast between bright red and grey. The interface is one more very well designed, the environments have something hooking into them, the rendering on OLED is perfect (quite superior to the previous games) and the animation is lively.

Rose flashback

As much as it’s dark, A Rose in the Twilight keeps an emotional touch just like Yomawari. There are those flashbacks that tell you the background of the story, some being very sad or disturbing. For that you’ll have to find pools of blood hidden in the stages, sort of long sidequest throughout the game. The ending part was truly remarkable, as it as two possible conclusions, one of which being downright cruel. Consequently, the road to the good ending was absolutely thrilling.

After Yomawari, Nippon Ichi Software is still at its best in A Rose in the Twilight. The design still unique, the atmosphere still great, the emotions still lively… It’s again outstanding art, but also an excellent (although short) puzzle game.