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.

Tokyo Xanadu story

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 – MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies

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Both unbalanced and limited in its gameplay, Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed had quite some room for improvement, to be used to make a solid sequel. Hence comes MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies and its hazardous wording, sadly presaging the errors of the game.

Even though Compile Heart denies it, MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies very much looks like Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed’s sequel. This episode focused on Blanc, winner of the lastest poll, is supposed to be a different experience. We put little credit in that after seeing the graphical/gameplay assets exactly identical to Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed. The publisher stressed the school environment, Neptune and the other goddesses living their adventures on a campus this time. Nothing new, this has been developed in Neptunia light novels before. But while the novels exhaustively illustrates the school theme, this game does it poorly and it looks like a simple skin. Vert is president of the school council, Noire being the deputy-chief… each character has a set role, but the very short dialog doesn’t really tell you more.

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The story won’t raise the interest : Neptune, president and only member of the movie club, intends to shoot a hit movie to save the school. For the scenario of the movie, she asks Blanc, although her writing skills haven’t improved. Ironically enough, the characters are shooting a B-movie in what turns out to be a B game… the overall story and dialog show that Compile and Tamsoft ran out of ideas, having even lost their sense of humor. While Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed had a real logic in its narrative which made it fun to follow, nothing of the sort in this sequel whose story goes nowhere. The characters join the group without any transition, making it clear that the developer wanted to rush the work.

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On the gameplay side, it’s still an action-RPG with numerous enemies on the screen, but they’ve been zombified this time. Again, this idea has been taken form another Neptunia light novel. Your progression will once more depend on your level and your equipment, but this time you can place temporary devices to boost your stats for one mission. Another novelty, you now manage your statistics manually : up to you to set your skill points in order to improve your attack, defense or get more combos. Difficulty has gone up, which was the right thing to do BUT update 1.01 erased that and ruined the battles that had been tough and technical so far. The movesets of the characters haven’t really changed. We just notice the introduction of a charged attack on triangle, which, strangely enough, is not for everyone. Hence, the old characters have less appeal comparatively to the new ones.

Those new characters underline again the incredible graphics of this game, which are among the best ever on a portable device. The modeling is still near perfect and animation is even better with the new characters. Once again, we can delightfully capture it thanks to the brilliant photo mode.

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Although using a megaphone in Megadimension Neptunia VII, Uzume will also rely on her fists to face the enemy. Her boxing skills are rather convincing, and you can modulate the power of each blow to adapt the situation. Her goddess form is lot more fast and re-focuses and the megaphone.

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Famous schizophrenic, Plutia doesn’t act or move very fast in her human form, but gains extraordinary mobility in her goddess form. Iris Heart seems to have been created for this game. Her combos are exhilarating to perform and use her whip-sword a lot more than in Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. The unimaginable trajectories it takes makes it wonderful to play and see.

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Pishe feels quite useless in human form as her reach is perfectly ridiculous. The player will surely focus on Yellow Heart, whose maneuverability and speed parameters only equal her boobs size. She’s fairly efficient in melee combat, but only in one to one by doing hit&run.

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Tamsoft, who personifies the developer, is a purely human character and thus has no goddess form. She merely gets a power-up and some samurai armor parts. That said, she’s the best swordswoman of the game by far given her numerous, varied and very impressive combos, not to mention a dream-like power/reach compromise.

We do notice a clear lack of polish in this newest episode, along with the withdrawal of certain elements for no reason. First of all, the interface looks cheap as hell, including blatantly out-of-fashion menus and irritating loadings when browsing within the preparation menu. This sequel does add some artworks (we didn’t have any in the former game), but if only it had been done correctly… No, the (scarce) images are hidden deep within the chapters and can be unlocked only by choosing the right pair of characters at the right moment. That means roughly 1% chance each time. Despite the vague clues and without a clear walkthrough, this would take weeks…

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The victory screen (which was perfect before) has disappeared for some reason to leave room for some unappealing recap. But this loss is nothing compared the astonishing lack of costume break in this game, whereas it was the bloody main point of Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed! Again, no explanation was given for this unbelievable decision. Compile Heart did offer already torn outfits in a desperate gesture in 1.01, the unthinkable had been done : Idea Factory has caved in to SJWs and the prospects of a politically correct business, and the very common school uniforms certainly won’t make up for that. Forget also about any serious postgame content : there is nothing such as Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed’s Neptral Tower or Budokai mode. In fact there’s nothing to do after the short and lackluster story.

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Nothing? Not exactly. MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies is the first entry in the series having an online multiplayer mode, in which fans will be able to hunt monsters together. Unlike the rest of the game, it turned out to be quite exhaustive and practical to use. It also feature the only good new music track of the game, EXistence. No framerate drop to report, the game is as seamless as in solo, and the opponents are considerably stronger. Several giant monsters are actually exclusive to this coop mode, and provide a challenge much more exciting than most of the solo part. Besides, a mini-chat allows you to communicate with your partners through the characters. All the party members in multiplayer mode are unlocked from the start, and you can also use infinite goddess form, which is pretty nice.

Far from being the expected evolution of Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed, MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies is a sequel that misses the mark by a mile, removing things more than it adds and giving the series a undesired trajectory. It’s nevertheless still as beautiful as ever, now playable with friends, so fans might want pick it to enjoy the nice new characters.

Review – Nights of Azure

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Night or not Night? That is the question with Nights of Azure, the western version of Yoru no nai Kuni, which meant “Nightless Country”. Nights of Azure takes back the night in its title, but its goal remains unchanged : amidst the weakening of the Atelier brand, Gust and KoeiTecmo want a new trump card in the JRPG market.

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The story of Nights of Azure, how much full of lore it may seem, is actually a lot more simple than it wants to look like. The world is in danger due to the likely resurrection of the Night Spirit, which would bring the Eternal Night and thus, the end of all life forms. Arnice is an agent of the Church sent to Luthwal in order to protect Lulitith, a saint expected to renew the seal that keeps the Night Spirit away from the living world. But in fact, the two young girls are more than friends and don’t accept that each other would risk her life for her lover. That immediately puts in perspective the big theme of Nights of Azure : yuri, as known as the passionate love between girls. That said, this is probably not the most interesting aspect of the game, the love element being tackled too lightly and the inevitable argument scenes are too awkward for the whole thing to be really moving.

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We however do appreciate the particular atmosphere of Night of Azure which combines mystery and straight humor. The duo composed of Lloyd and professor Arukado introduces a sort of comedia del arte parallel to the main story. Those two can never agree and argue all the time, getting on Arnice’s nerves with their fishy stories and requests. Lulitith, naive and unable to cook, is quite fun as well. Beside that, Nights of Azure is surrounded with suspense and various mysteries like Arnice’s elusive «Brother» and the shady pope giving conflicting instructions. The Gothic design and the ominous music are key in the bizarre but yet appealing world of Nights of Azure which sends you in very unexpected places like a carnival, a museum or an opera. The final battle ends the game a very clever twist that reverse the point of view developed so far and give a brilliant morale to the story.

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With Nights of Azure, Gust is pioneering new frontiers since that’s its first Action-RPG, instead of the turn-based ones the developer is used to. Arnice possesses 5 different weapons that will be gradually available : a long sword, a long katana as impressive as Sephiroth’s Masamune, dual blades, a mini-gun and a war hammer. The firearm excluded, each of those has a unique combo, the finish of which is decided by the number of inputs. There’s also a special attack far more powerful than average and of greater reach for each weapon : when equipped with the dual blades, Arnice will unleash a high-density sphere of energy, while the war hammer will just sweep everything around her. Although it’s interesting to switch between those weapons to take advantage of their specifications depending on the combat situation, your actions horribly lack punch and the standard battles soon get a tad boring. Besides and despite the various camera angles including a very far one, the readability of the battlefield is far from perfect. Consequently, Nights of Azure delivers a gameplay that is generally not precise enough, not intense enough and not immersive enough for an action game. It doesn’t feel «powerful», it’s slack and easy for most part so hard to be fully satisfied after playing games like Senran Kagura Estival Versus or Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. Let’s also stress that the stage are done in limited time, though it’s hardly a challenge : the time margin is quite comfortable and you soon don’t pay attention to the clock anymore.

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Fortunately, the gameplay of Nights of Azure is little more than that and brings some innovation. Arnice will be supported by 4 demons called Servants all the time. Those ones will attack the same group of ennemies as Arnice, unless she gives other orders like regrouping or launching their own special attack. There are around 30 different familiars to collect in the game, and they are divided between specialists such as healer, attacker, magic user, defenser, jammer, etc. Up to you to build balanced teams for your sorties in the inhospitable night, knowing that Servants do level up too and that some grinding will be necessary for the newcomers as they do take hits. Servants are obtained via rare drops by monsters or by acquiring them at itinerant merchants spread here and there in the dungeons. But those ones don’t take gold, only Blue Blood. This resource is obtained in more or less great quantities after any fight. The Blue Blood is central in Nights of Azure since it’s also needed for the Servants to materialize and it will also serve as experience points for Arnice to level up! You probably got the picture, the Blue Blood rat race has only begun and it will be long.

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Last but no least, Arnice can transform herself into a strange creature for a short time when the gauge is filled. Here again, you’ll have to choose depending on your battle strategy. The Armor form boasts considerable attack and defense but slows Arnice down a lot. On the contrary, the Rabbit form is extra fast and can chain combos relentlessly on a wide area. The Phantom form is very particular because it has nearly no offensive capability, but on the other hand it can heal the Servants and speed up their MP recovery. Again, your monster deck will be key since its composition will decide on which demon form applies for Arnice. Each Servant has affinity points with a form in particular, and you need a minimum of 10 points to validate a metamorphosis for Arnice. When you’ve unlocked everything, you can bring with you 4 groups of 4 servants, so you can have as many different transformations available if you’re well-organized.

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The bosses in Nights of Azure will regularly wake the player up as the common battles will have thrown him in deep slumber. Gust has indeed prepared wacky and sometimes exhilarating confrontations of outstanding direction with a few surprises that’ll make you startle. Those boss themes are absolutely great and complete an already fantastic soundtrack, in which we expected no less from Gust who always deliver quality I music. Let’s have a special mention for the final boss, throughfully tough and intense fight demanding an iron-clad preparation from the player, but also extreme responsiveness and endurance. The best final boss in a long time. This is however the only strong point of Nights of Azure when it comes to pure gameplay, the side missions always asking you to kill some type of monster or going from A to B. The post-game content is a lot more exciting, with some more hard bosses. With most of the side stories completed, I cleared Nights of Azure in roughly 20 hours, which is lower than JRPGs average.

If Nights of Azure represents a interesting incursion of Gust in the sphere of Action-RPGs, its general lack of intensity will make it fade in comparison to the best in the genre. The art design and the music are still worth your while, as well as its dramatic ending.