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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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.

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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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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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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.

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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.

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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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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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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 – 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

Review – Cyberdimension Neptunia 4 Goddess Online

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I had been exactly 1 year, 2 months and 2 weeks since Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls when Cyberdimension Neptunia 4 Goddess Online hits Japanese shelves last February. Compile Heart had declared in April 2016 that this time they would take their time and not disappoint. 1 year later, what’s left of that promise? Not much I’m afraid…

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For that 2nd PS4 exclusive, Compile takes a similar approach to Hyperdimension Neptune U, which means a action-RPG spin-off that tells a small parallel story to the main episodes. In this one, Neptune, Blanc, Vert and Noire are testing a VR MMO, the famous Four Goddess Online played by Vert in the main series. For that, Cyberdimension Neptunia has little story focus, despite the hacking part which slightly bolstered the interest. In the end, the narrative had little surprise and very flat story-telling.

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The city is where you’ll chat with all the characters. That’s the place where all the funny things happen via chatting here and there. You’ll make acquaintance with Kiria & Kuronekohime, two lovers intending to clear the game before Neptune’s party. The reference made to Reki Kawahara’s universes is pretty clear and there are some cool Easter Eggs to Sword Art Online, plus some clever jokes like confession part in the cathedral or Uzume’s strange pet. But in terms of overall side content, it was light and somewhat boring. Some anecdotes were very strange, not to say embarrassing like Vert’s tea lectures. I’m still wonder how we came from console wars to tea… That felt horribly out of place, sign that no interesting renewal has been found for the series.

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Characters were notably under-used : Kiria & Kuronekohime vanish at mid-game and personally I’d have wanted further story development for Mein who has been the most sympathetic new girl. It is quite striking to notice that Cyberdimension Neptunia is the first episode that does not introduce a new playable character. The 4 little sisters quickly join your party, followed by Purple Heart, Black Heart, Green Heart and White Heart who are separate characters in this title. That makes a somewhat underwhelming total of 12 playable characters when recent episodes did much better on that.

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But as far as I’m concerned, the most disheartening side is that there are few illustrations, most of them not that fantastic. It’s pretty, but bland. Tsunako’s talent is misused and you could sense that in the interview just before release. Cyberdimension Neptunia is at the end of a political process aimed at watering down the experience by removing fan-service as much as possible to make it some classic kawaii JRPG. But in doing this, the series is just becoming shallower and fades in comparison to Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash for example. Here again, that goes against what had been said in the April 2016 interview : it’s clear that there is nothing to expect anymore.

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Funny to notice that after April 2016, official speech focuses on only one thing : Unreal Engine 4. Compile had promised a revolution thanks to the powerful engine. In a way, it’s a success : Cyberdimension Neptunia is definitely seamless compared to past episodes, to the point you really feel the series has made a step forward. Movements so quick that you have to re-learn how to play. It’s a real pleasure to witness the Neptunia universe running at 60 fps. Special effects and lightning effects have also improved a lot, and some character (not all) models seems sharper than before. However, environments still looks pretty barren, and maps are somewhat tiny. Level design is bad and exploration is absent. Once again, we’re far from what Megadimension Neptunia VII had offered in that department.

It’s a game in a game, so the characters get fixed jobs inspired by classical RPG, that are different to what you’ve been accustomed to : Noire is Black Knight and fights now with a spear, Rom and Ram become respectively Samurai and Ninja, and therefore fight head to head against monsters. All characters can equip 4 skills or magic spells, which you choose via the rear buttons, just like in Dragon Quest Heroes for example. Those are pretty much welcome to complete the one and only combo available per character, first sign of shallow gameplay. Locking proved very unstable and unable to give a clear sight in battle. Dodging is totally ineffective, but there’s a reason for that : Cyberdimension Neptunia’s gameplay is based on guard & counter. Hitting after a successful guard trigger a counterattack, something that quickly becomes natural all game long.

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The problem is that it produces a static and lackluster battle system. There player may be bored quickly by such lack of variety, another problem being the low challenge. You have a whole second to launch your counterattack, enemies are weak, brainless and your own characters gain experience and levels at breakneck pace. There aren’t many enemies on the map either, so you don’t have the same enjoyment as the PSVita action games.

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Bosses are considerably rehashed within the game, and show poor battle patterns. Game over doesn’t even exist. So in the gameplay department alone, Cyberdimension Neptunia seems a major failure to me, only the final being tough enough to bring some fever.

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The lack of care in the development is obvious when you look at the general picture. As unbelievable as it may sound, the live 2D, which was born with the series, is out : 2D models are sadly fixed and lip sync is nowhere to be seen either. The use of Unreal Engine 4 didn’t go very far. Cut-scenes are rare (2 or 3 tops) and fail to impress too. Photo mode doesn’t stop the action, so a lot less good than the one in MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombie Army. The multiplayer has been simply dreadful since only the room host could benefit from correct frame-rate. It took Compile and Tamsoft about 30 days to address this problem among other bugs. Far too late : a game that can be platted within 30-40 hours doesn’t last you one month…

1 year for this?”. That’s what I wondered while watching the end credits of Cyberdimension Neptunia. Despite the unquestionable graphical improvements, we find ourselves with an episode delivering very little in every other aspect instead of tackling long-lasting drawbacks. A game of a series that has lost its true self, with insufficient volume, and that ultimately come to remind us that graphics alone don’t make a great game.

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.

Tokyo Xanadu side

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.

Tokyo Xanadu leisure a

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.

Tokyo Xanadu battle xa

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.

Tokyo Xanadu Mitsuki

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.

Tokyo Xanadu boss

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.

Tokyo Xanadu Mitsuki menu

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).

Tokyo Xanadu dungeon a

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.

Tokyo Xanadu dungeon.jpg

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

Blanc vs Zombies Noire header

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.

Blanc vs Zombies story xa

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.

Blanc vs Zombies Vert av

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.

Uzume ar

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.

Blanc vs Zombies Iris Heart xa

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.

Blanc vs Zombies Yellow Heart xa

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.

Blanc vs Zombies Tamsoft xa

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…

Blanc vs Zombies Noire

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.

Blanc vs Zombies multiplayer xa

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.