Review – Fate Extella

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Extremely large media mix IP, Fate has gone into anime, visual novels & mangas. But it of course doesn’t fail to visit the gaming business to meet the demand for more interactivity. So after Fate Extra and Fate Extra CCC on PSP, it’s the turn of Fate Extella on PSVita.

Fate GO, Fate Zero, Fate Extra, Fate Stay Night, Fate Apocrypha, Fate Kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya… Not always easy to get facts right in the sprawling Fate universe. The aim of Fate Extella is thus very simple : to offer an action game picking charismatic characters in all those sub-IPs so that fans can play as their favorite characters. Altella and Elizabeth come from the smartphone game Fate Grand Order, No Name Archer is well-known for being Rin Tôsaka’s servant in Ufotable’s anime adaptation of Fate Stay Night, and Nero & Tamamo come from the previous PSP games. In Fate’s lore, some humans called magi or masters can summon the spirits of past heroes, reincarnated into powerful servants. You are to expect the evil Roman emperor Nero as a extrovert Blond girl, Attila as a tsundere girl and, more in line with history, Alexander the Great as an old and bold king. That’s a total of 16 playable characters in Fate Extella, with both handsome men and sexy girls. So no one gets left behind here.

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Fate Extella’s story happens after Fate Extra and Fate Extra CCC : the Holy Grail War is over and your main character is already crowned king of SE.RA.PH, virtual domain set by the Moon Cell, itself a central system measuring and controlling activity on Earth. The main character first appears with his/her servant Nero Claudius, who de facto become regent of SE.RA.PH. Their reign however won’t be peaceful as Tamamo No Mae, another servant from the Holy Grail War, starts invading their territory.

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Altella, another spirit, will barge in this struggle to power not to conquer, but to destroy all. This particular event foretells greater trials for the servants, which go beyond the Holy Grail War. Each of the three has a team involving other heroes, so Fate Extella shares out good and evil a bit like Dissidia does for Final Fantasy. The player is invited to experience the story from the three different points of view, three alternate futures that shall lead to an ideal fate in the lovable true end.

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Likable on its principles, the story of Fate Extella is a little less exciting in the way it’s told : its structure is basically repetitive and vary only in the very last chapter, which is more interesting to follow. But before it, you can’t help thinking you’re doing the same game 3 times with 3 different characters. Note that purely narrative part are quite long (you often spend more time between chapters than playing) with lots of raw text in the middle of dialogs. In doing so, Fate Extella gets back to its roots of visual novel, even at risk of annoying players eager to enter the fray. It remains that those sequences have a strong poetic tone and excellent writing. A good read, but here again they could have made it more concise.

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Besides that, dialogs still a have a strong sense of humor : driven by their unstoppable love for the main character and their own rivalry, Nero and Tamamo will keep making a fool of each other or come up with hilarious strange words. Their behavior is clearly over-the-top and lives up to the craziest JRPGs. Strangely, this wacky talk balanced by very sophisticated language, with complex use of Japanese kanjis and rare vocabulary. Once more, the redundancy of situations can be boring.

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The combat area in Fate Extella is divided in several little sectors. The rules are pretty simple : you have to take a set number of sectors to make the boss appear. Once you’ve defeated him, the level is cleared. To make a sector your own, you first have to sweep dozens of basic (but sometimes threatening) enemies to make “aggressors” come down. Those much tougher entities are the guardians of the sector : you have to destroy three or more to secure the sector.

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But that is easier said than done, because the opposing side isn’t going to stay idle while you march on its soil. Foes counterattack at every occasion, harass your sectors relentlessly and can even invade them from afar by devices called “plants”. Those strange UFOs can indeed send enemy troops from and to any part of map. You therefore have to eliminate them in priority, even it that means going all the way to the other side of the map. Thanks to those powerful means, opponents progress very quickly and your sectors are in a constant state of hemorrhage. Besides, enemy heroes will regularly stand on your way, slowing you down. Fate Extella is an action game with permanent pressure, because you always play on the brink of defeat! The game won’t even hesitate to throw you on map controlled 90% by the enemy, where surrender is a question of minutes! Up to the player to rush towards key-sectors and unleash his fighting spirit. Sensation are guaranteed.

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Your arsenal of combos rely on variations of square and triangle buttons, a bit like Senran Kagura Estival Versus in fact. The good thing is that it ensure a good variety in gameplay while keeping the game very accessible. The same pattern being applied to every character, you can switch between stories without having to learn everything again. However, the three main heroines do have a fighting style of their own : Nero prefers shield/sword combos, Tamamo casts fire/ice/wind spells, while Altella boasts the most impressive combos with her polymorphic rainbow blade. To allow faster progression, each character has 3 trump cards.

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Extella maneuver is a series of blows targeting every foe in the vicinity : it’s useful to take out several aggressors at the same time. Moondrive is a transformation that makes you temporarily invincible and the hôgu, the most powerful capacity and the one that makes the most impressive cut-scenes, blows everything in a sector. Even if you master the use of those abilities, victory is far from certain but you do keep the experience gained after losing. This way, missions become gradually less difficult, so that no one gets stuck. The boss characters, of seriously dumb AI, are still extremely disappointing. On the minus side, changing characters in the story is very limited, since you can switch to the current lieutenant and no one else. A bit of variety would have been welcomed here.

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So we’re definitely happy to have side-stories for every character. «Story» might be a little exaggerated since the actual scenario is thin. Elizabeth’s stands out though, because her story is really fun and draws the best of her yandere personality : she will finally fulfill her evil ambitions and crush her rivals. This mode is a good occasion to fully enjoy the cast, not to mention that secondary characters’ movesets are as good as the main ones.

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Combos and skills are original and varied. Jeanne d’Arc for example fight with a spear with a large flag on the top of it, also drawing on her knight sword from time to time. The holy maiden however heavily relies on her hôgu, considerably more powerful than any other and which, reference to History, costs her one life. Seriously challenging, those side-stories are a clever way to enhance to general value of the game.

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If Marvelous’s technical mastery on PSVita needed further proof, Fate Extella is more evidence that the publisher take handheld fans seriously. Despite numerous elements and lot of movement on screen, the framerate knows no problem on PSVita. In fact, the game pixelates slightly to keep framerate stable at any time. A drawback for greater good, easily forgivable since character modeling is quite above average.

Fate Extella is a fun and intense action game making clever use of the series. With a rich array of characters and lots of storytelling, it adds a lot to the Fate universe and offers fans a thrilling way to experience the passion despite redundancies here and there.

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Review – Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni

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Rather ambitious media mix project, Valkyrie Drive had launched in three different formats last year in Japan. First a sexy mobile application, then a borderline hentai anime, and finally Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni, the console game part. And for the game to live up to the rest, the IP needed no other than Kenichirô Takaki, the creator of Senran Kagura.

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This new game from Marvelous starts with a heftier synopsis than Senran Kagura. Teenage girls are affected by a mortal virus of strange properties : some girls can transform into weapons, and others acquire the formidable strength to wield them. Dangerous for the society, they are quarantined on distant islands. Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni (not Bikini, although you’ll surely find some) tells the events happening on the island called Bhikkhuni, where are treated the girls who bear both symptoms.

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But of course, what’s important is not the base of the scenario, but what you do with it. Whereas Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus actually told great stories from almost nothing, Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni fails to correctly develop its original setting. There is some long and tiresome part where the game introduces every character without making them really charismatic. This lasts about 10 hours and features mundane dialog with few humor strokes, nothing to be remembered. The story gets some interesting twists at the end, including more existential talk : you’ll learn the truth about the V-Virus treatment program and the risks implied for the persons affected. No illustrations have been made for the side stories, which are told on a black screen. This is boring to say the least. You might still be curious to discover the strange universe of the school-island Bhikkhuni, the professors of which being giant robots of animal aspect. This, at least, was surprising and entertaining.

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There are seven playable cuties in the game (four times less than Senran Kagura Estival Versus), but of uneven importance. While the sisters Rinka and Ranka bear a somewhat tragic past, all the others have little background. Viola (back on photo) may well be the most charismatic of the rest by its elitist and haughty personality, and her voice actress Yû Kobayashi (Katsuragi’s voice in Senran Kagura) performs that quite well. The real disappointment remains that the past of the secondary characters is often hinted at, but never explained. There’s clearly a feeling you’re missing something and that the story lacks a lot of substance. And seven is no lucky number here : as characters fight in groups of two, there’s always some strange nonsense with Manpukumaru (absurd character with zero personality) coming randomly to balance the teams.

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Immediately when you start playing, you realize that Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni wants to go beyond Senran Kagura in terms of gameplay. Adding to the traditional combos, complexifying at each Drive (see below), the battles put some emphasis on various aerials. Initiated with circle and X (although in some cases, X alone can trigger them), they allow different final blows like Phantom Dance (long aerial combo) or Phantom Fall (throwing the enemy back on the ground). Each character can also charge a more powerful attack with triangle, capable of wiping out large groups of opponents.

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Like said previously, the character you control can resort to a Drive, that is to say the weapon form of her buddy provided the Drive gauge is filled. The aforementioned gauge has four levels that correspond to as many steps in the Drive state, with each time a more lavish look and more destructive skills for the weapon. The good point in Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni is that dodging (elegantly rendered by a quick slow motion) makes the gauge fill faster, ideal base for intense beat’em all action.

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Like in Senran Kagura Estival Versus, three special attacks of superior firepower are available, but that will empty your Drive gauge in no time. You’ll have to take that into account since you might also want to use the healing capabilities of the Drive, which heals your character at each transformation. The girls have their own particular weapon and fighting style, which is slightly more developed than in the rival series. So in theory, the game developed by Meteorise (which worked on Senran Kagura Bon Appetit before that) has a compelling gameplay.

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But there is theory, and there is the actual experience. Once more, Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni ruins its good intentions by a simple drawback : it’s ridiculously easy. Even in hard mode, 90% of the game is piece of cake, as challenging as easy mode in Senran Kagura Estival Versus. The foes might far outnumber you, their I.A is close to a newborn chick and they’re barely threatening. The regular ground combos end up the best way to clear the stages quickly : no need of dodging, aerials, special moves whatsoever to prevail, the player might perform them to escape boredom. Bosses aren’t any stronger, since your fellow highschoolers can be beaten as fast as in twenty seconds… The teachers are way tougher but they’re just longer to defeat but not especially strong. In such circumstances, you can hardly be motivated to throw yourself in challenge mode (which asks you to perform a definite set of actions in limited time), not to mention the even longer survival mode. The most worthy goal still is to tackle the true end, which can be unlocked by clearing missions at high rank. In such case, the game should last you thirty hours or so.

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All this is a real pity, because Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni is seriously good to look at : it’s colorful, it’s over-the-top with lots of nice special effects and the moves are stunning and detailed even though the framerate could be better. As you could expect in a Takaki-made game, you’ll have your load of oversized breasts, underwear shots, suggestive poses and the mischievous changing room full of naughty touchscreen communication. Special mention for the Connect form for its glowing and deliciously revealing cybernetic armor“, it’s an absolute work of art in the ecchi style. Costume break might be a little shy compared to Senran Kagura, there is clearly no deceit in the fan-service.

Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni wanted to transcend the Senran Kagura formula but forgot the most essential part : game sensations. The appeal of fresh game mechanics vanish given the clear lack of challenge, and the incomplete story and universe don’t help it make a stronger experience. The fan-service is still met with fine graphics, design and direction. Up to you to decide if it’s enough.

Review – God Eater 2 Rage Burst

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In the long struggle to mimic the success of Monster Hunter and despite capable rookies like Tôkiden, the God Eater series has always been a solid 2nd so far. Although well behind Capcom’s champion, it still is one of the most popular action games in Japan. All that BandaiNamco had to do was to erase the image of a mere hunting game and offer a richer experience.

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In the distant future of God Eater, mankind is nearly extinct. Humans are being preyed by aggressive and monstrous creatures called Aragamis, which also possess evolving capabilities far beyond those of humans. The longer the war against the Aragamis lasts, more hopeless it becomes. To make it worse, a crimson rain starting pouring, infecting those under it with an incurable disease. God Eaters are mankind’s only hope to avoid destruction : those men and women are chosen for their ability to equip jinki, weapons borrowing Aragami cells and therefore the only way to fight them. God Eater 2 Rage Burst impresses immediately by its post-apocalyptic setting and its vision of the future, symbolized by its protean weapons as large as their bearer, and capable of morphing into a railgun or any high-caliber rifle.

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PS4

Inspired by this rich base storyline, BandaiNamco’s title features a complex scenario, far beyond your average hunting game. Let’s stress that the European branch of the publisher is rather generous at this occasion, because not only does God Eater 2 Rage Burst fully includes God Eater 2 (released in Japan in 2013), but they also give you God Eater Resurrection (the remake of the very first one) for free! You have the entire saga for the price of one game, no better deal. This sequel has quite a couple of twists to startle and fascinate the player : treason and drama are on the agenda, coupled with mature themes like human experiments, loyalty or sacrifice. Told with care, this tale is full of emotions, with political conflicts and frightening revelations. God Eater 2 Rage Burst follows with a dark atmosphere, but also touching thanks to Livie : the hooded girl has the power to adapt any jinki and see the past of the previous bearer.

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Having a good story is nice, but having a correctly-paced story is better. Let’s say it straight, God Eater 2 Rage Burst is loaded with uneventful missions that extend the playtime to 50 hours or more. Not especially a drawback provided you have fun with the gameplay, but it certainly does water down the narrative. To fill the void, nothing better than tackling character events. God Eater’s universe is full of buddies who have all a role, comic or dramatic. In particular, everything linked to Canon, a pink-haired girl whose aiming is terrible, has been tremendously funny. Eventually, the only sad news is that none of those characters are playable, the player being stuck to the avatar created at the very beginning. The character creation menu is fairly good and allows you to design a character you’d like, but what a shame given the numerous lovable mates…

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PS4

As for the game system, God Eater 2 Rage Burst is not an Action-RPG, but a pure action game since there isn’t experience to gain, and that the dexterousness of the player is way more important than improving his character. The only way to make your hero stronger is to improve his weapon. Your jinki will get new forms as you go further in R&D, kafkaesque system with poor ergonomy given the length of the item lists. Other problem, the necessary materials are scarce, the drop rate being at best 10 or 15%. The result is even more tiring sub-missions that we surely could have done without, spending hours to strengthen one blade not being very motivating. You can also allocate skills to your weapon and shield, skills that you get from relics obtained after the battles. Rise your HP, improve close range combat, stamina… the possibilities have been greatly enhanced since the original God Eater 2.

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Missions will always send you face one or several Aragamis in closed and relatively small areas. Therefore, all the fun in God Eater 2 Rage Burst will come from its fast-paced combat. The game features super high-speed action and you do have to dodge every few seconds or so if you don’t want to take critical damage. Half a dozen close-range weapons are available, from the very classic but reliable two-handed blade to the scythe introduced in this 2015 version. There are as many fireweapons, from light machine guns to railguns. No doubt that everyone can find its own battle style, and even vary to enjoy a different experience at times.

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In terms of active capacities, God Eater 2 Rage Burst allows you to modify the base combo of your weapon by adding Blood Arts. Those have different effects like throwing shockwaves, extend the reach of a weapon, healing or adding a devastating blow to a downed Aragami. The hoshoku will use the Aragami cells of your weapon : it will morph into a giant jaw that can bite the enemy. Very base of God Eater’s gameplay, it makes your character enter Burst mode, improving agility and stamina. This must be used as often as you can, even though finding an opening is not always easy. At such occasion you also gain special bullets taken from Aragamis, that are more efficient than average.

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But the big novelty in God Eater 2 Rage Burst is the Blood Rage state. Activating it is tricky and risky : you have to be at 100% symbiosis level or more with your weapon (which gradually go up by attacking normally) and achieve one or several covenants. The more convenants, the more powerful the Blood Rage gets.

Still, you have only 30 seconds to accomplish those actions (deal a certain amount of damage, bite your enemy, etc) so it won’t work every time since any interruption can ruin your attempt. It’s still highly rewarding because it can turn the tables in difficult missions : your character takes an angel form, becomes fully invincible, and twice as fast and strong.

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Even if you come to master all this perfectly, Argamis will make you bite the dust. Not only are BandaiNamco’s creatures strong enough to KO your avatar in a few blows, but they’re also astonishingly nimble. Even the most massive Aragamis move faster than you! Battles are violent and fast, every struggle is desperate and you need to adapt quickly if you want to win. Each Aragami has one or several elemental weaknesses : you therefore need to prepare your equipement so as you get the advantage, for example by manufacturing elemental blades or bullets.

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God Eater 2 Rage Burst also introduces two elements that make the game harder. The first is a resistance gauge that goes down everytime your avatar is KO. When it reaches zero, the mission is a failure even if your comrades are still standing. It was a necessary evolution of the gameplay since game over could virtually never occur in the God Eater 2 of 2013. The second point is that you now face survival missions, which actually are 3 to 5 battles in a row with no more recovery items than usual. The game lets you have only a limited set of potions, not enough to survive on the long term.

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God Eater’s bestiary is of uneven design. The art direction leans more towards a devilish and grotesque look for most of the creatures so we’re pretty far off Monster Hunter’s majestic dragons. Besides, it’s not that varied either, the same monsters being thrown at you regularly. That said, some fiends like the infamous Kyûbi are charimastic. The well-known mythological fox is so fierce that even getting close to it is risky. Worse still, some bosses can KO you in one blow, and those are the longest fights. In God Eater 2 Rage Burst, you’re not hunting, you’re the hunted.

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When it goes real hard, the best thing to do is to call reinforcements. God Eater is first and foremost a multiplayer series, so it’s quite easy to create a lobby and get some buddies to join you (or invite a friend). The online environment is rock-solid, with no framerate drop observed. Bear in mind that you can only progress in the story with players that have reach the same point as you. It’s possible to filter players so that you meet only people of similar level.

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Despite living in the shadows of PS4, the Vita version of God Eater 2 Rage Burst is comparatively the best one. The overall contents are the same, online is as good as on PS4 and of course, you can play wherever you are! Graphically speaking, the game looks better relatively to the system it runs on : the 3D of God Eater 2 is ageing a bit, but stays a lot above the average of portable games. The only drawback concerns the healing items : it’s not possible to use potion via the touchscreen, whereas Phantasy Star on Vita allowed it. On PS4, it’s quick and effective thanks to the touchpad of the controller.

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PS4

Clearly on PS4 the game looks average at best. While for financial reasons it’s difficult to expect that the PS4 version could have a 3D engine of its own, the devs could have at least corrected the character models a bit, since they look unrefined. As it is, God Eater 2 Rage Burst hasn’t progressed much technically compared to God Eater 2 in 2013 on Vita, the PS4 display being an HD slightly upscaled version of the former. The game is not even in 1080p but actually 1000p, which adds ugly black outlines on your screenshots. The dynamic sound environment will make up for it : the orchestrations of this action game are varied (rock, electro, symphonic…) and give an epic dimension to the fights. Kaketa mono for example concludes the hardest survival mission in a wonderful way. The frequent communications with the operator also make a great atmosphere. Pure art.

BandaiNamco did the right thing in making God Eater 2 Rage Burst more than a mere hunting game. It’s a solid action game boasting fast and thrilling gameplay as well as a good (but badly paced) storyline. The bestiary is not the best in the field and the PS4 version could have looked better, but that doesn’t alter the intense and compelling gaming experience.

Special thanks to Akuma for his help during those long campaigns

Preview – Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

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After a solid experience with The Division, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is my 2nd AAA rendez-vous of the year. I want to thank @SonicDX12 for delivering the fateful access code for the beta, allowing me to test it ahead of its June 9th release.

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The story background, more or less known by now, features a younger and unruly Faith. Actually the young girl is straightout wild, talking back to her comrades and getting cocky in front of the authorities.

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This prequel shows a tendency to display the characters’ feelings a lot more and bringing them together as a team. Several sequences put a great emphasis on frienship and respect. It’s quite a big difference with Mirror’s Edge PS3 since the latter had cutscenes in first-person view only, so the player, not the heroine, was at the center of the game. This choice of a rough narrative made a lot of sense because the focus was a dense free run experience and nothing else. I’m OK to elaborate a bit on Faith’s personality and stuff, but a big hollywoodish blowout might only water down the experience.

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Mirror’s Edge Catalyst nevertheless embodies its view of today’s society by open criticizing the “all-connected” trend. The judiciary system, which can collect whichever personal information it wants and issue a warrant against somebody for a trifle, suggest an ominous technological future. The first interface Faith is connected to, with its dashboard full a critical personal data, leaves no doubt : it is the extreme edge of the Société du Spectacle as philosopher Guy Debord saw it. DICE pushes a comprehensive logic, without making it the full story focus for now. That could, because the name of “Dogus” that was cited repeatedly in thi beta leaves room for darker development.

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The futuristic atmosphere is remarkably illustrated in this new installment : the near-future is striking by its sprawling and state-of-the-art architecture, flying cars and high speed trains running through the city. It is a magnificent urban view, and light effects live up to expectations. That can’t be said about the environment near you, because rooftops and interiors are roughly as unsophisticated as before.

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The gameplay stayed the same, and a bit too much the same, I’d say. We indeed are in an open world, but the use of which hasn’t been very revolutionary so far. The map is pretty large, you can go wherever you want, but in the end the heart of the gameplay is still about running around in a very closed area. We do see the now famous red objects (but you can deactivate that) to guide the player so he can go as fast as possible from rooftop to rooftop. In brief, nothing new.

Combat has evolved a lot though. Firearms are now out of the picture (what a shame, those rooftops were perfect for sniping) and everything comes down to CQC, which has grown more complex. There is a light combo, and a powerful strike that can be inserted in whatever movement for more impact (after a wall run for example). You also can give a direction to your kick with the analog stick, which is used to throw a guard into another one. But big problem here : as you’re always running, your analog stick is always pushed forward, so that action can only be achieved when halted. There’s alos a strafe system to slip behind your opponent, etc. Sincerely, I don’t think all that karate-like things are a plus. Worse, that might slow the flow of the gameplay and reduce its intensity. Before, there was just a counter button, and it was perfect like that…

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Time attack is of course back, with a very well-made report of the various social results. Still, I had some problem with the delivery missions, in which the direction to take wasn’t displayed. It’s very confusing and you have only 1 or 2 minutes to reach your goal, so I’d really need to know approximately where to head to.

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The only point of open world in the beta was to search for collectibles. You’ll be asked to steal electronic chips everywhere in the city, as well as documents, secrets bags (like in the first one) and strange shiny things. That will ask some searching and there’ll probably be some nice trophies but I do expect more in terms of exploration.

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Interesting idea, we can hack a billboard o display an emblem, which will be your own customizable one in the final game. Once the display completed, your PSN friends will see it in their game too.

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Surprise! Mirror’s Edge is now an RPG! Every action, quest, rewards experience points that can be used to unlock new moves and gear. I was appalled to see there was a grapnel : such a device can only ruin this game if it is widely used… But let’s wait and see if this progression system provides serious steps in the gameplay or if it’s just to make the game a bit longer.

Unsure. That’s my state of mind after playng this beta that hasn’t shown how Mirror’s Edge Catalyst would go beyond the original. The open world seems misused, the intensity feels a bit down and fighting looks tiresome. I hope I will be proven wrong in June.

Preview – Tokiden 2

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It’s raining demos! Publishers are eager to stimulate the market and convince undecided customers. KoeiTecmo is one of them and has two demos scheduled for this Spring. Contrary to the demo of Ni-Ô which will be released worldwide, the trial version of Tôkiden 2 is exclusively available for Japanese Playstation Plus members for now.

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Like always in the “hunting” games, you’re invited to create your own character before entering the fray. We once more appreciate Omega Force’s talent on that subject, because like in Samurai Warriors 4, you can modulate everything form the eye size to the position of the nose, with also a large array of haircuts and a fully customizable anatomy. Such precision in the character making allows the player to reach to idea he has of his character. Bigger recent open world games should learn from it.

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No real story transition from Tokiden Kiwami here, the demo focusing on the game system. The player is dropped in the base camp, to check the smith’s services and saying hi to the his new buddies, like the local priestess Kuon. New in the Mononofu village, you need to make proof of your value as a warrior. Hence you are given a simple mission, designed to help you discover the brand new open world.

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The world of Tokiden 2 is seriously large when you think it’s just a demo. It feels like you can run forever. The game refrains from giving unnecessary guidance, letting you explore as you wish, going into the mines or searching for some shirube, glimmering lights that are proof of your exploring skills. That said, there weren’t many ennemies. The Oni weren’t numerous, nor were they any strong or really aggressive : it was kinda hitting a punching-ball… We’re pretty far from the violence of God Eater’s combat for example.

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The quest system is interesting : some villagers are spread within the world map and they have requests for you. It’s been a lot about fetching unique items, but interesting because they are well hidden (I found them by chance). More interesting, a man will ask you to find his brothers : Morikage, Yamakage and Mizukage, each associated to a natural element. There’s a clear focus on searching and exploration, it’s pleasant and feel the will to deliver something original.

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The demo also features an area called ikai, sort of cursed land. The air is poisoned so your group can hold only for a limited time. If you take too much time exploring, it’s game over. There’s still the possibility to purify a stele and establish a rest area. A good idea that adds interest to the exploration. The game still has standard missions that send you into small closed areas to face monsters, some being a lot tougher.

The demo includes four weapons : a katana, a shield and sword, a bow and a strange chain weapon. Sword combat is as dull as before : it’s slow, there is no intensity in this fighting style. When I deal one blow with those, I can deal 5 in God Eater. Simple as that. The bow brought some good sensations though. It has various attack options and cool animations in its wielding. You can shoot arrows successively, against several target at once or charge your arrow while still moving. A fine weapon illustrated in the above video I’ve taken (I’m probably paying poorly but it’s the first time I’ve been really getting into the series).

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But the exciting thing of the demo is this weapon. It’s actually not whip-sword (because it can’t take the form of a sword) nor is it a kusarigama (which was in Tokiden Kiwami). I’d suppose it’s an variant of the kusari fundo, heavy chained weapon of ancient Japan. It is fan-tas-tic. It’s fast, it can hit front of you or all around you, or you can also zoom to focus the damage on one enemy. In short, the weapon this game needed to be fully dynamic.

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In terms of general gameplay, that is to say common to all weapons, a skill palette is available on R1. The skills on it will vary depending on which Mitama you’ve associated to your weapon, armor and Oni no te (see below)., but there’s always a cure spell. A Mitama is a card containing the spirit of heroes of the past, divided in specializations (cure, attack, defense, speed, etc.) and giving status advantages or stat bonuses. The interface is very clear so it’s quick and easy to elaborate your own battle strategy. Apart from that, the lock seemed to perform poorly for its low responsiveness and stability.

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Big novelty of this sequel, Oni no te is a giant ghostly demonic hand you can activate with R2. It several uses : you can for example grasp a camp fire and just throw it, or access hidden areas. Your character can also cling to an enemy and throw himself upwards to perform an aerial combo, clever maneuver to strike while staying out of reach. Last but not least, the Oni no te can pluck off an demon’s limb when the cooperation gauge is filled.

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In its graphics an animation, Tokiden 2 is uneven. Sceneries are definitely good to look at but aren’t really baffling. The level of details is not what you’d expect on PS4, and the geography doesn’t stand out, the land being too flat. In brief, it lacks this wow effect you feel when playing AAA open worlds. The game looks designed with the Vita in mind, the character modeling being barely average. Animation also is clearly faulty here, especially the strange way in which your avatar runs. The frame-rate had serious hiccups but surprisingly, this problem disappears when you leave the village… Despite those critics made in absolute terms, Tokiden 2 certainly becomes the more impressive hunting game to date : its open world surpasses God Eater 2 Rage Burst and sends Monster Hunter directly in a horror museum.

Definitely an excellent demo. The series has made dramatic progress since Tokiden Kiwami in both intensity and game system. Its open world should revolutionize hunting games, provided it is enriched and enhanced to give more challenge. The exploration seems to be given a big focus, the gameplay is rich, so this Tokiden 2 might be the one that will topple God Eater out of the throne.

Review – Senran Kagura Estival Versus

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After its failed return on 3DS, the busty Senran Kagura series is back to Playstation, where its customers are. And for first time, it’s not a portable-only game anymore because it also comes to your living room with a PS4 version.

While Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus was a lot more than a mere spin-off, this Senran Kagura Estival Versus has indeed no pretension to tell a story whatsoever. The 20 characters of the previous PSVita game are warped on a paradisaical island where the four schools will compete in what is called Kagura Sennensai, a very ancient ceremony aimed at appeasing the soul of departed ninjas. At stake, no less than the title of Kagura, the ultimate goal of any Kunoichi. That said, this particular setting is rarely used and developed even less in the various chapters, which are nothing but an excuse for sexy battles between girls. The only genuine narrative involves Ryôbi and Ryôna : the sisters from Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus will meet their older sister Ryôki again, since she’s been resurrected for the time of the festival.

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PS4

Which leaves nothing but the traditional humor of the series, but all along the 8 chapters it is seriously getting old and redundant. Besides, the narrative style finds its limits as the storyline is clearly lacking. To many sequences are still told on a black screen, so the visual novel style really fails in that new episode. One example : one of those text sequences depict the battle between Yumi and Kurokage (who also has been resurrected). Wouldn’t it have been better to set an actual battle and let the player experience it firsthand ? Another big hole, the sub-story of the Mikagura three sisters, told with small episodes here and there, does not come to a conclusion (update : there’s a hint in the last DLC). It’s pretty clear that Marvelous has decided to empty this game of any credible narrative to give Playstation players the short end of the stick in that aspect and ensure the primacy of the main series, which could very well head for NX next. This is UNACCEPTABLE! WE are by far the main clients of the Senran Kagura IP, we should be entitled to EVERYTHING.

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PSVita

In terms of gameplay however, the series is taking a good turn. Very much like in Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus, each mission will have you face countless enemies, in addition to one or several rivals. That’s the very important point of this game : it will be you against 1,2 or even 3 rival characters at the same time! The gameplay is consequently astonishingly fast and the battles very intense, not to mention that the enemy IA is monstrously aggressive. They will hunt you down and won’t hesitate to use their ninpôs repeatedly. You therefore have to be nimble and aim for aerials combos, the key to victory. The drawback is that it tends to be really crowded and frustrating at times, because your character is way too often downed, stunned or frozen. To avoid being stuck, the controls include several counters, one of which is done by leaning on walls. We do still lament the poor camera angles when next to a wall.

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PS4

The series finally balances its challenge this time with 3 difficulty levels instead of 2. So there’s one for any type of player : those who want to bite the dust every time, those who want to go progressively by re-achieving previous missions to get some experience, and those who want to go through it quickly. Wise use of ninpôs will again be the key to win. Those powerful special attacks triggered with L1+square or triangle have been made further spectacular and over-the-top, even though some keep been ridiculously kawaii. This latest installment adds a 3rd which is in fact the characters transforms : this metamorphosis which consumes a great deal of skill points is of incomparable power and can wipe out a boss in a flash. Mayabi for example takes an angel-like form and Homura draws her famous 7th katana. In short, the gameplay of Senran Kagura Estival Versus is the opposite of its narration, brilliant and punchy.

After a somewhat lengthy Senran Kagura Estival Versus, Marvelous again delivers here a large content that should ensure at least 30 or 40 hours of play. Adding to the 8 chapters of the story, it includes an in-game challenge in which you must search and destroy altars hidden in the stages. Challenge that itself unlocks mini-stories for each one of the 25 girls of the game. Furthermore, numerous updates added some chapters for free. The online multiplayer from Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus is back and has been enriched. There are now plenty more combat modes (score attack, deathmatch, survival, capture the flag) and 10 players can join the fray on PS4 (4 on Vita). Regardless of the system, the matchmaking is effective, the servers strong and the frame-rate solid.

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PSVita

The five new characters are quite unbalanced, especially in their fighting style. Of the Mikagura sisters, Kafuru seemed the most interesting and the funniest one by far : she fights with waters pistols and is assisted by a dolphin of virile voicing (!) Renka felt a little average with her drums. Hanabi, despite her shiny fireworks, is a lot too slow to keep up with the pace of the game. Clearly they find their inspiration in the Okinawa regional culture, southern island famous for its summertime.

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PS4

Ryoki is definitely the new star of this episode, and logically the best designed one. Her fighting style has been framed in accordance with a personality : in trance, she will throw away her shotgun and shield to battle only armed with her coffin!

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PSVita

And if you happen to have some savings, each of the renowned guests of the long DLC season, including Ayane from Dead or Alive, Ikki Tôsen‘s trio (note : those three are not confirmed for the West) or Naraku & Kagura (those two coming from Senran Kagura Deep Crimson where they were NOT playable), have been designed and animated so perfectly that they end up more exciting to use than most of the base cast.

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PS4

In pure aesthetics, Marvelous’s game is still a niche game so it won’t revolutionize PS4 development. Stages are narrow and unrefined, the basic enemies are roughly animated. I won’t surprise you by telling that every technical effort has been made on the heroines and their physique with deliciously precise outlining. To this let’s add the best interface ever : those are dynamic title screens (a dozen of them) switching depending on the characters you’ve chosen. 1080p and 60fps on PS4, this is quite a sight to behold.

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PSVita

On PSVita, the game naturally loses in terms of frame-rate and sharpness, but it’s still a very solid portable version. Unlike many developers who neglect Vita versions to focus on PS4 lead-development, Marvelous gave maximum care to this one : the cel-shading from Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus has disappeared to make room for sharper 3D models which don’t fade in comparison with their PS4 counterparts. The frame-rate dropped quite a bit especially at launch, but that’s the price to pay to keep it with yourself. On the misuc side, the game didn’t really live up to the previous ones. I’ll pick only Homura’s theme and  iza, atuski omoi o mune ni!  which was a great final composition.

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PS4

Of course, impossible to close a Senran Kagura review without going through its licentious business. Clothes destruction will happen less often to keep a smoother action, but they are a lot more suggestive than before. Plainly obvious, poses and facial expressions ovebid the past episodes so much that the latter seem shy today.

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PSVita

And because no one stops progress, Kenichirô Takaki’s new title introduces what’s called in the original version puru puru finish. Those “fatalities” in some way suppose you give the final blow to your opponent next to a special element of the stage, and this will trigger a special kinky scene in which nudity is prerequisite. You got it, Senran Kagura Estival Versus makes no compromise and should be played by fully aware adults. Funny then that it would “only” be PEGI16 here whereas it is for 17 year-olds and more in its country of origin.

Senran Kagura Estival Versus is as enticing and exciting as badly told. Relevant gameplay changes have been made, the character’s rendering is exceptional and the fan-service sets new records. However, its unwillingness to offer a decent narrative prevents it from becoming the final realization of Kenichirô Takaki’s vision.