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 – Sword Art Online Hollow Realization

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After selling more than a million copies of the previous games worldwide, BandaiNamco is fully aware that Sword Art Online is now a big asset of its JRPG line-up. By deciding to re-create Aincrad in Sword Art Online Hollow Realization, the publisher bets on nostalgia for this episode.

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Invited by Seven to beta test a new virtual reality game, Kirito and his friends come to Sword Art Origin. This software being developed on Aincrad as base (where Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment took place), the infamous «death game» surfaces again in the form of a mysterious message saying «I’m back to Aincrad». This, and the arrival of a NPC of complex AI named Premiere will mark the start of troubles because the development of Sword Art Origin will soon go awry.

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The dev team defends this new yet old setting because they said they wanted players to experience an Aincrad from the start (in Hollow Fragment, you start at floor 76). The game system is roughly the same as in the first game on PSVita and PS4 : you prepare your gear and interact with your buddies in the town before teleporting yourself in the various worlds of Sword Art Origin. The only difference is that you can now bring 3 allies and not just one. But the fact that Seven is part of the plot suggest that Sword Art Online Hollow Realization is actually closer to Sword Art Online Lost Song than you might think.

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Indeed, as in Lost Song, death in Sword Art Online Hollow Realization is not definitive : you can easily revive a fallen ally whereas in Hollow Fragment, any KO meant an immediate game over. While players in Sword Art Origin are safe, NPCs don’t come back the same. NPCs are a key element in this episode : there are dozens of them in the village and you can invite any of them in your party. BandaiNamco makes the risky bet that you’ll like them as much as the heroines. But in the end, an NPC is nothing more than a series of 0 and 1, and can’t have the charisma of a main character. Sword Art Online Hollow Realization clearly fails at delivering intensity in its narrative, which by the way accounts for a tiny part of the total length of the game. Nothing like the mature atmosphere and the suspense of the recent anime series.

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The story actually doesn’t unfold before 30 or 40 hours. There at last you get a few (precious few) cut-scenes, but for most part you won’t have anything else to follow than character side events. Let’s say it straight, those events have a very light tone : slice of life only, the dark atmosphere of the Hollow Area doesn’t exist here. True, it’s fun at times but it never goes beyond the friendship and worries of your average teenagers. Another disappointment is the further use of live 2D for dialog. That means next to no cut-scenes in the scenario and rather boring scenes describing battles that aren’t shown. It feels cheap for a game that sells hundreds of thousands and comes from such a great anime. Even tinier series like Atelier have dropped that for years.

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The (numerous) illustrations look a bit commonplace compared to what was offered in Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment. The latter was rated CERO C in Japan (CERO B for Hollow Realization) and had more risqué and more interesting artwork. It’s better investing in the excellent manga adaptations Sword Art Online Progressive and Sword Art Online Girls’ Ops at this point.

Let’s go into the field of Sword Art Origin. It’s not an open-world as we know it nowdays because each of the six themed worlds (forest, desert, citadel, etc.) are unlocked progressively, and themselves divided into smaller linear areas. Sword Art Online Hollow Realization never escapes its linearity and doesn’t give much freedom to the player. Objectives are all marked (giving very inaccurate information at times) and there’s no secondary quest that would invite you to explore further or go back in former places. The only entertainment lies in Event Fragments, random hunt quests in which you face tougher monsters. Those represent excellent leverage because you often get high-rank equipment.

The battle system is a mix of the first two episodes : it’s basically an action-RPG since you attack directly with square (Hollow Fragment was relying on auto-attack) but the action aspect is less rich than in Lost Song. On the tactical side, you get back the skill palettes from Hollow Fragment. L1 and R1 allow you to give orders to allies, including the now famous switch that switches positions between Kirito and a friend, then triggering a powerful attack. Even better, you can order all your teammates to fire at will for maximum damage. Linking attacks effectively sometimes leads to a skill chain, which launches a light spell of dramatic effect. Accuracy is a problem, because the lock isn’t effective and you’re likely to hit the void. Premiere is the only character that can «die» but here again the game is a bit lenient since you have 60 seconds to revive her. Far, very far from Hollow Fragment where any mistake had you start from scratch, giving real heat to battles.

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The palette at the bottom of the screen contains the passive skills regarding the status of your character. There’s quite some room to cram everything you need to strengthen your hero. It’s possible to dramatically increase your attack, your defense, your HP, your resistance to bad statuses… Becoming such a superman necessitates that you analyse the skill tree, so large that you can only fill a fraction during the main story, and choose wisely the most effective items for your playstyle. So and despite a poorer gameplay than the past episodes in general, there is depth in Sword Art Online Hollow Realization.

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You quickly understand that in the fight against the main bosses, rather interesting because more complex than before. Each of them has body parts that you’ll have to break in order to deal critical damage. You side with a large number of NPCs, which gives a real impression of raid as it is depicted in the anime. The boss fights get increasingly harder and you’ll have to be ready with the right abilities if you want to succeed. The final boss is absolutely ferocious and show a more unforgiving side of the gameplay, which goes in the right way because it arouses passion. Too bad nothing of this is felt during random battles or mid-bosses that are quite tiresome.

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PS4

As much as Sword Art Online Hollow Realization is faithful to Hollow Fragment’s system, this status quo is in fact a step back if you consider the elements in Lost Song that have vanished without reason. In particular, how can you not be revolted by the fact that the twenty or so playable characters of the previous game are no longer playable at all? You are forced to play as Kirito : BandaiNamco has de facto divided the number of playable characters by 20… Worse, the bow doesn’t exist anymore! Shinon, sniper in the Phantom Bullet part of the anime and Archer in Mother Rosario is now stuck with a damn spear… So not only does Sword Art Online Hollow Realization limit the gameplay, but it also fails to follow the context.

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On the positive side, let’s stress that the hero’s look can be modified anytime. The character creation menu is rich and effective, allowing to give birth to your ideal protagonist in no time. That said, it stays as Kirito in the narrative, which is extremely confusing in case you choose a female character. Moreover, a man’s voice in the narrative is mandatory, so you have to deactivate it if you’re playing a girl. The multiplayer mode, which has you travel into Sword Art Origin with other players in order to defeat named monsters, is a good, profitable and entertaining way of enjoying your own avatar.

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On PSVita, Sword Art Online Hollow Realization is even less convincing. Graphically speaking, texture quality drops seriously and character modeling is really poor in some cases. It clearly lacks polish if you compare with Sword Art Online Lost Song, released last year. We’re surprised to witness bland environments, while Hollow Area had complex architecture and breathtaking sceneries. Disarray at experienced the framerate hiccups, being progressively fixed thanks to 5 updates. On boss fights, the drop is astonishing… A funny way to thank Vita players, whose enthusiasm two years ago made the once Vita exclusive Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment a global success.

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The result is of course a bit better on PS4. Textures are a lot sharper, especially in the town, but dungeons don’t feel really more impressive. Lightning effects and attack effects, on the other hand, look great. Character modeling show some progress but not enough : Premiere’s 3D model is still hideous, and graphical bugs are often spotted. No problem in motion though, 60 fps is guaranteed on the home console. Music is maybe the only department where Sword Art Online Hollow Realization performs well : symphonies are great and live up to the series, and field themes make the walk enjoyable. Welcome to SAO is so remarkable that you could stay in the menu for hours.

Sword Art Online Hollow Realization is the story of a publisher that makes AAA revenues while keeping making a AA game. Under-investment hurts this newest episode even more than last year, making it impossible to reach the greatness of the anime. The unacceptable loss of the new features brought by Lost Song leaves me crestfallen and the feeble technical side doesn’t help. A less-than-average Sword Art Online game that I can hardly recommend at full price.

Review – Asterisk War Phoenix Festa

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The Asterisk War anime must be quite popular in the West seeing how fast BandaiNamco decided itself as for the game adaptation. In less than a couple of weeks since the leaks, Asterisk War Phoenix Festa is already up on Vita’s PlaystationStore.

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The story mode of this game can take place in two different ways. Let’s focus first on the one in which you create your own character. The character creation is OK but not one of the best : the various design choices are correct. Once you have your character, he enters Seidokan Academy for a new term and prepares himself for the big event reuniting all the schools of the peninsula.

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The story lasts several months in the game, the first three ones being used to train your avatar so that he can eventually stand a chance against the main characters of the anime. Asterisk War Phoenix Festa is an Action-RPG as each training session (and whatever action by the way) increases your stats. Several menus are available, to beef up HP, strengh, defense, agility, MP recovery rate… Nothing spectacular in those though as they’re just small animations. The whole system quickly becomes a chore. Besides that, you’ve also access to a shop to buy different weapons and a R&D lab to improve them. You can also tackle small jobs to earn money, but here again it’s not very compelling (beat a certain number of opponents, evade attacks for 1 or 2 minutes, etc).

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But Asterisk War is known for its heroines and one of your goals will be to convince one of them to be your partner for the tournament. To do so, you’ll have to impress them a bit either by giving them presents, or by increasing your fame after winning matches against other students. Seidokan Academy has a ranking of its best elements, and you’ll have to defeat higher ranked opponents to take their place. If you feel confident enough, you can also ask one of the girls for a fight : for example, getting the upper hand against Kirin immediately gives you the top spot! Even if you have trouble with that part, worry not : the game will automatically seek a partner for you 2 days before the deadline and… it will even give you the choice! This de facto nullifies the pickup system, which is useless from the very start…

All the talk or dating happens in 2D, so nothing noticeable and especially not the unispired dialogs. The same conversations come back relentlessly, so annoyingly that the skip feature becomes your best friend. Talking of this, the friend level of your girlfriend will have a direct impact on her strengh in battle. It’s therefore important to please her a maximum, as it will make future victories easier.

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The Phoenix Festa starts in about 4 months. You’ll have done quite some preparatory battles, but this is where it gets serious. As in the anime, there are two different victory conditions : either you depletes the enemies’ HP or you break their badges. The action takes place in tiny areas, and most of the time you (happily) have the choice of playing as your character or your partner. The good news end here however, because the gameplay is seriously shallow : a sad little 3-hit combo on square and a special attack (of uneven effect, I still can’t figure the use of some) on L+Square. The only clever point is the mechanic of anticipating your opponent’s moves so as to hit his badge, because you need a counter to damage it. Aside from that, it’s just mashing buttons without real need to deploy skill.

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Several fighting styles are noticeable : swordsmen/women can try to pull out a counter head-to-head whereas Saya for example will be useful to attack enemy HP from afar with her firearms. Speed and nimbleness still are critical to your success in Asterisk War Phoenix Festa : Kirin, the fastest character by far, excels at countering but has rather low stamina. On the other hand, Juris’s fire spells are so slow that it’s difficult to even hit your target. The characters are clearly unbalanced in the effectiveness of their specialty. The avatar’s progression is rather logarithmic so the final matches will be a challenge.

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You can also choose to tackle the story mode as Ayato, the hero of the series. Ayato can train exactly like the avatar, but on a much shorter period. The reason for this being that… he’s super strong from the very start! No problem for him to deal enormous damage from mid-range. Any fight will be a piece of cake, so the point of this particular story mode is elsewhere.

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The big deal in that case will be to re-experience the anime from a different point of view, including pretty fun variations. Each walkthrough lasting 2 or 3 hours at best, it’s rather easy to clear the game with every heroine. In the end, you can beat the game entirely in about 15 hours, which is kinda low. Asterisk War Phoenix Festa covers the 2 first seasons, but given the poor look of it, you’re just re-watching the story in less good conditions. The illustrations you’ll progressively unlock will slightly make up for it : some look cool or sexy, but a lot of them are actually nothing special.

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Technically, the 3D of this game is really rough and doesn’t live up to today’s Vita standards. The cel-shading doesn’t hide the unrefined modeling. The level of detail is dreadfully low and some characters like Irene look so bad that you might want to turn your system off. Animation is worse : between graphical bugs and less-than-elegant moves, BandaiNamco’s game is almost uglier when in motion.

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The game features a free battle mode which includes most of the important characters from the anime. You’ll have to clear the story mode over and over to get them all though, but the good news is that even sub-characters are playable. Shen Fa and Shen Yun are in that case, even though they only appear in two episodes. A rather rich roster, in which you can make unlikely pairs if you want to.

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Last but not least, Sylvia, the discreet singer who showed up briefly in the 2nd season, is present here as a partner with a side-story on her own and the pictures that go with it.

Asterisk War Phoenix Festa for PSVita is merely a cog in the media mix marketing of the license. No aspect of this game gives the impression of the slightest effort from the developer. Despite the numerous characters playable, hard to recommend it. Maybe it can be seen as a collector’s item for the biggest fans.

Review – Sword Art Online Lost Song

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After the worldwide success of Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment, growing expectations surround this Sword Art Online Lost Song, coming full of new features and advanced experience. So I thought but…

Sword Art Online Lost Song is a direct sequel to Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment, like Fairy Dance follows Aincrad. But much unlike the anime, the transition between the two stories is too brief and awkward, without even the smallest explanation on how Strea and Phillia could have landed here. That is not the only problem regarding the narrative, because the scenario, fully original this time, is plain and dull from A to Z. The new characters Seven and Sumeragi don’t have that much screentime, let alone relevant background, and aren’t playable before the very end of the game (Seven even needing an update for that). Rain, who use double-sword skills like Kirito, joins the group around half of the game and is better integrated in the story. Cool thing since her fighting style is the most dynamic. The story develops very late and you come to know what’s really behind those three after hours of meaningless chit-chat. And even there, you don’t even remotely have a sense of epic like in Hollow Fragment. Sword Art Online Lost Song in fact suffers from the same issue as Fairy Dance, a steep drop of narrative pace and intensity.

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This adds boredom to a less than exciting exploration. Sword Art Online Lost Song might be an open world, this is nothing to discover in it : all objectives are marked on the mini-map and there is no side content other than basic hunting quests. The whole game rehashes the same progression frame that is dungeon → mid-boss → dungeon → boss without any kind of variation. There is nothing for the player to have a change of air. Dungeons as well as music start being a little more interesting in the last environment, which a lot darker with disorientating mazes. Worse, character stories warp you directly in the right place, whitout any need of searching, although you did have to look for a way in Hollow Fragment. We’re far, so far from the complexity and the scale of the fantastic Hollow Area of the previous game.

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You’ll have to make do with the numerous playable characters of this entry. Whereas you were stuck with Kirito all along in Hollow Fragment, this time you can play as nearly 20 characters like Shinon, Sakuya, Yûki and an elf coming from nowhere called Lux. Various combat styles are available depending on which weapon you choose, and are different enough to each other to ensure a nice variety of gameplay. The bow for example makes up for its weak attack power by enabling precise strikes so as target the enemy’s weak point more often. Attack and support magic also appear with this new universe and add a wide range of combat possibilities. Each weapon also has its own unique skills, including the famous Mother’s Rosario, vastly powerful but impossible to use before you reach a high number of MP!

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The battle system still seriously lacks polish. The camera is flawed and makes the fighting nightmarish in cramped environments. Locking targets is a pain as the lock would change target without notice. The switch has been completely ruined : it’s common to fail it despite hammering te right buttons, and it is nothing spectacular compared to Hollow Fragment… As he series jumps into ALO, aerial battles are introduced in Sword Art Online Lost Song. The controls are not bad but need a great deal training to regulate altitude and speed. Even with those additions, boss battles feel really underwhelming compared to the previous one, not being as difficult or crucial in the narrative.

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Graphically speaking, characters have modeled with cared (except Silica, don’t know why…) with a strangely big emphasis on the girls’ boobs, which let me wonder if the Team Ninja hadn’t infiltrated BandaiNamco at some point. Environments (nature and town) look sharper but the level of detail has severely dropped : they look poor and empty. Animation is downright terrible : movements are jerky and characters stiff, not to mention the abnormal frame rate drops. Sword Art Online Lost Song was clearly lead-developed for home consoles and PSVita just a had a lame port, despite having the most preorders in Japan… Monsters and bosses aren’t varied and you end up fighting the same ones over and over. This is not the level of investment you’d expect for a game whose predecessor sold more than half a million! Sure there are cool illustrations and fine humor, but expectations are not met. It lacks great cutscenes, great fights or just efficient direction like the series has always had. Dialogs between 2D models feel kinda old here…

I’m the first to be sorry about it, but Sword Art Online Lost Song does not take the series in the right direction. It’s cool to have all those new characters but the game in a whole loses nearly everything that made Hollow Fragment great. This sequel feel like a licensed game without fresh ideas, let’s hope that BandaiNamco will rethink it entirely for the next entry.

Review – Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax

With no known equivalent in the West, Japanese light novels are quite a thing in Japan. Worshiped by otaku circles, those bizarre stories mixing action, love, science-fiction, fan-service and humor sell large volumes at each new issue and become animes in a blink of an eye. Reading is good, watching’s fine too, but playing is even better and Sega knows it. The fans’ aspiration for direct action now comes true with Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax (FC).

While the game design of this 2D fighting game is fairly classic, its playable characters aren’t. You’ll have the great pleasure to play as the most famous heroes/heroines from a dozen of series. Characters well-known in the West as Asuna and Kirito from Sword Art Online come alongside less renowned ones like the basket-ball star schoolgirl Tomoka from Ro-Kyu-Bu, plus some guests like Akira and Pai from Virtua Fighter (who have a tendancy to gatecrash every fighting game since they don’t have their own anymore).

In terms of game modes, you have the usual suspects : Arcade, Story, Training, Survival, Time-attack and Versus await you. Arcade feels a bit repetitive, but the point of an arcade mode has never been to tell a story. In fact, the little narrative behind it, however simplistic, proved intriguing enough and features surprising metaphors. For example, the girl designed by Kei representing Sega’s last console asks you to save the dreams. In other terms, in FC, you must save the Dreamcast! On the other hand, the story mode exclusive to the console version turned out to be no more than a series of mini dialogs. I did expect a lot more substantial content.

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The whole game is nevertheless extremely well dubbed and transcribes the atmosphere of the Dengeki series in an astonishingly wonderful way. Should it be Taiga’s extravagant behavior, Miyuki’s Magic or Tomoka’s shoots, FC spares no effort and goes as wild as needed to delight the fans. Kirito is especially cool : everything in its lines, attitude, moves and of course its amazing Double Edge Sword remind us of what’s amazing in Sword Art Online. Selveria being an unlockable playable character also is a huge plus, and she’s an extremely effective character and fun to play on the top of that. Graphically speaking, the 2D sprites on PSVita have a lovely feel in them, but animations look a bit jerky. The 2D models during talk parts are the ones from the novels and not from the anime. It kinda gives a fresh look to the characters and the animation are rather cute/fun despite no lip sync. Music is way above your average fighting game, with a beautiful theme song and quite great and entertaining composition.

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Each character’s movelist being ten lines or so, you could believe that FC lacks depth. Far from that, it’s actually a vastly technical game. You just have to spend some time online to ascertain that : skilled players build impressive combos, proof of a vast amount of time spend in training combining moves with one another. The annoying thing is that it makes it difficult for people not used to 2D fighters to enter the fray online : FC’s gameplay tuning is made for experts. It’s really a shame because the controls are quite fine even on PSVita, on which the stick allows you to perform half/quarter circles with ease.

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Adding to traditional combos and moves, FC has 3 original elements : a support character, a kirifuda and a Climax gauge. The support character attack or defends depending on whether you press X ou X+direction. Effects and range being quite different from one another, there’s already some training to do in order to find the one that fits your way of playing and calculate timing in battle. Kirifuda is a special move a bit more powerful than the others or a boost that gives you some advantages. They’re pretty uneven : Selveria fires a whole magazine of her personal rifle, while Shana’s is an all-cancel that refills a bit of her Climax gauge.

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The above mentioned gauge is used either to give an additional blow to the square button combo (consumes one bar), or unleash extra powerful techniques known as Climax Arts (two bars). Here’s the problem : the latter are next to impossible to execute successfully in a serious match. The range is short most of the time and normal guard blocks them. The only way to have them hit is to imbricate them in a longer combo. Good luck with that… Consequently, it is often more beneficial to use the extra square hit which is a lot more practical. Further in this logic, this almost unbreakable guard discourages risk-taking and tends to turn online battles in defensive/long range confrontations which is hardly fun. Let’s stress that unlike the 3D fighters I know, here you can’t perform combos unless you actually hit your opponent, so no approaching while being covered. You’ll have to cautiously monitor your distances if you don’t want to become full of openings.

Selveria

Last point, FC is rich of bonus content. There’s whole range of customization items such as colors/plates/icons and even the authors’ & voice actors’ autograph, plus some well-chosen illustrations and a chapter to read!

Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax is a very enjoyable fighting game, so well-thought for its targeted audience that it’s impossible to get bored if you like Dengeki series. It is just sad that gameplay arbitrations make online less fun than it should have been.

Review – Girls und Panzer, Master the Tankery!

The Girls und Panzer anime (Garupan) surprised many in 2012 because of its unlikely mix of middle school girls and tanks. Thanks to very nice characters and superb direction, the business around the IP was quick to explode, and eventually lead to the PSVita game we’ll be discussing today. This adaptation is modestly composed of story mode and Battle Royale mode.

The story mode obviously has you re-experience the scenario of the anime. From the training session in Ooarai to the breathtaking final against the Germans of Kuromori Mine, including the preparation match against St-Gloriana, up to you now to lead Miho’s iconic Panzer IV to the cup. This mode follows the anime very closely : every important scene of the anime is in it and the game is dubbed from A to Z.

Panzer 4

To make you dive into it even more, BandaiNamco had a freakin’ lot of dialogs recorded : the Ⅲ突 (Santotsu) team keeps making historical comparisons, the Americans from Sanders are hysterical, Anzio’s Italian girls are whining about their lack of means, etc. All those little details which makes you feel like you’re watching the show, all the more that the publisher didn’t stop short from including entire sequences of the anime.

seitokai

Adding to Miho’s tank, you can redo all the missions while controlling the other teams of Ooarai. It does bring some variety and enables you to rewrite the story to some extend : you can for example win the match against St-Gloriana (which is lost in the anime), and even give the final blow with Seitokai team’s 38t. That said and given all those episodes are distinct from each other but still similar, you can’t help feeling it repetitive.

The CoD-like gameplay is quite accessible and you will have fun immediately. The various tanks have their own characteristics, pretty different from each others, with convincing driving physics by the way. The Japanese Type-89 is fast, easy to handle, but underpowered, whereas the Ⅲhas high firepower but low maneuverability given its non-rotating tower. At numerous occasions, yo can swap between tanks of your team, which add a little bit of strategy and lets the game go beyond a simple shooter. All this makes Garupan undoubtedly fun to play, but it’s not without drawbacks.

The switch system is far from perfect. You have your main tank and you can switch only when the switch gauge is at least half-full. It wouldn’t be such a problem if your teammates’ AI was up to the task, but they’re higly liable to run from objectives, which haves you pick them at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Furthermore, the story moe being very close to the anime, it ends up extremely linear.

Anzio

Fortunately, the Battle Royale mode makes up for that and it’s like a Christmas present for the series’ fans. You can actually organize your team as want, even in mixing together tanks from different schools. When your all-star team is ready, you can choose to take up challenges already included in the game, or define yourself who you want to battle against. This is clrearly the big point of the game, in the way that Ooarai’s opponents are extremely popular and many fans have probably been dreaming to have them in a central position.

Graphically, it’s uneven. The essential is done well, that is to say the 3D models of the tanks/characters (because the each team’s captain will peek outside of their tank from time to time like they’re assessing the situation), but the game environments look sincerely bad, even though Japanese urban area seem well rendered. While it’s cool to hear Katyusha’s song during the semi-final, in general the music lacks variety and punch.

This game adaptation of Girls und Panzer will delight the core fans and extend their enjoyment of the series. It is nonetheless not nervous enough for action games fans at large, who will probably stay on World of Tanks.