Review – Tales of Berseria

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Hard to explain the story of Tales of Berseria without spoiling it like the western trailer did. So let’s skip the details and just say that the heroine Velvet travels seeking vengeance against a man called Artorius, who happens to have been her stepbrother. Velevet and Artorius’s entwined fates take a great importance since she’s so determined to slaughter the man who’d come to be the older brother she’s never had.

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Tales of Berseria main topic is resentment and Velvet is the right incarnation of that. Transformed into a gôma (demon, former word to designate Tales of Zestiria’s hyôma), she manages to keep a human appearance, save her now ghostly black hand. That cursed arm allows her to eat onter gôma and humans, which she will do without faltering if it serves her purposes. Locked in a the highest security jail in the world, she’ll eventually escape thanks to the help of a Seirei (former name of Tales of Zestiria’s Tenzoku) called Shirizu.

It’s a personal thought, but the major problem I see in this latest Tales is that it struggles to go beyond the theme of vengeance : the main story has too few plot twists and doesn’t show moral values as strong as in past episodes. There’s no transcending the basic setting to go towards a more complex truth. The narrative is kinda even and didn’t always keep my interest on 70 hours of play.

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While the main story can disappoint in a whole, it is well structured despite the lack of major events in the first stages of the adventure. Tales of Berseria sets a few interesting secondary themes like child/parent relationship, focused on Eleanor. The young Templar has a major role in the story and will be at the center of the most emotional moments. She is the character representing principles and values, herself driven to cause irreparable harm while being tormented by her past.

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The other interesting aspect of the narrative is that it explains who Tales of Zestiria’s world (it takes place hundreds of years before the latter) was formed. It does it extremely well because it makes you experience the genesis of key-elements of the former in remarkable fashion. In particular, the birth of the Kamui was a powerful scene, maybe the climax of the game. You also come to witness the rise of the dôshi (the hero of the people, Sorey’s role in Tales of Zestiria) who is… Artorius himself! The “bad guy” of Tales of Berseria is actually the savior of the world because he’s nearly eradicated the gôma that threatened humans. Hero or not, Velvet’s hate will never falter against this man who took everything from her, and she doesn’t care if the whole world turns against her. This is the greatness of Tales of Berseria’s narrative : you actually fight against what you were in Tales of Zestiria. Good is evil, and evil is good. This clever point of view of the story is most interesting to experience.

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Cutscenes and the general direction support the narrative in a quite efficient way, but here again it’s towards the end that you’ll be really blown away. Some real time cutscenes are among the greatest in the series, like the duel between Rokurô and Shigure, or the final confrontation. The extreme precision with which battles are drawn is something you rarely find in JRPGs, at least not at this level of quality. Tales of Berseria also has I think more convincing villains than the previous game. The tokutô taimashi, the elite templars at the head of the seiryô (totalitarian Church founded by Artorius) are formidable opponents and have close ties with some of your characters. Those characters have a sort of powerful aura in them, a charisma not especially coming from their “wickedness” but more more in their strong beliefs and the honor they put in them.

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Your party won’t disappoint either, because as always BandaiNamco’s character design team makes an amazing work to describe and give an unforgettable personality to the heroes. It kinda came as a surprise, but the most fascinating characters has actually been Aizen : the lieutenant of the valorous pirates you’re journeying with is victim of a curse that makes him the most unlucky person in the world. Every time he casts his coin representing the goddess on one side and the reaper on the other side, he gets the reaper side! The famous skits of the series are of course back and they’re full of hilarious joke often related to his bad luck. Besides, the way he corresponds with Edna through letters is extremely fun too, but also touching when you know what fate awaits the brother and sister.

The battle system is a variant of the one seen in Tales of Zestiria : we’re still in real time and the action is still based on dodging. L1 is used to enter defensive state and trigger sidestepping and such, so as to replace yourself when attacking. By default, the character moves freely on the battle zone, so he can escape danger more easily. This time, X, Δ, O and all have one unique combo or magic. For example, Velvet performs a kick combo of fire element on O while while X makes her draws her hidden blade. Eleanor has a more hybrid attack style, composed with efficient spear combos and high-end magic. Note that you can modify all those combos anytime by inserting the skills you prefers to any of the buttons. You’re not even forced to stay on the same buttons : you can mix them to create further combo combinations.

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The general architecture of battle too is close to Zestiria’s. There’s something called Soul gauge divided between small blue spots that sets the number of hits you can chain. Above this number, the gauge turns red and you may get countered. You therefore have to keep a minimum «stock» of blows at all times. The maximum level of Soul can go up and down, which might be trouble for the player. You can get Soul points in the following cases : by stunning an enemy, destroying an enemy or picking a small blue square on the battle area (in this later case, they pop if an ally is KO or when you dodge). Precise and reactive players who will manage to keep a high level of Soul at all times and fully enjoy the fight. But if you have less good reflexes, the system is highly punitive.

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I’ve put some thinking into this all long my 72 hours of play, and I keep thinking that the system is not ideal, even more so if you compare to Zestiria or Xillia1&2. It’s certainly exhilarating when you have the upper hand in battle because chaining combos and Breaksoul feels dynamic and awesome, but at the same time it’s really unfair to the player if he makes mistakes because he finds himself lacking Soul. In such case, getting back in the fight is difficult and you often have to wait because you can perform long enough combos. The other downside is the boss battles : while you always have some chance to get back Soul against countless small enemies, it’s however quite rare against a solo boss, who by the way is resistant to stun. As a consequence, the boss fights, which are the pinnacle of any JRPG, here in Tales of Berseria actually are the less exciting ones. BGs are back and are still used to unleash the powerful Mystic Artes, but you need to perform Breaksoul to earn them. So no Soul → no Breaksoul → no Mystic Artes. Worse, you lose BGs when you are KO… a sad vicious circle that makes boss fights almost a chore.

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By pushing R2 longer, you can perform the Breaksoul I’ve been talking about. This is a special ability unique to each character and that adds some strategy to this Tales of. For example, Rokurô can launch a powerful counter after a successful guard on an enemy’s physical attack. Magilou is a nightmare for magical creatures because she can cancel and absorb magic from casting enemies, herself launching a magical counterattack too. Eleanor launches the enemy upwards to follow with an aerial combo. Breaksoul being able to break enemy guard, it is key to victory because opponents are highly liable to defend. Breaksoul also makes you recover HP and BG, but costs a Soul point. The tactical intend of this system is very clear and the swift character changing makes it quite relevant. Note that there sometimes is a second Breaksoul (like Eleanor’s), which heals you even more and allows for longer combos, then ultimately to the amazing 2nd Mystic Artes.

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Velvet will call the demon in her arm to steal a enemy skill. Similarly to Final Fantasy’s Blue Magic, the attack that Velvet will launch depends on the type of enemy encountered. The boss in the video gives a sort of cross-shaped blue flame whereas by «stealing» Ents, Velvet will scratch the ground violently, causing a mini-earthquake. Those powerful skills have cost : Velvet’s HP will gradually diminish when her black hand is deployed.

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The equipment menu is also much like in Tales of Zestiria, but the whole system has totally changed. Now the characters can learn passive skills from the pieces of equipment, provided they keep those on them long enough. Pretty much what you had in Final Fantasy IX for example. Upgrading equipment is a major part of Tales of Berseria’s gameplay : you can dismantle old gear to get raw materials and reinforce new weapons and armor. Each time you upgrade, the piece of equipment receive bonus stats, additional passive skills and greater Soul & BG upper limit.

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In terms of side content, Tales of Berseria has quite a lot in store. First thing, you can send your ship explore far waters. It can come back with new recipes, ingredients or even the much desired swimsuits for your characters. Those may not be extremely pretty compared to the DLC outfits, but at least they’re free. You can also earn “treasures” which are easter eggs to former Tales of games. That said, it’s less compelling than Tales of Zestiria’s “discoveries”.

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Tales of Berseria has a couple of poor mini-games, except for one : it’s a card game very much like the Japanese game koi-koi, made with cards representing former Tales of characters. You draw a card each turn, and you try to regroup them by game or by role. A quite interesting mini-game that reminds us of Tales of Vesperia and Tales of Xillia 2. Another optional event, “dangerous” battles (when you encounter two enemy symbols at once) sometimes lead to even more dangerous fight featuring rare monsters. The game also contains hidden islands interesting in one particular aspect : that’s the only place where you will be able to use your PS4 share. BandaiNamco unfortunately keeps that retarded mentality of denying player the ability of sharing their experience of the main story.

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Finally each character has his/her own sidequest in which you’ll have to revisit every town and every dungeon. Rokurô continues his quest for power by chasing powerful beasts, Magilou will organize comic performances, Laphicet tries to make a legendary elixir, Aizen is looking for present for Edna… More amazing still, Millia and Jude from Tales of Xillia will infiltrate Velvet’s world in a rather surprising form!

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Exploration is a little disappointment in Tales of Berseria. Level design is nothing special, and dungeons are significantly less interesting than Tales of Zestiria’s. Only one had you solve a real puzzle to advance, the only one that made exploration a little exciting. Graphically too, there’s no revolution in sight : still developing on PS3 at the same time, BandaiNamco keeps a worn out 3D engine. Characters still get beautiful models, animations and moves are precise and lively, but the environment around you looks mediocre at best. Dungeons in particular are seriously bland, and are direct copies of what we’ve seen in Tales of Zestiria. Only advantage of this new Tales of, teleport bottles can get you into town in a flash.

To conclude, still a fascinating Tales of to experience despite the somewhat flattish main story. Scenario structure, direction, cutscenes, characters and sidequests enrich the game experience more than enough to spend long hours of play. I still consider it a little less good than Tales of Zestiria because the battle system is not perfect and exploring not as interesting.

My games of the year 2016 (GOTY 2016)

Best Action game

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God Eater 2 Rage Burst (PSVita/PS4)

Without a natural leader like Bloodborne last year, hard to choose between the three great ones today. But God Eater 2 Rage Burst somewhat stands out, because of its memorables momenta and heated battles. Full of adorable characters and playable in coop, it goes well beyond the hunting genre to become a great saga.

Runner-up : Fate Extella (PSVita) & The Division (PS4)

Best Shooter

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Battlefield 1 (PS4)

In Spring, I would have bet anything on Overwatch for this title. But that was underestimating DICE’s efforts to make Battlefield not only innovating by its theme, World War I, but also a thrilling sniper experience thanks to the best TDM maps since I know the series. The remarkable atmosphere and the gorgeous graphics are just the cherry on the cake.

Runner-up : Overwatch (PS4)

Best Strategy game

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Kan Colle kai (PSVita)

Kan Colle kai is the new Advance Wars. The addictive management of units and the desperate defense of positions brought me tears of joy when the final trophy popped. Gifted with rich and unique design and having a game system as enjoyable as Pokemon plus outstanding challenge, Kadokawa’s game is one to remember.

Runner-up : Pokemon Sun&Moon (3DS)

Best RPG

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Persona 5 (PS4)

Persona 5 being my first «true» Persona game (after Persona 4 Dancing All Night last year), I hadn’t how massive this series was. And here it is, the hype is 170% deserved, because Persona 5 is an RPG like you seldom see. Great narrative & characters, fantastic combat, dream-like design, deep game system, overflowing content… the new King of JRPG is here!

Runner-up : Tokyo Xanadu (PSVita)

Best puzzle game

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Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight (PSVita)

After a superb Yomawari, Nippon Ichi Software is at it again with Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight. Not adventure this time but pure a 2D platformer featuring lots of puzzles for hours of intense brainstorming, with far better controls than The Firefly Diary.

Runner-up : Ace Attorney 6 (3DS)

Best Sountrack

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Hatsune Miku Project DIVA Future Tone (PS4)

The tracklist in Hatsune Miku Project Diva Future Tone speaks for itself : in the 228 tracks, you’ll surely find dozens of your liking. Every J-pop style is widely represented, with a lot of novelties compared to portable Project Diva games (Hôkai Utahime, Gothic and Loneliness). Yet this PS4 game also features classics like Remocon or Envy Cat Walk.

Runner-up : Hatsune Miku Project Diva X (PSVita/PS4)

Best graphics

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The Division (PS4)

Open world of impressive scale, The Division is visually the most striking game I’ve seen this year. Ubisoft re-created New York with great realism and the post apocalyptic touch makes it an immersive experience.

Runner-up : Battlefield 1 (PS4) & Hatsune Mike Project Diva X (PSVita)

Best innovation

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Overwatch (PS4)

When Blizzard does something, it rarely fails. Overwatch is a competitive FPS like you’ve never seen before. Close to an RPG by its characters and skill mechanics, it allows for a great variety of gameplay blowing everything else in the genre. You’ve got an innovative set of roles like defenders (D.Va) or support characters of which the recently added grandma Ana is a stunning example.

Runner-up : Mary Skelter Nightmares (PSVita)

Best narrative

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Persona 5 (PS4)

Persona 5 is the master of suspense and intrigue. The passion in those personal destinies, the will of the characters, the bond uniting them, all this conjugated with the onimous plot set by wicked elites is a delicious cocktail that you keep pouring during dozens of hours.

Runner-up : Tokyo Xanadu (PSVita)

Best atmosphere

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Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight (PSVita)

Nippon Ichi Software is at its best when creating dark and crooked universes. Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight is no expection and delivers gloomy art that chills the bone : blood, death and despair are the key elements here. The developments, the very logic of the game and the touching conclusion make it emotionally beautiful.

Runner-up : Battlefield 1 (PS4)

Best design

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Kan Colle kai (PSVita)

While Persona 5 sure blows things out in terms of design, I might stick to Kan Colle kai for this one. Really unique concept with risqué fan service included, Kantai Collection does a great job drawing friends and foes, and decorating your HQ is a lot of fun too.

Runner up : Persona 5 (PS4), Mary Skelter Nightmares (PSVita) & Pokemon Sun/Moon (3DS)

Best game you might never play

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Kan Colle kai (PSVita)

I’m actually pretty sure you won’t play Kan Colle kai, unfortunately. Kadokawa has already announced that the game would be pulled back from shelves, further evidence that relations with the IP owner DMM.com aren’t exactly easy. You still have a few weeks to order an import version and a fat kanji dictionary with it.

Runner-up : none

Most disappointing

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Sword Art Online Hollow Realization (PSVita/PS4)

You’d need to be really incompetent or seriously cynical to keep this unwanted «title». Mr. Futami Producer of Sword Art Online games, must be this kind of guy. Incapable of keeping the progresses made in Sword Art Online Lost Song, he’s badly rehashed Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment with Sword Art Online Hollow Realization : romoved playable characters, boring linearity, thin storyline, outdated engine… everything indicates he wanted to maximize profits by minimizing efforts. This logic seems actually be going on with Sword Art Online vs Accel World, the first screens of which are horrendous. This time, my money will go the more capable and ambitious developers.

Runner-up : Summon Night 6

mini Platinum-trophy Game of the Year

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Persona 5 (PS4)

mini gold trophy Kan Colle kai (PSVita)

mini Silver_Trophy Rose and the Old Castle of Twillight (PSVita)

mini-bronze_trophy Tokyo Xanadu (PSVita)

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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PS4

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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PSVita

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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PSVita

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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PS4

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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PSVita

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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PSVita

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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PS4

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

Asterisk War Kirin Juris

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.

Asterisk War avatar training

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.

Asterisk War Ayato

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.

Asterisk War Phoenix Festa Claudia

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.

Asterisk War Irene

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 – 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.

God Eater 2 Laura

PSVita

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.

God Eater 2 Nana

PSVita

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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PSVita

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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PS4

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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PS4

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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PS4

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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PS4

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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PS4

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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PS4

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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PSVita

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

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.

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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.

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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.