Review – Kan Colle kai

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Representing naval ships by cute girls sure was a bold idea. Yet for 3 years now, the Kan Colle craze has taken Japan without any sign of slowing down. In 3 years, 3 millions of people have played DMM.com’s free to play strategy game. Feeling an opportunity, Kadokawa games lays down plans for a PSVita port. The handheld had a hard time seeing the light of the day (the numerous delays and Kadokawa’s decision to pull it from shelves show the negociations with DMM.com have been tough), but now it’s here, in the palm of your hand.

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In this naval strategy game, you’re a proud admiral of the Japanese Navy entrusted with the defense of the mainland against a mysterious Fleet of the Abyss. At first sight, no difference with your regular PC strategy game, except that here your fleet is exclusively composed with… girls! The game didn’t choose at random, since it borrows the name of famous WWII ships. You won’t be surprised then (or maybe a little) to see the aircraft carrier Akagi become a Kyûdô ace, or submarines turning into young girls in swimsuits! Kan Colle kai also welcomes foreign vessels like America’s Iowa or Germany’s Bismarck, who are featured as hot blonde girls. There are dozens of shipgirls (as the unofficial translation says), so everybody should find his favorites within the characters available. Yet the design is clearly uneven : the initial characters are not so well drawn compared to more recent additions. Nevertheless, the player throws himself in an unstoppable collection frenzy.

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Asia-Pacific in Kan Colle kai is divided into hexes that are areas you have to take back. Each turn on the map, you can either move your fleets or attack, after what it will be the enemy’s turn. Each hexe includes 4 zones and you must conquer the four of them to take control of the entire territory. At the beginning of the game, you only have Tokyo’s naval base. Be careful, because if foes seize it, it’s game over. Up to you to deploy your units efficiently enough to take back the coasts of Japan, enter Singapore, conquer Australia and finally destroy the Abyss HQ. Your job will be no less than winning WWII for Japan!

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Attacks are conducted by a group of 6 shipgirls or less, each zone having several battles before reaching to boss… if you manage to find it! The big challenge in Kan Colle kai is that most areas will ask you to form your group under precise conditions. For example, no more than 2 destroyers, no heavy carrier, minimum of reckon planes… The instructions are varied, but the immense difficulty lies in the fact that the game won’t always tell you what the conditions are! You have to try different combinations before getting the one that will lead you to the boss. Even by looking up Japanese and English wikis, it’s extremely long and harsh. The walkthroughs aren’t always complete nor do they even agree with each other. An unforgivable progression system that demands strong determination.

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Battles are turn based and the order of action depends on the stats of the units facing each other. If your reckon stat is high enough (if you’re stacked with planes, basically), your units will strike pre-emptively. If not, the enemy will fire in the middle of your turn. The result of battles depend on the level of your fleet : Kan Colle kai has an RPG aspect since each unit gains experience points at the end of the fight. When everyone’s done firing, the game will ask you if you want to keep fighting during the night. In this phase, accuracy is lower but you have a higher chance of dealing critical damage. Be careful, because it’s also true for the opposing units! Note that victory doesn’t require you to destory everything in front of you : the winning side is the one who has lost the least number of HP proportionally to its total HP.

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When attacking, the interface will ask you which formation you want to use. This is a strategic choice on your part that must be guided by your immediate goal. For example, the line formation is the best to deal damage but accuracy can get poor, while Echelon protects you better against submarines. Those basic rules already makes Kan Colle kai fairly complex, but that’s not the end of it.

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As you may have noticed, Kan Colle kai features several types of vessels, represented by cute icons on the strategic map : destroyer, light cruiser, heavy cruiser, battleship, aircraft carrier and submarines to cite thte main ones. There are uniques classes with very special abilities, but they’re very hard to obtain. Akashi, the girl of the supply menu, can for example repair units outside docks. Every class has a strategic role : you’re not leaving your simple destroyers rusting in the base because you’ll need them throughout the game. These are quite important to fight the infamous Abyss submarines, and they’ll be a key-conditions in many areas. Cruisers can damage carriers pretty badly, and submarines have the interesting advantage to be invisible to heavy units. Very expensive to produce, aircraft carriers are the best class in Kantai Collection. Well armored, useful for reckon and capable of lauching devastating pre-emptive air strikes, these girls marked by the small landing strip they hold are the units you’d want to include in your best fleets.

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Once you’ve mastered the strengths and weaknesses of everyone, you’ll need to focus on weaponry so as to have the best equipment for sortie. You can equip anti-air canons of various sizes, but all sizes don’t fit to every class type (lower accuracy is to expect if the canon is too big). War planes are divided into 3 categories : fighters, bombers and torpedo bombers which influence air superiority and air strike. You’ll also need to consider reckon planes which are key to your progression as we’ve seen. Other equipment like sonar and mines can damage submarines, and the precious repair unit can save the day in dire straights. All this comes with some huge hurdle in terms of understanding : partially written in Japanese of before 1945, Kan Colle kai is full of complex military vocabulary which only the most maniac can take on.

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That leaves a big question : how to develop your army? Like in any navy, actually : in shipyards. So you’re going to… build girls! This being a strategy game, you’ll need resources. Each hexe brings steel, gas, bauxite and ammo. Once those waters are under your control, resources will be added at the end of the turn. Bauxite is fairly rare but allows you to build the powerful carriers, so you should take such territories at all costs. You need transport vessels (not personalized, those one) in order to collect resources. Transports being incapable of defending themselves, you’ll have to appoint escort groups to prevent them from being sunk. Gas and ammunition are used every turn for resupplying your fleets, so securing resources is of critical importance. Note that you can also drop by Akashi’s shop if you’re short at some point. But the big thing to do there is purchasing tokens to extend repair or the upper limit of your army.

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Shipbuilding happening like a captcha of Japanese free to play games, the units are obtained at random. True, there are standard recipes which have been found by hardcore players, but getting duplicates is unavoidable. Nothing lost, because you can strengthen one character by consuming another character’s card. After reaching a certain level, shipgirls can even evolve into more efficient classes. Chiyoda and Chitose sisters for example evolve from seaplane to light aircraft carrier. Logical choice, because the Japanese Navy did improve the Chiyoda and the Chitose in 1943! Team of 6, random find, evolution… Yes, you got it : Kan Colle kai takes the exact same formula as Pokemon, with much success and efficiency.

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The more you progress in the game, the more aggressive the Army of the Abyss will be in its attempts to take back the lost grounds. And here, believe me, it’s not some pleasure trip. Hexes will turn turn yellow, ten orange and then to the maximum alert level, red. If no fleet is present to defend it, you lose all the 4 zones in it, plus the the one that comes just before! The conquest of one single hexe can take hours, days in some cases, so this Is absolutely huge in terms of presssure. In the late stages of the campaign, the Abyss forces launch attacks everywhere and everytime. You can’t take a break, even though you still have the hardest territories to take on. It will therefore be critical to station solid fleets at key points of the map and anticipate the enemy’s moves. Fortunately, several secondary missions will have allowed you to raise the number of available fleets to 8. Strategy in Kan Colle kai grows increasingly complex and demanding, but is proportionnally rewarding given the challenge. In short, exactly like a good Advance Wars.

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There are 3 levels of damage in Kadokawa’s game : light, medium and critical. If your flagship suffers critical damage, the current mission cannot continue and you’ll be forced to return to base. Heavily armored vessels are strongly recommended for this task. To increase the pressure, death in Kan Colle kai is definitive. A sunk character will not return (unless you rebuild her). And contrary to recent Fire Emblem games, here you can’t deactivate permadeath. A shipgirl with critical damage can die at any moment, making fights very tense like an old-school Fire Emblem : you pray for that the boss miss his shot, you triumph when your heavily damaged group wins tactical victory.

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Unfortunately, the game doesn’t really go beyond the original 2D, only little animation being added. Kantai Collection bring with itself an original and popular design which the reason for the wide merchandising. Even the Fleet of the Abyss, in featuring both grotesque figures and sexy “princesses”, makes very attractive artwork.

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The sound environment in the other hand is very good : with very loud firing sound, light military march and symphonies with grandeur, it’s varied and relevant. Themes like MI Sakusen and Hatsurei! Daiichigô Sakusen are definite masterpiece and make battles that you won’t forget. You also get the possibility to re-arrange the interior of your HQ with new furniture and such.

Japanese strategy games have become rare, especially those like Kan Colle kai which feature both addictive game and enjoyable challenge. Its interest and success lies in both its fine gameplay and weird design, which only got richer over the years. An impressive concept which takes the best from other Japanese strategy to build a unique and fascinating experience.

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 – Hatsune Miku Project Diva X

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When you’ve been bearing for years a principle as simple as pressing buttons in rhythm, surprising your public is no easy task. Hatsune Miku Project Diva X will thus split itself in two distinct parts : the “old” Free Play mode and the brand new Live Quest mode.

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The Free Play mode sees little change, and neither does the base of gameplay : we’re still in a pure rhythm game. The Playstation icons still show up everywhere on the PSVita display, and you also have to consider the direction buttons, plus the analog stick (or the touchscreen) to succeed with the star-shaped notes. The only changes are the removal of the big and linked stars seen in Project Diva F 2nd, and the introduction of Rush notes, for which you have to mash the corresponding button (which doesn’t get you anything besides a few more points).

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In that part of the game, you find once again the AR photography stuff. You can therefore use the AR capability of your Vita to insert Miku and her friends in your daily life. The number of poses/costumes has further grown so really the only limit is your imagination.

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Let’s enter the big subject that is Live Quest. The universe of Hatsune Miku Project Diva X is divided into five zones that have some sort of theme, featuring musics that share a similar atmosphere. There’s Neutral, Cute, Cool, Beauty and Chaos. For example, the Cute environment has kiddy or joyful tracks, while Chaos features weird design and unsettling paces. When you start, all those worlds have lost their vitality : Miku, Luka, Kaito, Meiko, Rin and Ren dedicate themselves to restoring the lost shine. By the power of song, of course.

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Each zone will ask you a definite objective of “voltage” you have to get from four or five songs (all new or so), and a medley which is a mini-concert featuring several extracts from well-known vocaloid tracks. Each song in each difficulty has its own numbered voltage objective you have to meet, otherwise you have to do it again from scratch. Let’s say a song has an objective of 131’000 : if you finish at 129’000, all is lost and nothing gets added to the current zone. If you achieve more, then total goes directly in the zone total. To make voltage go up, you just have to do usual : push button following the rhythm. Here again, the fundamentals stay as they are. The player starts with the choice between easy and normal, so you won’t get stuck because of the challenge.

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Once all the zones are fully restored, the game is “finished”, but not over. All zones will receive new voltage assignments, each time a more important figure. You can then replay your favorite songs as you like to earn the numerous remaining trophies. Hard and extreme mode will have been added too and those ones will earn you a lot more voltage (but as you imagine, it gets a lot harder).

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The extreme mode in Live Quest is particularly interesting because the music doesn’t stop even if you do a lot of mistakes : non-expert players can then see the full extend of the challenge in this mode. The hard mode is less tough than in Project Diva F 2nd, as there are fewer tricky spots and the average game speed is a little lower. To make the pleasure longer and more intense, Hatsune Miku Project Diva X adds little challenges that are some handicaps : icons vanishing, zigzagging, or twice faster! Quite some stuff to test your skills and make the fun last.

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Modules (which means a costume in Project Diva) are no longer for show but have a huge impact on gameplay in this third installment. You don’t trade them for Diva points at the shop anymore (the shop is gone, as well as Diva points), but earn them by succeeding in the Chance Time of a song. Every time playing a song, a gauge will appear at some point and you’ll need to avoid mistakes as much as possible in that timeframe to fill it. Once it’s filled and if you’ve hit the last star, your character will “transform”, kind of, wear a new outfit and finish the song with it. The problem is that the module you get is chosen at random, so you can actually get duplicates! Because of that, the system is less convenient than Diva points in order to collect the 300 (!) modules. After you’ve clocked 20 hours or so, it becomes really frustrating.

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Modules will directly impact your progression as they allow voltage bonuses. Divided into the sames categories as the areas, they give a 20% bonus if the element matches with the environment. Choosing a Cool module in the Cool area is advantageous, but the same module in another place will earn you nothing special. The various accessories (earned on the result screen) work in the same way. In harder settings, it is necessary to coordinate your character’s look so that he or she receives a maximum bonus rate. Note that you can register some appareance sets so as to save time in menus. Besides, each modules bears a special skills likely to help you : it may be extra voltage in certain conditions or a higher chance to get a rare module. Your current goal will dictate your strategy in that matter. The bad news is that it makes it inevitable to use modules or accessories that aren’t your taste. To be totally free, you must go back to Free Play (which you can do anytime).

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Despite Sega’s enthusiastic communication on the matter, the interaction part has been lightened. Proof enough, Diva Room has just vanished! No more gazing at Miku and the others as they occupy themselves in their loft. Instead of that, the character is facing you in the main menu and you can enjoy some funny reactions, with a bit of touchscreen stuff. It is not as rich as Project Diva F 2nd in that department, but it’s more lively and in the end, entertaining.

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The friend level still exist, but you can only make it go up by offering presents : stroking the character is no more on the agenda. The presents being obtained at random too, you don’t always have the right one at the right timing. That doesn’t help you get the friend level to the maximum… Too bad, because the friendship also slightly improve the voltage rate in Live Quest. In short, a communication aspect not perfect but the kawaii part makes up for it somehow.

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But the most important aspect of a rhythm game, that is still the music. It’s once more the excellent track selection that makes the formidable strength of Hatsune Miku Project Diva X, essentially because it’s varied and of high quality. The various themes being equally shared within the game, it can please everyone… provided they have some affinity with J-pop! There are fast and slow-paced musics, so every game style is covered. There are also a bunch of different sonorities. While the choreographies are as good as ever, the game is less stylish than before : you can swap the backgrounds as you wish, making it impossible to have graphical art like in Suki Kirai or Uraomoete Lovers. Also, we lament the lack of artwork in the loading screens. Some clips do have some genius in them : Hikyô Sentai Urotanda, hilarious tribute to series of the 80’s, is a clever parody of Sentai shows. Mrs Pumpkin no Kokkei na Yume is a good successor to Musunde Hiraite Setsuna to Dokuro in the “fantastic” category, rhythm, design and musical accents being close.

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Medleys also make a good novelty, because they’ll make you discover or re-discover great songs. Kono Fusaketa Subarashii Sekai and I.R. Fanclub are new to the series and add thunderous pace to their medleys. Star titles like Unhappy Refrain or Hatsune Miku no Gesshô will return to please their numerous fans. They are very well orchestrated in real “concert” spirit with some nice transitions. The style here sure is good. Remains the difficult question of the number of tracks. 30 songs or so, far less than the 200+ of Hatsune Miku Project Diva Future Tone. Let’s bear in mind that Future Tone is a straight port of the arcade, so everything existed before. In Hatsune Miku Project Diva X, everything is exclusive and Sega had to create it all from the very beginning. In an ever dwindling Japanese market, it is utopian to ask for more.

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Technically speaking, the 3D engine was so ahead of its time in 2012 that it’s still one of the best. Handheld games with that level of graphics aren’t exactly commonplace. Even though there’s basically just characters and background to manage, the modeling is just perfect for a handheld system. Despite its downrating from CERO C (late teens) to CERO B (Teen) in Japan, the content is still quite sexy in choreographies, costumes… or even lyrics. Those of Sôsei Bakuretsu Boy got Miku’s game to be pulled out from Korean shelves for a while.

Less rich than the past two episodes, Hatsune Miku Project Diva X still benefits from an iron-clad formula that doesn’t age : intense gameplay, great music and guaranteed fun. While the new progression system does some questionable choices, it makes the game and the pleasure longer. A very good pick for Miku fans, yet again.

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.

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 – Gal Gun Double Peace

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No one saw it coming, but here it is. The growing appetite for eccentric (and kinky) Japanese games in the West allowed the rise of new business actors like PQube, which is bringing Gal Gun Double Peace to our shores. That might not be the biggest game of the year, but I’ve cleared it last year and it’s worth a little mention.

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When I say “cleared”, that’s actually not that complicated since its main story lasts for approximately three hours. No big drama then : the main character called Hôdai (you, in fact since everything is from a first person perspective) is hit by a cupid trainee, Ecolo. Having been shot at full power, poor (?) Hôdai is immediately pursued by every single girl of the school!

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In this bizarre rail shooter, the player will have to calm things down by shooting… pheromones at the girls! There are 70 schoolgirls in the game, so fatally you’ll come across the same ones pretty often given the density of the levels. They all have a weak point (head, arm, thighs or… elsewhere) so you maximize your time and score if you’re accurate enough. If the girls come close to you, they will confess their love and that will have for effect to diminish your life bar. Aside of that, you’ll find between each chapters small requests from classmates asking you to find one particular thing hidden in the background. A little plus that gives a little more interest to the challenge because your spotting skills will be tested.

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The game also include boss characters against which you’ll have to be even more smart and precise. Nothing extraordinary, but a high score in those battles is required to get the best possible ending. Those sequences then appear has a real challenge for the player who has no choice but to seek the perfect. Unorthodox in its theme, Gal Gun Double Peace ends up being kind of classic in its gameplay. The shooting elements alone don’t really make a difference.

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Short, Gal Gun Double Peace still has a big replay value by having a dozen of different endings depending on your relation with the 6 main girls. You’ll have to choose between Hôdai’s childhood friends : Shinobu the sporty girl a bit tsundere, or her timid little sister Maya. Later in the game, you’ll be able to shift to a parallel route in which you can be more intimate with Kurona the demon girl or Ecolo, the angel responsible for all this mess. The last two characters are hidden and are to be discovered during the progression.

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The friend level necessary to obtain a true ending (or at least a good ending) depends on various factors. First of all, the answers you’ll give to the multiple-choice questions you’ll be asked will, like in a dating sim, impact your relations with other characters. Therefore, you need to try to guess which one will please your partner. The second parameter is the boss fights, in which you’ll have to do your best to achieve something. Last thing, you’ll have to be extremely precise in the character events. Those are particularly quirky situations in which you have to zoom on your girl’s body and shoot small icons, but avoiding hitting her directly! Those sequences can be replayed later in score attack mode.  

The big problem is that the progression system leaves little room for mistake : you have to be near perfect in everything you do. Otherwise, you have no choice but to restart from scratch. Because of that, the fear of failure lessens the fun. It’s pretty much impossible to find all the right answers in one walkthrough : if we set q the number of questions, the number of possibilities is 5q, and then the probability of a perfect score is 1/5q! Maybe not to that extend if you discard the obvious joke answers, but it’s so annoying that you literally have to read a walkthrough while playing… I do reckon that Gal Gun Double Peace should have had a lot more tolerance, especially in easy mode, so that non-veterans players can fully enjoy it too without having to redo it 20 times.

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That makes it a slight disappointed as far as I’m concerned, but Gal Gun Double Peace is by no means a bad game. It’s first and foremost an ecchi game and it does it really well. You have to consider it more like a fan-service interactive visual novel. Inti Creates’ character design for this game is wonderful and efficiently rendered by the modeling. This is not super amazing 3D of course, but it does look sharp and nice, and still technically solid for PSVita (the pictures of this article are all taken from PS4 though). Dubbing is quite fantastic too, partly thanks to Yui Horie who plays Ecolo’s role in a very cute voice. Kurona’s lines are also hilarious in her tendency to say DEATH instead of です in Japanese, and her natural inclination to make a fool of everyone. Illustrations, events and outfits reach high levels of sexiness and the game certainly doesnt hold back in being provocative, using hentai themes in numerous situations.

Short and frustrating in its gameplay, Gal Gun Double Peace is no less a very pleasant title for its target audience. Gifted with cool design and fun characters, it delivers its fan-service offering to the fullest, which may well make up for its drawbacks.

Enough of E3! Let’s talk about other games #2016

Atelier Firis (PSVita/PS4)

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After a rather average Atelier Sophie, Gust had to react and strengthen the series. Looks like they’re doing so, by the looks of the enhanced graphics, evolving and more convincing character design and the innovating game system. The adventure is no longer centered around one town and Firis’s base camp will be mobile. Moreover, choices you make on the world map will cause slight changes on the flow of events. NOCO and Yûgen seem to have sharpened their skills on those first characters, NOCO in particular taking a more mature/sexy orientation. Yûgen has this curious character called Ilmeria, who makes me think she can be a Meruru successor in some way. I must admit that the improvements are stunning so far.

Kangokutô Mary Skelter (PSVita)

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A Compile’s Dungeon-RPG that I am eager to play, partly because the devilish art direction is conducted by Kai Nanameda, already behind Trillion, God of Destruction. This DRPG takes a survival approach by its ghostly Nightmares who will hunt you down so fiercly you’ll have to run away. Several jobs have been unveiled, as well as a Genocide mode in which the girls gain immense power when in contact with ennemies’ blood. On the contrary, licking the blood will heal them, but remove the Genocide state. A gameplay balance in which risk-assessment will be key.

Sengoku Otome (PSVita)

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Weird background for this game since taking its origin from a anime itself coming from a pachinko! Sengoku Otome is kind of the Oda Nabuna game we never got : this fighting game which seems to play like Senran Kagura features girls representing general from feudal Japan. The ambitious Tokugawa Ieyasu becomes a shy pink-haired girl while Toyotomi Hideyoshi turns into a blonde loli. As much as I feel sorry for those great men, the paradox looks rather fun.

Root Letter (PS4/PSVita)

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A visual novel of fascinating concept. The player has had a pen friend called Aya, with whom he has exchanged 10 letters. In the very last one that he finds and reads years later, she admits committing murder. From there the game start as an investigation thriller, in which you have to find Aya’s former classmates to uncover the truth.

Black Rose Valkyrie (PS4)

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Compile Heart is going into something a bit different for this game, because one of the girls of Black Rose Valkyrie is a traitor. So while fighting against a fierce virus and monsters called Chimeras, the main character will also have to regularly question his allies, very much like in Lost Dimension. Reminding Galapagos’s works in a lot of ways, it also features costume break as it was in Omega Quintet.

Idolmaster Platinum Stars (PS4)

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Stunning by its sharp anime style, Idolmaster Platinum Stars will be my first step in that famous IP. Sure had to go into it one day. The player once more takes the role of a star manager and will have to lead his girls to the top of the entertainment business. You really start from scratch this time, because you pick the girls at the very beginning of their career.

Tokiden 2 (PS4/PS3/PSVita)

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Not much to say more about Tokiden 2 since I wrote a lot about the demo last time. It’s just matter to check how large the world really is and the improvements made to combat.

Caligula (PSVita)

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An RPG to have on your radar for its original base story : the students in Caligula are trapped in a fictitious ideal world created by a vocaloid called μ. Although the digital singer actually protects them from the wicked real world, those young men and women decide to stop living a lie ad will seek to destroy μ. Centered on the subject of digital worlds, Caligula benefits from genuine vocaloid songs.