Most anticipated games for 2017

Valkyria Azure Revolution (PSVita)

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I’ve been waiting for it a lot more politely” since the horrendous Autumn demo. The Action-RPG focus that has been reconfirmed doesn’t fit with Valkyria’s universe, and the battle system itself is fishy at best. Yet the prologue on PSVita was a little more satisfying, so maybe we can end up with a decent RPG of cool design.

Cyberdimension Neptune (PS4)

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The moment of truth for the Neptunia IP. Compile Heart took more than 1 year to think, work and offer us a game powered by Unreal Engine 4, which is a visual revolution. Still, little is known is this Action-RPG taking place in a MMORPG itself. We don’t know how the developers have calibrated fan-service and innovation, two key-elements to drive the series forward. The producers made very clear promises not to disappoint fans, so they better stick to it and avoid bland compromises this time.

NieR Automata (PS4)

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The demo was exactly what I expect from this game : precise and rich gameplay, Platinum touch in the camera work, an attractive main character, a intriguing world… March can’t come soon enough.

Nights of Azure 2 (PS4)

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Not especially a high priority until a few weeks ago, Gust’s next game suddenly made itself indispensable by its latest video. The least you could say is that there’s quite some “movement” here… Gameplay also looks like to benefit from dramatic improvements as the tag battle system seems quite lively with lots of charming allies. The developer was undoubtely right to postpone it.

Musô Stars (PSVita/PS4)

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How not to be excited when the spiritual successor to the excellent Orochi Warriors 3 Ultimate is almost within reach? For the first time, KoeiTecmo picks characters in all their IPs for a single action game. We’re therefore gonna be able to ease our stress on dozens of ennemies with unexpected dream teams involving Plachta, Oka, Kasumi or Marie-Rose to cite a few.

Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash (PS4)

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Already called Splatoon PEGI18 by some, the sequel to Senran Kagura Estival Versus trades ninja weapons for water guns, in which you have fancy models like snipers. Takaki-san likes it wet (well, wet cute girls at least) and promise to deliver aquatic entertainment with a few surprises here and there.

Gun Gun Pixies (PSVita)

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While the general feeling of Cyberdimension Neptune remains shrouded in mystery, Compile Heart’s new PSVita exclusive is very clear from the start. Part of all the nice projects lately, Kochiwa producer presents a game close to action Netpunia U, with some novelty in the plot. You play as two very tiny alien girls whose mission is to infiltrate a girls’ domitory, which means a lot of private life scenes.

Blue Reflection (PS4)

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Boasting Gust’s most advanced 3D engine to date, Blue Reflection comes at us as a turn-based RPG featuring magical girls fighting dark demons. Like Persona 5, there will be lot of emphasis on spending time with classmates (including a clone of Hifumi, in a somewhat younger self).

Dungeon Travelers 2-2 (PSVita)

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Only game that ever had me shut down a handheld system in a hurry while I was commuting, Dungeon Travelers 2 had to reconfirm its direct sequel. It’s now official and the base scenario should keep providing juicy situations : the main character of the first game, Freid, has lot to the final boss and was turned into a insolent young boy. All the girls of the previous game have turned into demonic women. Let your imagination do the rest.

Wipeout Omega Collection (PS4)

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Quite nostalgic of the legendary futuristic racing game, the reveal of this ultimate collection at Playstation Experience was pure delight. I can’t wait to compete again on board those distinguished little ships for more speed, violent weapons and cool techno music.

Legend of Heroes Sen no Kiseki III (PS4)

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Falcom will need to be particularly clever if they want to justify Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III as a PS4 exclusive. Graphics are barely sharper so no one will believe that a Vita version wasn’t possible at this point. Despite Altina’s already confirmed return, believe me that I’ll be extra harsh on this.

Final Fantasy XV (PS4)

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Yes, I’m still waiting for Final Fantasy XV. The game released end of November isn’t FFXV, because it fails to comply with basic rules of FF. No choice but to wait until Hajime Tabata fixes his mess by eventually offering a more compelling experience, with an enhanced narrative and more playable characters.

Dragon Quest XI (PS4)

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While FFXV has seen rampant westernization, Dragon Quest XI is so faithful to its roots that I’d want to hug it. Here’s what I call a JRPG cast with varied styles of characters, and the first trailer clearly shows it will remain true to its genre.

I’m also eager for Ni no Kuni Revenant Kingdom (PS4), Gran Turismo Sport (PS4), Itadaki Street (PSVita), Tekken 7 (PS4), Gravity Daze 2 (PS4), Happy Manager (PS4), Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4).

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.

Review – Atelier Sophie, the Alchemist of the Mysterious Book

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After the numerous complaints voiced against Atelier Shallie and the monstruous flop of the 3DS port of Atelier Rorona (11’000 units sold, 7 times less than Atelier Shallie which was already widely seen as a failure), Gust’s series had people worried. It turned out to be fine, since the developer was calmly preparing Atelier Sophie.

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I’m done saving the world”, such is Atelier Sophie’s motto. The game wants to put some distance with the Dusk trilogy and go back to a more innocent narrative like in the Arland trilogy. Indeed, you don’t feel any great ambitions when starting Atelier Sophie, which has next to no story focus for most part. Sophie is a young alchemist, and a bit awkward one, who’s gonna progress with the help of a mysterious book gifted with a consciousness. Sophie’s goal, so the player’s too, will be to recover the book’s memories by writing alchemy recipes in it. You progress from a recipe to another, while completing requests from other characters to whom you’ll get increasingly closer.

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The side characters will all have their own storyline, in average more developed than in Atelier Shallie (which was very poor in that department) but of disparate importance : Monica has a feeble background, like Oskar and Leon (who is a girl, despite her name). On the contrary, Harol, Cornelia, Fritz and Julio benefit from a consistent narrative, including some really fun or even moving sequences. Harol’s was particularly remarkable : young watchmaker too fond of revolvers to get to his work seriously, he progressively becomes obsessed with his past and the necessity to surpass his father. So better than the previous one in that field, even though the game sometimes gives to impression no to show or tell enough : Cornelia’s story for example, should have continued and lead to discover new lands.

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Last but not least of your characters, your book Plachta (pronounce “Plafta”) will take human form via the Doll Make system. Plachta’s soul is transferred in a life-size doll, that can be modified anytime. It simply consists of adding alchemy components to the doll’s limbs, the rarest ones giving higher boost in stats. When those stats reach a certain threshold, Platcha’s costume will change and she’ll be able to access a new class (wizard, valkyrie, etc.). But this option bears relatively low importance as the gain in stats represent only a small margin compared to the one provided by your equipement. It remains that Platcha’s arrival in your party radically changes the story’s direction because, ironically, you will go and save the world eventually.

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The alchemy workshop is more than ever the place to be, because not only will the game ask you to synthesize alchemy objects, but also to come up with the recipes! Indeed and contrary to previous episodes, there are no alchemy books in stores. Time to time, Shopie will have a genius stroke and note down a recipe. The player will have to trigger that by achieving some varied objectives, like inspecting the furniture, talking to a particular NPC, slay a particular beast or, far more complicated, creating an object with a given trait.

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Let’s put the head in the cauldron. There are several ones available, each represented by a checkerboard with some colored stars in it. Ingredients, which are represented by Tetris-like forms, are to be inserted in a way that the color stars can multiply and grow. The more and the bigger the stars are, better the bonus multiplier will become for the dominant color. With a multiplier important enough, the quality of the object rises and it can gain better traits. It is quite complicated in theory, but easier to learn empirically. Note that there are various sizes of cauldrons, and that some double your multiplier, sometimes asking you to synthesize in limited time! In short, a clever system but a bit less precise than Atelier Shallie’s.

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Alchemical creation is a bit more accessible than in the past, because powerful properties allowing considerable rise of stats are rife in Sophie’s world. Finding ingredients to have them attached isn’t hard at all. Up to you to combine them via intermediary objects like the gold string (formidable catalyst since it’s used to create itself, I call that the Gold String Loop) to give birth to even better traits like 全能の力 which raise all stats by 25 points! Once your weapons, armor and accessories possess such traits, your team is well-prepared for battle. As for interface, the touch pad of the PS4 allows you to quickly switch between menus and the encyclopedia (which has a very clear recap of all items, properties and their composition), so it’s extremely user-friendly.

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But all those ingredients, you’ll have to go outside and pick them. The wild nature of Atelier Sophie consist of numerous areas to explore, full of plants, ore and the likes. Atelier Sophie is the first episode to have a day/night cycle : monsters, items, present characters, weather are going to change periodically. Times goes by, but isn’t limited. This newest Atelier takes the same principle as its predecessor : the player can take its time to clear the game and the various challenges. But the various places are quite tiny and level design extremely poor. Thus no occasion to be impressed : you battle, you pick the goods, you come back to town. Nothing more.

Now we’re talking about it, battles. These have been rather simplified, and even made more or less automatic. Each start of turn has choose a stance for each character : attack or defense. Regardless of that choice, all characters can use regular action such as attack, skills, object, run away or defend. The stance only governs bonus actions : a character I defense can cover an ally, while characters in attack stance can perform powerful link attacks. The more characters you have in the same stance, better the effect will be. This also depending on your chain gauge : higher the figure, more daring the actions become. When the gauge hits 300% and all the four characters are in attack stance, it triggers the ultimate attack of one of them. It’s roughly Final Fantasy XIII’s role system, ultra-simplified version and in which the player actually doesn’t decide much. I really miss Atelier Escha&Logy’s battle system…

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Pretty much nerfed in the main story, the difficulty will rise at breakneck pace at the very end and after. You can still tweak the difficulty level anytime, from easy to despair (added by a later update), to have it match your playstyle. Veterans won’t break a sweat in hard or even despair during most of the story though, but optional bosses are another story : they are excessively powerful and can play 4 times in a row! While a can crush most of the bosses in despair with just the attack command (see above, it’s taken in despair but being only the 2nd dragon, it’s not much a of challenge), the two last enemies wipe my party out in 1.5 turn even in easy mode… in short, it’s fucking broken. That said, another growth menu that appear after the characters have reached maximum level allows you to add even more statistic points, vastly advantageous capabilities, upgrade your attack skills. But the progression curb being rather slow, you must play a lot after the main story to keep up. A disappointing postgame so, far form the replay value of the previous episodes.

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As for aesthetics, we can’t help but notice the economic troubles of the series : the technical downgrade is brutal. Graphics are less detailed than Atelier Shallie’s, which runs on the PREVIOUS generation! The town and the dungeons are a pity… Even design issues are to be reported : monsters look blatantly the same and there are few (almost none in fact) unique and charismatic opponents, those who make great JRPG fights. Here again, even the disappointing Atelier Shallie had them. In battle, the game remains a lot prettier than the rest, so it’s not like it’s a complete disaster either. The music also seems a bit on the wane : outside Fritz’s theme, a ballad that fits perfectly with the medieval setting, and senka no ichigeki, which continues the great lineage of boss battle themes. Whatever, you ears will be able to feast with a music DLC, packed with dozens of Gust’s past tracks, which was free in Japan. You can thus instantly create yourself dream-like playlists.

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Yes, you could object that the project is for the first time multi-platform from the start : the PSVita version is available alongside the home console version, no need to purchase the “Plus” version anymore. Unfortunately, the technical efforts are insufficient for both. With a modeling close the the one of the PS4 version, the portable Atelier Sophie is impressive at first sight, the rendering of the characters is excellent. On the other hand, framerate suffers horribly… The Vita has a hard time displaying the battle animations, which is true have their lot of special effects, especially in joint assaults. True, it’s less serious than the abysmally terrible portable version of Nights of Azure, but it’s not the technical prowess of the “Plus” version either. Unless you absolutely need it to play on the go, it’s preferable to play it at home with a seamless experience.

Changing the approach alone is not enough, and Atelier Sophie is proof of that. The game system is still solid and allows you to achieve great things, but in a terrible technical environment. Ideas and humor certainly are there, but not in full force. We can sense the pleasure of battle, but only from time to time. A serviceable episode, but Gust needs to re-enhance the experience by investing time and money. For Atelier Sophie, the developer probably had neither of them.

Review – Nights of Azure

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Night or not Night? That is the question with Nights of Azure, the western version of Yoru no nai Kuni, which meant “Nightless Country”. Nights of Azure takes back the night in its title, but its goal remains unchanged : amidst the weakening of the Atelier brand, Gust and KoeiTecmo want a new trump card in the JRPG market.

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The story of Nights of Azure, how much full of lore it may seem, is actually a lot more simple than it wants to look like. The world is in danger due to the likely resurrection of the Night Spirit, which would bring the Eternal Night and thus, the end of all life forms. Arnice is an agent of the Church sent to Luthwal in order to protect Lulitith, a saint expected to renew the seal that keeps the Night Spirit away from the living world. But in fact, the two young girls are more than friends and don’t accept that each other would risk her life for her lover. That immediately puts in perspective the big theme of Nights of Azure : yuri, as known as the passionate love between girls. That said, this is probably not the most interesting aspect of the game, the love element being tackled too lightly and the inevitable argument scenes are too awkward for the whole thing to be really moving.

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We however do appreciate the particular atmosphere of Night of Azure which combines mystery and straight humor. The duo composed of Lloyd and professor Arukado introduces a sort of comedia del arte parallel to the main story. Those two can never agree and argue all the time, getting on Arnice’s nerves with their fishy stories and requests. Lulitith, naive and unable to cook, is quite fun as well. Beside that, Nights of Azure is surrounded with suspense and various mysteries like Arnice’s elusive «Brother» and the shady pope giving conflicting instructions. The Gothic design and the ominous music are key in the bizarre but yet appealing world of Nights of Azure which sends you in very unexpected places like a carnival, a museum or an opera. The final battle ends the game a very clever twist that reverse the point of view developed so far and give a brilliant morale to the story.

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With Nights of Azure, Gust is pioneering new frontiers since that’s its first Action-RPG, instead of the turn-based ones the developer is used to. Arnice possesses 5 different weapons that will be gradually available : a long sword, a long katana as impressive as Sephiroth’s Masamune, dual blades, a mini-gun and a war hammer. The firearm excluded, each of those has a unique combo, the finish of which is decided by the number of inputs. There’s also a special attack far more powerful than average and of greater reach for each weapon : when equipped with the dual blades, Arnice will unleash a high-density sphere of energy, while the war hammer will just sweep everything around her. Although it’s interesting to switch between those weapons to take advantage of their specifications depending on the combat situation, your actions horribly lack punch and the standard battles soon get a tad boring. Besides and despite the various camera angles including a very far one, the readability of the battlefield is far from perfect. Consequently, Nights of Azure delivers a gameplay that is generally not precise enough, not intense enough and not immersive enough for an action game. It doesn’t feel «powerful», it’s slack and easy for most part so hard to be fully satisfied after playing games like Senran Kagura Estival Versus or Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. Let’s also stress that the stage are done in limited time, though it’s hardly a challenge : the time margin is quite comfortable and you soon don’t pay attention to the clock anymore.

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Fortunately, the gameplay of Nights of Azure is little more than that and brings some innovation. Arnice will be supported by 4 demons called Servants all the time. Those ones will attack the same group of ennemies as Arnice, unless she gives other orders like regrouping or launching their own special attack. There are around 30 different familiars to collect in the game, and they are divided between specialists such as healer, attacker, magic user, defenser, jammer, etc. Up to you to build balanced teams for your sorties in the inhospitable night, knowing that Servants do level up too and that some grinding will be necessary for the newcomers as they do take hits. Servants are obtained via rare drops by monsters or by acquiring them at itinerant merchants spread here and there in the dungeons. But those ones don’t take gold, only Blue Blood. This resource is obtained in more or less great quantities after any fight. The Blue Blood is central in Nights of Azure since it’s also needed for the Servants to materialize and it will also serve as experience points for Arnice to level up! You probably got the picture, the Blue Blood rat race has only begun and it will be long.

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Last but no least, Arnice can transform herself into a strange creature for a short time when the gauge is filled. Here again, you’ll have to choose depending on your battle strategy. The Armor form boasts considerable attack and defense but slows Arnice down a lot. On the contrary, the Rabbit form is extra fast and can chain combos relentlessly on a wide area. The Phantom form is very particular because it has nearly no offensive capability, but on the other hand it can heal the Servants and speed up their MP recovery. Again, your monster deck will be key since its composition will decide on which demon form applies for Arnice. Each Servant has affinity points with a form in particular, and you need a minimum of 10 points to validate a metamorphosis for Arnice. When you’ve unlocked everything, you can bring with you 4 groups of 4 servants, so you can have as many different transformations available if you’re well-organized.

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The bosses in Nights of Azure will regularly wake the player up as the common battles will have thrown him in deep slumber. Gust has indeed prepared wacky and sometimes exhilarating confrontations of outstanding direction with a few surprises that’ll make you startle. Those boss themes are absolutely great and complete an already fantastic soundtrack, in which we expected no less from Gust who always deliver quality I music. Let’s have a special mention for the final boss, throughfully tough and intense fight demanding an iron-clad preparation from the player, but also extreme responsiveness and endurance. The best final boss in a long time. This is however the only strong point of Nights of Azure when it comes to pure gameplay, the side missions always asking you to kill some type of monster or going from A to B. The post-game content is a lot more exciting, with some more hard bosses. With most of the side stories completed, I cleared Nights of Azure in roughly 20 hours, which is lower than JRPGs average.

If Nights of Azure represents a interesting incursion of Gust in the sphere of Action-RPGs, its general lack of intensity will make it fade in comparison to the best in the genre. The art design and the music are still worth your while, as well as its dramatic ending.

Enough of E3! Let’s talk about other games! #2015

Yoru no Nai Kuni (PS4/PS3/PSVita)

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After barren months full of bullshit, Gust makes its great return with the new IP they had promised long ago. Yoru no Nai Kuni, Nightless Country probably when localised, is an Action-RPG that plays a lot like Drakengard 3, yuri elements added. The main character Arnas will also be able to summon creatures & demons and even transform into them. Graphically speaking, it is much like the latest Atelier titles, that is to say good character models but barren environments. No catch this time, Yoru no Nai Kuni releases on PS4, PS4 and PSVita at the same time.

Blanc + Neptune Tag vs Zombie Army (PSVita)

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Blanc won the popularity poll of the Neptunia series in late 2014 (I would like to recount the votes though), and has thus the privilege to be the star of this new spin-off. New? Nothing sure about that so far, since it seems to directly inherit the assets of Neptunia U Action Unleashed, plus the school setting and the multiplayer mode.

Tokyo Xanadu (PSVita)

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Falcom is hungry for challenge. Rather than rushing Sen no Kiseki III, the rising Japanese developer invests in a new IP exclusive to PSVita! Tokyo Xanadu trades Heroic Fantasy for urban legends and will explore parallel worlds to the Japanese capital. This Action-RPG will have you control a duo of characters, with of course combined attacks like in Sen no Kiseki. Falcom’s genius design needs no introduction and the graphics seem slightly above Sen no Kiseki II.

Valkyrie Drive (PSVita)

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The Senran Kagura license takes a pause and Kenichiro Takaki takes up the consumer game part of the media mix project Valkyrie Drive. Titled Bikkhuni (no, not bikini), the game seems to take the recipe of its model. Not much details have been shared to date, we’ll have to wait until its simultaneous release with the anime Mermaid and the smartphone game Siren that share the same universe.

Kan Colle Kai (PSVita)

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Tired to see Nintendo and Intelligent Systems doing nonsense like CodeName STEAM instead of delivering Advance Wars 5? Kan Colle kai is for you! In this turn-based strategy game will have you build squads of shipgirls to counter the dark army of the Abyss. Be careful though, their gear is sensitive to impacts. This port of the ultra successful browser game is going to be a Vita best-seller if preorders are to be believed.

Ace Attorney 5 (3DS)

One of the (numerous) missing games of the Nintendo Digital Event, Great Ace Attorney prepares its summer release in Japan. The preorders are dangerously low but it won’t prevent it to become a reference of the 3DS line-up this year. Benefiting from Capcom’s technical mastery to make a gorgeous 3DS game (which Nintendo doesn’t even try anymore), this latest entry also appeals by its leap back in time. Great Ace Attorney explores the Japanese & British Empires in the end of the 19th century, with astonishingly appropriate design. I recently played the short demo dropped on the Japanese e-shop and it already looks FAN-TAS-TIC!

Makai Shin Trillion (PSVita)

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Always delayed, never hit, the fateful day arrives for Makai Trillion. I will get my most awaited game on July 23rd. Despite two delays, the hype is still intact thanks to the regular Dengeki articles that have shown tons of new bizarre NPCs, amazing artwork, details on the progression systems and suspense. Compile Heart’s game actually features permadeath like Fire Emblem, so the choices will be heavy. The user interface shown above has a flurry of parameters such as friend level, fatigue, money, and many tabs that pretty much guarantees extensive management. Atelier’s succession might be here.

Review – Atelier Shallie

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Even the greatest series eventually fall. Atelier, which has brought some of the best RPGs of the PS3 generation, ends it without glory. Shallie’s lost focus and missed opportunities draw a hollow twilight for the Atelier series.

Atelier Shallie is the 3rd (and last?) episode of the Dusk trilogy started with Atlier Ayesha and Atelier Escha&Logy. That’s the first problem of this game, because it ends it in a rather awkward manner. None of the questions raised in the past two games finds a definitive answer : Linca’s story is barely hinted at, the truth behind the drought that plagues the world is hardly explainded, we are still waiting for an clear illustration of Alchemy’s past mistakes, and Ayesha and Logy are MIA.

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Story-telling is faulty too. This sequel looks more like a spin-off that borrows some characters from before. It’s composed of two separate stories : Shalistella’s and Shalotte’s (both called Shallie). Shalistella is your average Atelier heroine whereas Shalotte, more dynamic and lively, introduces a more moe approach. Unfortunately, neither side has been well executed, and the slim differences between the two adventures doesn’t make replay value very valuable. Shalotte got on my nerves after merely two chapters : she’s not half as good as Meruru for example. The Shalistella part ended up boring fairly quickly (she wants to save her village, nothing more). Generally speaking, the story never takes off and stays as a series of events half-serious, half-humoristic. The tone seems mainly light in the end, because any attempt of the game to get more serious sounds really off.

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Because of low stakes and an astonishing lack of intensity, but also surprisingly shallow characters. Of all the newcomers, Miruca is the only one that shows a bit of work : only her has a solid backstory and thus the only one you sympathize with. The others feel almost invisible given the low interest of the events they’re in. Wilbell, Escha and Keithgriff are back but their role is quite secondary and they add nothing but their combat capabilities in the end. Reyfer appears like once or twice, it was really unecessary to bring him back for 5 minutes.

In its gameplay, Atelier Shallie changes radically. First thing, it drops the limited time frame to go for a classic progression system in chapters in which you have all the time you want. There are two schools of thoughts on this «issue» : some (like me) reckon that time limit is Atelier’s trademark and that it’s part of the overall pleasure, but you could also think that those new to the series can enjoy it more. Choose your side! To make it further accessible, Gust opted for the Xillia method and now difficulty settings can be changed any time. Wise decision, because even though most of the game felt easy, difficulty surges at the very end. This episode adds a morale gauge, but after 70h and 2 playthrough, I’m still wondering what it is for and how it works…

A bit like Lighting Returns, you no longer get experience points in battles (or very few). XP should be gained by doing Lifetasks, objectives comparable to Atelier Ayesha’s. Some of those challenges are immediate (make a specific object, do a specific action, get some alchemy trait, beat X monsters, explore maps, etc.), but others are to be achieved on the long term. Even without the time parameter, management is still there because you’ll often have 10, 20, 30… tasks available at the same time, an varied enough. The ones you complete constantly trigger others, so it’s a never-ending managerial frenzy, let alone the fact that you still have to manufacture your gear from scratch. That said, there’s no denying that gameplay has grown poorer. Just one example that thunderstruck me : the characters decide to hold a cake contest at some point. So I do expect to spend some hours in my atelier making the ultimate sweet. Far from that, the event launches right away and a get the free trophy without doing any action… there I realise that clearly the Atelier I knew was no more. The exploration of the world map is also made boring by the infinite time, the rigidity of the progression system and the bland level-design. Exploring doesn’t have the thrill it used to.

Combat has also been revamped although there was no need to (see the above video). Atelier Shallie introduces a system called Burst : every time you hit an enemy, a burst jauge is getting filled. When this one reaches 100%, you can deal a lot more damage. You got it : it’s a Break system like there are everywhere since FFXIII. It brings nothing but wasted time between Burst sequences. Worse still, the enemy can slower your Bust jauge if you are hit too often, which in some cases (fortunately rare) is horribly irritating. Despite that little blunder, let’s stress that if you meet certain conditions, you can trigger the Field Burst, kind of magical circle that boost your stats for the time of the Burst : a nice idea to further vitalize combat. The rest of the fighting is directly inherited from Dusk, that is to say equally tactic and nervous to keep interest until the end. Be warned though, the game is fairly easy until the very end, even in hard. This being due to the multiplication of super-powerful healing spell that makes the manufacturing of healing items almost useless. It could however be corrected if KT makes the No Hope difficulty available at release, Despair being only for NG+.

Julie

The good news is that the game has been further polished visually, as it has been the case for 4 years. Although backgrounds are still mostly bland, the battles show artistic and technical mastery : modeling is refined to the extreme, the level of detail is more than satisfying and the animation wonderful! The various moves of the 8 characters are varied, and spectacular. On design, Hidari’s illustrations are as good as ever and the OST quality stays high, especially on battle themes.

Let’s finish on the only subject that was left untouched from Escha&Logy (wise choice) : Alchemy. It still has the skills divided into the 4 elements, save that they are even clearer and intuitive, which makes the system extremely precise and enjoyable without any loss in complexity.

Atelier Shallie bears all the signs of a game that was developed and released too fast : lack of overall content, lack of ambition but also launch hiccups that still make it crash 9 months after. Not a bad game, but it has lost the essence of what Atelier means and there can be no greater disappointment. We do have to wonder how an old and illustrious series like that could have been ruined and rent like a parking lot to a loan shark for subsidies.