Enough of E3! Let’s talk about other games #2017

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Zanki Zero (PS4/PSVita)

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Survival-RPG produced by the DanganRonpa team, Zanki Zero has the most interesting concept this year. Zanki is an idiom known in shoot’em up which represents the number of starships remaining before game over. In the same logic, the 8 boys and girls of Spike Chunsoft’s devastated world will have to progress and survive until no one remains. Rather advanced in its management, Zanki Zero will ask the player to quell the stress of the characters and even take care of their natural needs.

Shin Yomawari (PS4/PSVita)

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Remarkable game of 2016 in the fear department, Yomawari obviously sold well enough to warrant a sequel because Nippon Ichi Software plans to release Shin Yomawari in very territory this year. You will this time control two girls on after another, the world will be larger, including indoor environments among new frightening spots.

Tokyo Clanpool (PSVita)

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Compile Heart is on the move on Vita with a brand-new DRPG, the heroine which is… a loli prime minister ! Along with her cabinet, Natsume tackles the exploration of a mysterious black tower that crashed on the Japanese Diet building. Openly political, Tokyo Clanpool features a support rating as central criteria.

Dragon Quest XI (PS4)

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After the moral collapse of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest XI is one of the references JRPG fans must consider. Casino, horse racing, dragon mounting, smith… SquareEnix’s next hit underlines its rich content and classicism to better attract summer players.

The Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

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Cool but significantly incomplete, Great Ace Attorney had sequel” written all over it. That’s now on rails and we’ll again have the pleasure to experience the Victorian and Meiji era with Ryunôsuke, but also from the eyes of his distant cousin Ryutarô.

Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

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Falcom likes to play with fans’ feelings with its first PS4 exclusive. Trails of Cold Steel III reshuffles the roles and calls back popular characters from older episodes. Unexpectedly, Aurelia becomes headmistress of Thors Academy, Tio makes a noticeable entrance and eccentric Dubally will once more stand on your way along with the threatening secret society she belongs to. Meanwhile, no word on your former comrades from Trails of Cold Steel II… Falcom or the master of suspense.

Nights of Azure 2 (PS4/PSVita/Switch)

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Obsequious to Nintendo’s orders in exchange for a juicy part of profits in the Fire Emblem Warriors project, KoeiTecmo had left Nights of Azure in the dark the time the were preparing the Switch version. Having recently reappeared in the press, Gust’s action-RPG showed its final casting of Ashule’s partners and detailed the swimsuits offered as an apology for the long delay.

Moero Castle Panzers (PS4)

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Compile Heart had a clear purpose when choosing PS4 as the only platform for Moero Castle Panzers. The company intends to offer the usual Moero experience (touching the girls’ body) in the best 3D they can deliver. In terms of battle, we’re now looking to tactical-RPG featuring various jobs depending on the equipped underwear (!).

E3 2017 Nintendo – The Longest 25 Minutes

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The Nintendo defense force has faith. Despite a tiny launch line-up and a cloudy future, Switch entered the gaming market with a bang. Stocks issues keep being recorded in all continents, the situation being extremely serious in Japan where costumers have to earn the right to purchase via lotteries organized in stores. As the demand seems to be never ending, observers wonder if we might be witnessing a Wii-like phenomenon.

Before entering the (dramatically important) analysis of Switch’s debut, let’s have an overview of the firm’s yearly financials. Here, we must stress that despite the 2.74m Switch shipments, the fastest-selling Pokemon game ever and the greatest Zelda of all time”, revenues still go down 3%. Operating result melted 10% in the wake of new expenditures. The net result, however, skyrockets by 521% and this is where it gets interesting. Those profits comes from 3 items : minority interests bring 20 billion yens (Pokemon GO dividends, no doubt), the exchange market was 13 billion more favorable compared to 2016, and the company earned no less than 60 billions by selling securities. By doing the maths, you realize that video games actually don’t make more profits than last year. Those artificial profits hides the truth, which is that the business is flat due to the fact that Switch cannot compensate WiiU’s rapid collapse. On the next fiscal term, 3DS shipments should go down, increasing the pressure on the new system.

The big question is : who’s buying Switch ? Who are those who frantically throw themselves on the first Switch in sight ? With 2.76 millions copies sold, Zelda Breath of the Wild has over 100% attach rate. Mario Kart 8 DX also has a high percentage, with half of Switch owners getting it at launch. 1,2 Switch is stalling, and many ports achieve mediocre sales. My interpretation is that Nintendo fans become increasingly radical : they want more Nintendo, as soon as they can grab the stuff. True, some core gamers at large join them in the Switch install base, the offer being a lot more attractive than WiiU in its time. But data is lacking to give solid conclusions. August 31st will be key in ascertaining Switch’s attractiveness as Nights of Azure 2 hit PS4, PSVita and Switch at the same time. FIFA Switch eventually came to be FIFA18 but will come in a weaker version, lacking Forstbite engine and story mode. The only question will be whether Nintendo fans quit playing Splatoon 2 to embrace EA’s football.

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Let’s stress that those will be the only occasions in which Switch and PS4 will directly face each other : despite the stupefying sales pace, 3rd parties around the world do not care about the hybrid system. NIS America may have shipped 100K units of Disgaea 5 Complete, NIS Japan disregards that and is making all its next games for PS4, PSVita and PC. Not even a little port for Switch ! Very surprising given the business opportunities that were proven by Disgaea 5 Complete’s good reception. BandaiNamco, who’s regularly provided Dragon Ball Z games for 3DS, and who’s porting Xenoverse 2 on Switch, ditches Nintendo’s new system in the case of Dragon Ball Fighter Z, one of the best games of E3. Code Vein, Namco’s brand new post-apocalyptic action IP, is skipping Switch too. The last direct that had revealed Nights of Azure 2, Fate Extella and Senran Kagura for Switch shook the web. But after this E3, we can conclude that Nintendo merely reactivated old alliances, KoeiTecmo and Marvelous obeying the Big N every time a fat check comes from Kyoto. In Japan, the balance of powers has yet to turn in Nintendo’s favor.

In the West, no one will be surprised in seeing large publishers shunning the Switch. Bungie was recently saying that Destiny 2 on Switch would be “unrealistic” because the idea behind the Switch doesn’t fit with always online. Bethesda is not doing more than the Skyrim super late port, and is almost being cynical in the way it keeps all its new games for PS4 and XboxOne. Despite outsourcing the development of Mario + Rabbids, Ubisoft has no big game to give in exchange of borrowing the Mario franchise : Switch ends up having the usual Just Dance, and Starlink Battle for Atlas, a shoot’em up based on toy models. One after the others, AAA titles shine at E3, and for none of them Switch gets the spotlight. In the mid/long term, Switch can only choke form the lack of AAA, not even having AA titles to resist. In fact, the situation hasn’t really changed compared to January 13th : Nintendo is trying to find its way alone and the line-up is as weak as before… As I said last year, the “perfect Zelda” achieved nothing in the console war.

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Nintendo intends to ship 10m Switch by next March, but that would merely make it reach WiiU’s final figure. Once every Nintendo fan has the system (adding some core gamers interested in some Nintendo IPs), how will Switch extend its influence without any of the big names that dominate today’s gaming market ? After this E3, Switch welcome a mere 10% of upcoming titles and no 3rd party developer came up with something new in the tiny Direct of just 25 minutes. And on the 1st party side, nothing big enough to threaten Sony’s and Microsoft’s market share. True, we got a glimpse of the ever returning Yoshi and Kirby, but no doubt they’re quicly developed low end games aimed at luring the masses. Xenoblade 2 received a new, improved design by jumping on the bouncy harem RPG bandwagon and Fire Emblem Warriors seems to have quite an effective casting. But those two seem isolated, not mention that their release window is still vague. To Call of Duty WWII and Far Cry 5, Nintendo hasn’t got more than a simple Metroid Prime 4 logo to oppose. The competition must be stricken with fear… Only Mario Aliasing Odyssey got a definite release date, which leaves room for many delays. In the current state of affairs, the Switch is trying to conquer the world with an army of late ports, a flurry of indies and a 500-yen Senran Kagura application. Not sure it’s gonna be enough…

By the way and if Sony and Nintendo both achieve their objectives, Switch would be largely dominated by PS4 in its first full year, Sony expecting no less than 18 million PS4. The gap would only grow whatever the reason (no enough supply or loss of interest). That said, there is no doubt that Switch will eventually sell several times more than WiiU. It’s the most powerful handheld on the market, which gives it a potential market of at least 25 million costumers in Japan alone. Even without 3rd parties to support it, the mainstream public (who still buys 3DS) should guarantee continuous sales. It will also get a main Pokemon game and a main Fire Emblem strategy-RPG, so that’s millions more clients in the bag. And with no successor for PSVita, many Japanese developers may need Switch to tap the handheld market. This is the major subject of the next few years : will Japanese 3rd parties make sufficent profit on PS4 alone ? Will their technological level improve to the point Switch ports would become impossible ? Monster Hunter World and Code Vein already signify their PS4pro/XboxOneX optimization : even before releasing, Switch was out of the league. If that becomes a general trend, then the current divide of the Japanese market will continue : older core gamers playing on PS4 in cold war with a mainstream majority focused on casual experience. At best, Nintendo can aim at peaceful coexistence with Sony, both system being complementary and a decent number of gamers playing on both.

As suprising as it may seem after 3 months of massive success of its new console, Nintendo is still a tiny player on the world stage. Not a single publisher has faith in Switch even though it’s flying off shelves, and the manufacturer itself isn’t strong enough to match ambitious and innovative rivals. This E3 is further proof that Nintendo is leagues behind and isolated from everyone.

Review – Cyberdimension Neptunia 4 Goddess Online

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I had been exactly 1 year, 2 months and 2 weeks since Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls when Cyberdimension Neptunia 4 Goddess Online hits Japanese shelves last February. Compile Heart had declared in April 2016 that this time they would take their time and not disappoint. 1 year later, what’s left of that promise? Not much I’m afraid…

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For that 2nd PS4 exclusive, Compile takes a similar approach to Hyperdimension Neptune U, which means a action-RPG spin-off that tells a small parallel story to the main episodes. In this one, Neptune, Blanc, Vert and Noire are testing a VR MMO, the famous Four Goddess Online played by Vert in the main series. For that, Cyberdimension Neptunia has little story focus, despite the hacking part which slightly bolstered the interest. In the end, the narrative had little surprise and very flat story-telling.

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The city is where you’ll chat with all the characters. That’s the place where all the funny things happen via chatting here and there. You’ll make acquaintance with Kiria & Kuronekohime, two lovers intending to clear the game before Neptune’s party. The reference made to Reki Kawahara’s universes is pretty clear and there are some cool Easter Eggs to Sword Art Online, plus some clever jokes like confession part in the cathedral or Uzume’s strange pet. But in terms of overall side content, it was light and somewhat boring. Some anecdotes were very strange, not to say embarrassing like Vert’s tea lectures. I’m still wonder how we came from console wars to tea… That felt horribly out of place, sign that no interesting renewal has been found for the series.

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Characters were notably under-used : Kiria & Kuronekohime vanish at mid-game and personally I’d have wanted further story development for Mein who has been the most sympathetic new girl. It is quite striking to notice that Cyberdimension Neptunia is the first episode that does not introduce a new playable character. The 4 little sisters quickly join your party, followed by Purple Heart, Black Heart, Green Heart and White Heart who are separate characters in this title. That makes a somewhat underwhelming total of 12 playable characters when recent episodes did much better on that.

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But as far as I’m concerned, the most disheartening side is that there are few illustrations, most of them not that fantastic. It’s pretty, but bland. Tsunako’s talent is misused and you could sense that in the interview just before release. Cyberdimension Neptunia is at the end of a political process aimed at watering down the experience by removing fan-service as much as possible to make it some classic kawaii JRPG. But in doing this, the series is just becoming shallower and fades in comparison to Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash for example. Here again, that goes against what had been said in the April 2016 interview : it’s clear that there is nothing to expect anymore.

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Funny to notice that after April 2016, official speech focuses on only one thing : Unreal Engine 4. Compile had promised a revolution thanks to the powerful engine. In a way, it’s a success : Cyberdimension Neptunia is definitely seamless compared to past episodes, to the point you really feel the series has made a step forward. Movements so quick that you have to re-learn how to play. It’s a real pleasure to witness the Neptunia universe running at 60 fps. Special effects and lightning effects have also improved a lot, and some character (not all) models seems sharper than before. However, environments still looks pretty barren, and maps are somewhat tiny. Level design is bad and exploration is absent. Once again, we’re far from what Megadimension Neptunia VII had offered in that department.

It’s a game in a game, so the characters get fixed jobs inspired by classical RPG, that are different to what you’ve been accustomed to : Noire is Black Knight and fights now with a spear, Rom and Ram become respectively Samurai and Ninja, and therefore fight head to head against monsters. All characters can equip 4 skills or magic spells, which you choose via the rear buttons, just like in Dragon Quest Heroes for example. Those are pretty much welcome to complete the one and only combo available per character, first sign of shallow gameplay. Locking proved very unstable and unable to give a clear sight in battle. Dodging is totally ineffective, but there’s a reason for that : Cyberdimension Neptunia’s gameplay is based on guard & counter. Hitting after a successful guard trigger a counterattack, something that quickly becomes natural all game long.

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The problem is that it produces a static and lackluster battle system. There player may be bored quickly by such lack of variety, another problem being the low challenge. You have a whole second to launch your counterattack, enemies are weak, brainless and your own characters gain experience and levels at breakneck pace. There aren’t many enemies on the map either, so you don’t have the same enjoyment as the PSVita action games.

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Bosses are considerably rehashed within the game, and show poor battle patterns. Game over doesn’t even exist. So in the gameplay department alone, Cyberdimension Neptunia seems a major failure to me, only the final being tough enough to bring some fever.

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The lack of care in the development is obvious when you look at the general picture. As unbelievable as it may sound, the live 2D, which was born with the series, is out : 2D models are sadly fixed and lip sync is nowhere to be seen either. The use of Unreal Engine 4 didn’t go very far. Cut-scenes are rare (2 or 3 tops) and fail to impress too. Photo mode doesn’t stop the action, so a lot less good than the one in MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombie Army. The multiplayer has been simply dreadful since only the room host could benefit from correct frame-rate. It took Compile and Tamsoft about 30 days to address this problem among other bugs. Far too late : a game that can be platted within 30-40 hours doesn’t last you one month…

1 year for this?”. That’s what I wondered while watching the end credits of Cyberdimension Neptunia. Despite the unquestionable graphical improvements, we find ourselves with an episode delivering very little in every other aspect instead of tackling long-lasting drawbacks. A game of a series that has lost its true self, with insufficient volume, and that ultimately come to remind us that graphics alone don’t make a great game.

Review – Tokyo Xanadu

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In the long list of Falcom’s action-RPGs since the 80’s, I find names like Ys, Brandish, and the more discreet Xanadu. Distant successor, Tokyo Xanadu drops the heroic-fantasy of its ancestor to deal with urban legends in more contemporaneous anime style.

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Kô is your average high schooler, spending his time between school and part-time jobs. Not very passionate about anything, he lives with the memory of the giant earthquake that shook Tokyo 10 years before. This very day, he and his childhood friend Shiori saw large red mark in the sky. This trauma will soon haunt him again as one day Shiori vanishes in another dimension. From there, a mysterious girl called Asuka appears before him and reveals the existence of a menace from a parallel universe. The disaster 10 years ago was no quake, and Asuka urges Kô to help her prevent it from happening again.

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Tokyo Xanadu has a Persona-like progression system. The game is strictly divided into different phases coming on a regular basis : main story, main dungeon and free time for preparation and distraction. Falcom has put efforts in the narrative and it makes significant progress : every chapter introduces a character and goes in depth about his background and personality, exactly what you’d see in a good anime series. Thanks to this rigorous story-telling, all characters have equal importance and there’s no shallow or underrated character. Every one of them has a clear role, a real importance in the narrative as a whole and all get their time to shine.

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All the side narratives have some meaning in them, sometimes very strong and emotional : Rion’s past brought me to tears. On the other hand, Sora’s troubles for example felt a bit flat. But anyway, the title is packed with emotions and should captivate you increasingly more as you progress. Lots of side quests are also touching, many of them referring family as a general theme in a very mature way. The end the main narrative is truly tragic, unless you manage to get the true end. In short, Tokyo Xanadu is simply humane, beautifully.

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Leisure parts allow you to wander in an imaginary Tachikawa, deepen your relations with other characters or dive into annex dungeons in order to collect materials. You’ll even go at the butcher’s or the greengrocer’s to buy ingredients, because cooking exist in Tokyo Xanadu just like in Trails of Cold Steel II. Like the latter, each character has his/her favorite meals and you’ll have to choose your cook accordingly. The game also includes several mini-games like fishing or the card game here again from Legend of Heroes. Falcom adds a sort of dexterity game based on Alisa (from Trails of Cold Steel again) disguised as a magical girl.

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Battles look like a standard action-RPG like Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy Type-0. There’s a base combo on square, a charged blow on triangle and a long distance attack on circle. You can bring up to 3 characters in a dungeon, the basic principle being to swap between them in order to strike enemies on their weak element, or to let one recover HP. That’s for theory. Actually, the game is a little too easy : the greeds (that’s how you call monsters in this game) neither are very solid, very fast, nor are there a lot of them, so Tokyo Xanadu doesn’t provide that exhilarating feeling that action-RPGs should. The slowness of enemies is especially to blame : you can chain an entire combo between the moment they announce their attack and when they actually strike! Besides, Sora’s charged attack can OHKO most monsters. Is that because Trails of Cold Steel II was felt too hard? In any case, Falcom considerably diminished the challenge for this one.

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The 8 characters have their own fighting style and a personal Soul Device (how you call weapons in this game), which guarantees a nice variety of gameplay. Asuka si your classic JRPG swordswoman, nimble and forceful. Kô stands out with his whip sword of good reach. Sora excels in power and speed, while Shio moves more slowly but can cover a larger area. Those two should really have got a nerf because they can crush everything on their path without problem. The most technical character remains Mitsuki : the head of the student council can deploy a shield that can protect her and at the same time damage opponents. She can thus block hostiles but also deal a decisive blow when activated at the right time.

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Like often, boss battles are the most exciting. In difficult mode, dungeons are still piece of cake but bosses become more dangerous. Let’s stress that you can tweak difficulty any time form easy to difficult, another gesture from the developer to non-experts. A Nightmare mode exists but it cannot be modified afterwards. Your risk. Either way, in high difficulty later Elder Greeds are really unpredictable and require skillfulness, which makes extremely enjoyable fights, all the more intense that they weigh heavily in the story.

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Like in Trails of Cold Steel II, you’ll spend a lot of time strengthening your Soul Devices. Tokyo Xanadu borrows the quartz system from Falcom’s other franchise, so it’s definitely convenient for Falcom fans. Those little spheres are to be placed on the grid symbolizing the Soul Device in order to boost HP, strength, defense, etc, and S-Rare quartz grant special effects like absorbing HP or increasing damage when your HP are full (absolutely devastating when used on Sora).

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You can change the Master Quartz of any Soul Device in order to modify its natural element and its specialization (physical or magical). This is especially important since enemies and their characteristics are announced before starting a dungeon : you need to gather a team that can strike every weakness. Kô, as he’s locked in the team for most part, will have access to any element. Also, you’ll be able to improve the grid itself so as to unlock passive skills : resist KO, support an ally or chaining X-Strikes.

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Technically, the developer delivers quite a good work with Tokyo Xanadu. The 3D engine is very similar to Legend of Heroes on the same system, but we you look at it well, it has been improved because the modeling appears sharper. More than that, animation is impressive as it runs perfectly without any frame-rate drop, something difficult to achieve on a handheld. Falcom doesn’t forget to make it spectacular, with lavish X-Strikes and a diverse, immersive and stirring. Dungeons, however, did look very average.

Climax of Falcom’s efforts to make story-telling a great part of the experience, Tokyo Xanadu is a fine JRPG in all aspects. The flawless balance in its scenario and characters bring variety in entertainment, key part of a great JRPG. Its only mistake, in the end, is to fail to provide sufficient challenge. Big mistake or not? Everyone will have his opinion on that.

Review – Mary Skelter Nightmares

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How to renew Dungeon-RPG? In a genre fairly common on handheld due to its low profitability threshold, we might come to think we’ve seen everything. But here comes Compile Heart, determined to bring some changes in a now classic gameplay frame with Mary Skelter Nightmares.

Mary Skelter Nightmares takes place in a town that has slumped 666 meter underground. The cause of this disaster is an eerie tower that has sprouted from nowhere, unleashing countless fiends called Märchen (pronounce merhen) that capture inhabitants and torture them in the dark building. Jack and Alice are two of those prisoners waiting for their turn in anguish, until a young girl member of the local resistance, the Reimei, helps them evade what some already call Jail. After generations struggling to get rid of the Märchen, humans finally got their trump card : the Keshiki Shôjo, girls of unbelievable strength capable of slaughtering Märchen. With Alice, the group is large enough for the resistance to carry out its long-lasting plan : reach the surface through Jail.

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Although fragmented (because told between extremely long dungeons), Mary Skelter Nightmares’s narrative felt more interesting than your average Compile Heart plot. Given that the IP gave birth to two novelizations, you’d expect no less. It manages to create a suspense in which every character around you seems suspect. Dialogs also were more interesting than usual since it has a somewhat dark atmosphere full of suspicion that fits the horrible story. You can’t help being disappointed by the ending though, very unsurprising for a scenario that definitively had potential to impress. More than that, the lack of proper epilogue is a huge letdown since the player would expect to learn what happens to the main characters after the end.

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Mary Skelter Nightmares being a “girl game” like they say in Japan, the girls are lot more interesting characters than Jack, himself being being a perfect example of weak-minded hero always walked all over by the chicks. A purposeful gap rife in this kind of game and base of most of the fun dialogs. Girls have some eccentric personality that make all the fun : Kaguya is too lazy to ever do anything, Oyayubihime has acute size-complex and Gretel views everything scientifically but has zero common sense.

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Like in Makai Shin Trillion, each girl has a friend level that goes up when you offer presents. The system however isn’t as nice as in Makai Shin Trillion in which all presents had bizarre and fun designs/descriptions, whereas here they’re just a small written line. Interface is not as good also. As the cleverest of you might have noticed, every of the main characters represents a fairy tale : Alice for Alice in Wonderland, Shirayukihime is the literal translation of Snow White, etc. Quite a lot of anecdotes will be about that.

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But as this is Compile Heart and not Disney, the player has its right to steamy events. At high friend level, the game will provide special illustrations of the heroines, and some aren’t exactly soft. Given Compile’s poor offer recently in that matter, it’s rather satisfying despite the feeble quantity (quite less artworks than usual for the publisher).

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But all this is nothing compared the extra-lewd (but not mandatory) mini-game invented by Compile Heart for its newest RPG. It consists in wiping Märchen‘s blood off the heroine’s body by means of Vita’s touchscreen. I’ll spare you the erotic specifics, but it’s clear that Compile’s hardline is back after years of tasteless compromise. Idea Factory International has re-confirmed its intention to leave it is exactly as it is.

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Jail is a living being : your actions will impact its needs. Killing monsters feeds it and walk without picking up a fight allows it to sleep. At a certain satisfaction level, the prison will paradoxically grant you a random bonus like a heal, a buff or an increase in probability to meet the wandering merchant, key-person for your equipment and your relationships because he has the exclusivity of 90% of items in the game! Another point is that the dungeons are insanely large : surface is roughly twice or thrice Moero Chronicle for example. Fortunately, the developers had the wonderful idea of setting teleporters at each floor, which makes the progression quite comfy in the end. Progression that will also put your brain to test by various puzzles (blocks to be moved following more or less complex rules, slippery-floor mazes…) and many traps.

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But the main innovation in Compile’s latest game is fear and panic. Every dungeon is guarded by a Nightmare, large and hideous creature that can take you by surprise at any moment. The Nightmare is invincible : all you can do is drive it back for a short time, after what it will keep hunting you down in the corridors. You must then run away as fast as possible to lose it, without thinking where you’re actually going. Actually, you can’t, because the mini-map is deactivated automatically at this very moment, increasing the risk to run into a dead end! The Nightmare is vulnerable only after you’ve destroyed one of Jail’s hearts, generally hidden deep into the dungeons. You therefore have to progress during hours in anguish before the final confrontation with the Nightmare.

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In terms of gameplay, Mary Skelter Nightmares chooses a job system with various specialties like the Paladin focused on defense, the Blue Mage capable of casting any enemy magic, or the Blood Chemist who regulates the flow of blood in battle. Each job modifies the appearance of the characters with plenty of cool outfits, and we appreciate Nanameda Kei’s design once more in the nicely 2D animated models. The Blood Chemist is the only original job of this game, for it’s at the center of the blood system. Every Märchen beaten spills a certain amount of blood on your team. Once a character receives a certain amount, she’ll switch to Genocide mode, which multiply her power and almost nullifies the MP cost.

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But depending on how tainted the blood is, the character is at risk to activate the Blood Skelter Mode, far less desirable state since the ally become uncontrollable while still powerful enough to wipe out her own team in a flash. That’s where Jack comes in : the hero is placed in a supportive role, just like Ion in Moero Chronicle, and will use his own blood to avoid or cure the Blood Skelter Mode. There is a constant risk-management in this because Jack is liable faint depending on which actions you take.

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Despite introducing all this new gameplay stuff, Compile’s title fails to use it the best way. For example, many jobs grant skills that can target all enemies on the screen and usually allow you to end the fight within 2 or 3 turns. In the end, you’ll end up doing just that while healing yourself time to time. Jobs felt rather unbalanced, with few of them giving a real advantage. No strategy is really needed, as the item dealer can cover you fairly easily, so it’s nowhere as interesting as Moero Chronicle or Dungeon Travelers 2-2 in terms of pure gameplay. Battles remain shallow from back to front, most bosses not being that hard either.

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The only interesting boss fights were the ones taking place on several floors, as you actually need to activate traps to weaken the Nightmare while escaping its assaults and random battles. The flavor of those sequences (only two in the game though) lies in the fact that you can’t open the menu, thus can’t heal yourself between battles, forcing you to get the perfect timing.

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It’s obvious that Compile Heart designed Mary Skelter Nightmares to be more accessible than your average D-RPG : you can save anytime, go back to the base anytime without any limitation, characters are fully healed when leveling up and battles aren’t so frequent. Characters keep all skills from previous jobs, and they can change every ten levels, so it makes a party a little bit overpowered at some point. It can be played relatively easily but not with the same enjoyment as more challenging D-RPGs.

Loaded with nice and innovative stuff, Mary Skelter Nightmares paradoxically gives up on hardcore gameplay to let the player enjoy the new stuff without getting demotivated. The introduction of fear and panic elements, a better storyline, splendid design as well as hardcore ecchi stuff make it quite entertaining despite lengthy dungeons. Good but not perfect, Mary Skelter Nightmares is nevertheless Compile’s best offering this year.

Review – Caligula

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Furyu isn’t giving up. Despite the flop of Lost Dimension, the small publisher signs again on PSVita with a new original RPG with tactical elements. The decent success of Caligula in Japan (50K copies shipped) and the reception of Lost Dimension in the West (freshly released on PC) urges Atlus to bring it to us under the name of The Caligula Effect.

Caligula’s beginning is pretty sudden : the main character finds himself in an unknown school, in the middle of a ceremony where he doesn’t recognize anybody. Startled, he tries to flee but comes across a student with a grotesque face. He quickly understands that he’s not in the real world any more, and will meet a strange group of students calling themselves the kitakubu. Those young men and girls a little cleverer than the rest, aware that this world they are in is pure illusion, are seeking a way to go back to reality. Kitaku litteraly means “going back home” : great pun since kitakubu generally describes students who don’t belong to any school club, thus going back home directly after class.

Caligula Kotono

Those boys and girls have a special power called Catharsis Effect, metamorphosis that will alter their look almost as much as their enemies. The Catharsis Effect is a symbol of Caligula’s general design, purposely dark because based on layers of grey, all that so as to match with the main themes which are death and illusion. This trance gives them the strength to accomplish their goal : kill μ (pronounce “Mew”), the creator of this false world called Moebius.

Caligula SweetP 1

But before reaching μ, you’ll need to defeat the fearsome gakushi who approve this world and help keeping it running by composing music. Μ is a female AI singer who lures students by singing. Every villain, every dungeon has its own music. And not some random music because Caligula is actually making a allegory of Hatsune Miku : every track is made of Vocaloid music. For this, Furyu has made a deal with famous Vocaloid artists like CosMo@暴走P and 蝶々P who had work on Project Diva F. Distorted Happiness by CosMo@暴走P has actually accents close to its Sadistic Music Factory in Project Diva F. That gives to Atlus’s game a powerful soundtrack that makes fights dynamic, notably Sin and Cosmo Dancer. Even more impressively, the lyrics actually fit the personality of the boss. The only black mark on Caligula’s musical record is that it chooses the slowest rhythm at the beginning, which doesn’t help getting into the game.

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But Caligula’s greatest quality is its remarkably well written story. It deals with extremely serious topics (illness, loneliness, professional future…), but the point is the thinking behind it, because Caligula calls out to the player through the debates between the heroes and the gakushi. Those conversations ask relevant questions : do virtual worlds and social networks cut us from reality too much? Is reality necessarily better that fiction? Caligula does an impressive job raising those social issues and it’s fascinating from back to front. Despite the weak graphics, the general direction is clever enough (very good camera work for example) to deliver a great narrative. The somewhat disturbing design here again gives a strong effect to the events, and makes the game unique. You will remember it all your life.

Caligula Suzuna2

Like any Persona-like, all our friends have their own story divided in various chapters throughout the game. Those might be side stories, they’re as well told if not better than the main scenario for they include huge surprises and a certain suspense. Like in the rest of the narrative, the clever writing goes along with an equally clever use of humor : the jokes that the characters are throwing at each other are excellent. Beside the main characters, the game allows you to recruit any NPC in your party, feature already used by the developer Aquria for Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment for example. But given those NPCs are duplicates of your own partners in terms of abilities, that option quickly turns out to be meaningless.

Caligula mall

Progression system is where Furyu’s system gets far less impressive. Dungeons come one after another is a very linear way, without any side-quest or activity to unwind. That lack of overall content wouldn’t be bothering if Caligula had interesting dungeons or a good game structure, which is unfortunately not the case. Caligula is in fact a corridor-game plagued with uninspired level design and very unclear maps. Those maps are often nothing more that a long chain of battles before reaching the boss. It’s pretty easy to get lost in those areas, and to lose patience because of the great number of enemies in the tiny corridors. The very last stage is symptomatic of this : it features nearly identical sectors with no clear landmark, driving you crazy in no time. I mean, I’m OK with mazes and searching in JRPGs, but progression here was more tiring than motivating. Tech performance makes things worse because of excessively long loadings, outdated modeling, painful frame-rate and unacceptable freezes for an 1.05 version…

Caligula battle Kotono

With such tiresome progression, Caligula had better provide enjoyable fighting. It indeed really succeeds in that department, Furyu giving us here an ATB/turn-based system capable of chaining attacks like you’ve never seen. First important thing : it shows you the future. When choosing your next move, you have an indication of what type of behavior the enemy will take, allowing you to adapt your strategy. Depending on the type of offensive coming, you’ll have to choose from different counters to get the upper hand. Once you’ve started a counterattack, you can build complex combos by throwing opponents in the air (and then use moves with aerial bonuses) or onto the ground (and launch moves effective against downed enemies). On the other hand, the timing to chain powerful moves is tricky and you’ll have to adjust the start of your turn on the ATB line to get your attack bonus. Fortunately, the time stops at this moment so that you can think and decide carefully. By the way, you can stop the action manually anytime if you want to take classy screenshots.

Caligula battle Suzuna

Last but not least, all enemies have a “risk” level that makes them increasingly dangerous. But it’s first and foremost an important gameplay leverage because your attacks benefit from the risk level of the opponent in front of you : Mifue for example will only be able to use her moves if the enemy is of risk 2,3 or more. Similarly, some overdrive attacks can be used only when the enemy has reached risk level 5, the highest. Building the perfect is thoroughly enjoyable and you never get enough of it, all the more true that the game grants you some little appraisal (Cool, Stylish, etc.) like Devil May Cry in its time. As much as the battle system is brilliant, the challenge isn’t always satisfying as bosses lack aggressiveness. Actually, only groups of enemies are tricky to defeat.

Caligula is as fascinating as it is wobbly in its structure and technics. That’s the kind of game you will inevitably remember for its writing/artistic qualities and innovating features features, despite having raged on the irritating dungeons. A rather good Persona-like all things considered, and a definite step forward for Furyu, who said they are working on that base for a future title.