Press round-up – Winter 2018

Atelier Lydie & Suelle Firis

As I said last time, most of my English reviews will now be published on VGChartz. Once again, it is a significant opportunity for me so I definitely want to play that card to the maximum. In order to organize things on this end, I’ll write a report like this every new season to recap every article. That said, I will have a few blog-exclusive PSVita reviews coming, so stay tuned for that also.

Review – The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

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Massive JRPG, Trails of Cold Steel III kept me busy for something like 130h, making it one of the longest games that I’ve ever played (excluding the 400h on Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer, but that’s another story). Characters, storytelling, combat, strategy… Falcom’s talent fully gathered in one memorable adventure, its only problem being the subpar graphics considering it’s a PS4 exclusive now.

Review – Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

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The second part of the non-localized historical spin-off of the Ace Attorney series. This entry send us back to Sherlock Holmes’s London, where defense lawyer Ryônosuke will have again to find his way to the truth in tricky cases. A lot more exciting than the first one, Great Ace Attorney 2 sheds light on many unanswered questions and features crime cases full of humor and also incomparable atmosphere.

Review – Death Mark (PSVita/PS4)

Death Mark Akazukin

Well, you probably know this one. This is the updated review of one of my top games of last year, a horror story that I think is not going to be matched any soon. This article draws a brief recap of the sixth chapter, appeared in the PS4 version and given as free DLC on PSVita.

Review – Atelier Lydie & Suelle The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings (PS4)

Atelier Lydie & Suelle

Hugely anticipated as far as I’m concerned (since Atelier took back the GOTY spot last year), this newest Atelier game kinda fell short of the great expectations I had for it, because of its appalling level-design, the irritating DLC policy and the flat story. A serviceable Atelier game, but far from the best entries.

Review – Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet (PS4)

Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet Shinon (2)

Another new installment I was eager to experience, I even bought the digital premium edition with the season pass. No regrets, but the feeling that BandaiNamco is unable to make a SAO game without silly mistakes in it. The renewed gameplay is cool, gun-friendly world of Gun Gale Online is fun to roam into, but little presence of SAO characters makes it feel like a different IP.

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My games of the year 2017 (GoTY 2017)

Best Action game

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Fire Emblem Warriors (Switch)

For a first Switch game, Fire Emblem Warriors has been an awesome pick. Omega Force delivers here one of the best Warriors game ever : the ferocity of the fights blows everything that has been done before, and general direction was quite good. Loaded with the best characters and clever maps, it was an amazing experience all the way.

Runner-up : Nier Automata (PS4) & Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash (PS4)

Best Shooter

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Call of Duty Modern Warfare Remastered (PS4)

Generally I don’t agree with the « it was better before » whole narrative. But when it comes to FPS, well, that works. The multiplayer in Infinite Warfare is garbage, so you ought to come back to what’s good. And here we must admit that « before », Call of Duty mutliplayer was remarkably well-designed and provided a lot of fun. What else then than embracing this excellent remaster?

Runner-up : none

Best Fighting game

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Tekken 7 (PS4)

While having an underwhelming solo, Tekken 7 does things right on the important part : online. Matchmaking is effective, music options very nice, costumization as good as ever, moves are over the top and gameplay still is an absolute reference for the genre. Clearly a must-have to enjoy figting once a while.

Runner-up : none

Best Racing game

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Gran Turismo Sport (PS4)

Gran Turismo Sport scared me at release : without any solo championship, I wondered if the IP wanted to commit suicide or something… Fortunately, solo leagues came via update about a week ago, a necessary addition to the driving challenges, which are a cool part but insufficient alone. With trickier driving than before, GT Sport has of course a dream-like concentration of models and an awesome photo mode for car lovers.

Runner-up : Wipeout Omega Collection (PS4)

Best RPG

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Atelier Firis, the Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey (PS4)

I spent January 2017 on Atelier Firis and that was absolute delight. The series had recovered everything that had made it great (limited time, alchemy challenges, hidden bosses…) while adding a massive innovation : an astonishing open world that transformed management. 70 hours of exploration, wonders and surprises. Atelier Firis is probably going to be unique.

Runner-up : Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

Best Puzzle game

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Shin Yomawari (PSVita)

Unable to trigger another revolution (because basically copy/pasted from the original), Shin Yomawari still gets its deal of searching and puzzles. Gameplay is a bit more irritating than the in first one, but the game is loaded with intense secquences than will put you on edge.

Runner-up : none

Best music

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Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

No hesitation in this category this year : I’ve been listening to Great Ace Attorney 2’s OST for 4 months now! Capcom’s game is never ending greatness for your ears, the entire soundtrack going from good to magnificient. Joyful melodies, dark themes, epic orchestrations, there is nothing that Great Ace Attorney 2 doesn’t do well.

Runner-up : Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana (PSVita)

Best narrative

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Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

I’m still shaking. My heart almost couldn’t take it at the end of Trails of Cold Steel III. Falcom obviously wanted to make it spectacular, so that the slightest information on Trails of Cold Steel IV is pure gold. Of course, even before that, writers placed several key reveals and intense secquences. A clear intensification of Trails of Cold Steel story-telling.

Runner-up : Death Mark (PSVita)

Best atmosphere

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Death Mark (PSVita)

I cleared Death Mark over a long week-end. That was fortunate, because I couldn’t imagine myself dropping the game to go to work. I was completely hooked by Death Mark’s hypnotic atmosphere. Experience’s game is the darkest I’ve ever played, it was even difficult to breathe given the fear of what could come out. Music and sounds reached perfection.

Runner-up : Shin Yomawari (PSVita) & Iwai Hime Matsuri (PSVita)

Best design

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Death Mark (PSVita)

Death Mark is memorable for a reason : its design perfectly fit the horror genre. The look of the environements alone scares you to the bone. Terrifying details are rife, atrociously mutilated bodies too. And I don’t even mention the Ghosts : after chapter 3, I couldn’t even turn off the lights at night…

Runner-up : Nier Automata (PS4)

Best game you might never play

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Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

Notice that I won’t mention Death Mark here. I’m confident that NIS America or some other company will bring it to the West. Regarding Great Attorney 2 though, that seems toasted… A shame, because that second part of the Victorian spin-off had super great story and humor.

Runner-up : Iwai Hime Matsuri (PSVita)

Most disappointing

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Cyberdimension Neptune 4 Goddess Online (PS4)

Compile Heart needed to fix years of IP mismanagement with Cyberdimension Neptune 4 Goddess Online, and they failed miserably. This Action-RPG is poor in every departement and doesn’t inherit the Neptunia spirit. The Neptunia IP is weak now, the lack of ideas eventually ended up being lethal. Tsunako is being out-fashioned by Nanameda Kei, and producer Mizuno is ridiculous compared to other teams at Compile.

Runner-up : Nights of Azure 2 (PS4/PSVita)

mini Platinum-trophy Game of the year

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Atelier Firis, the Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey (PS4)

The king of RPG-Management was back this year. I could feel once more the delight of adeventure, the heat of battle and greatness of never ending frontiers. The alchemy challenges in an open world is something that had never been done before, like a wave which you need all all your might and wits to resist to. The Golden Age of Atelier was back.

mini gold trophy Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

mini Silver_Trophy Death Mark (PSVita)

mini-bronze_trophy Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana (PSVita)

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

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Zanki Zero (PS4/PSVita)

Zanki zero

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)

Ashule

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 (!).

Review – Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel II

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/!\ WARNING /!\ This article contains spoilers on Trails of Cold Steel 1! Do NOT read further if you haven’t finished the first episode.

Despite my (relative) disappointment with the first Sen no Kiseki, all the new stuff announced for this sequel had me excited nonetheless. And indeed, the game I had in hand had been enriched in many ways.

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Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel II starts when Trails of Cold Steel ended (so far so good). Rean is alone with being Valimar, his newly acquired mecha, and Celine the Cat. He will therefore start looking for his comrades throughout the Elbonian Empire. Unfortunately, after the surprise attack launched by the aristocrats’ faction, the latter control most of the country. Class VII and the other members of Thors Academy scattered and organised themselves into small resistance groups to reclaim the land. 

Alfin

The general narrative of Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel II does have a very good feeling. The politics/military aspect takes shape in a wonderful way in this sequel. The different stages of the reconquest are well detailed and will please Valkyria Chronicles fans as it’s pretty munch the same spirit. While the first Trails of Cold Steel was a accurate metaphor of the 30’s, Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel II establishes clever parallelism with the beginning of the 2nd World War, particularly the interim government set by young princess Alfin. The very idea of progressively meet back your allies is also very clever and reminds us this great moment of Final Fantasy VI. It really helps the narrative as the game takes ample time to explain the stakes for every region and every character : lots of key elements will be revealed and the story will go much deeper in their personalities. If you liked them in Trails of Cold Steel, you will adore them here. Although the beginning and the end are once more significantly more intense than the center of the narrative, there’s no denying that Falcom found the right tone and structure to tell its stories.

Dubally

No JRPG becomes great without great villains. Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel II does an impressive job on the matter by introducing a group of formidable mercenaries, all of them having different personalities and motives. Adding the unscrupulous aristocratic leaders, Falcom’s new adventure boasts a large and diverse cast of opponents. Each one will see substantial character development, so much that you might come to like them as much (if not more) as the main cast. This goes without saying, but the fights against those powerful and sometimes funny opponents make a unforgettable RPG experience, directly inheriting the greatness of JRPGs of the former decade. I must also stress the astonishing epilogue that completely reverses the story’s perspective and features an awesome final” boss like you’d never expect.

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Whilst Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel was sadly very linear, this sequel offers a lot more freedom and content. First thing, you’re now in command of the stylish airship Courageous, and can visit the places you’ve taken back as you wish! The player is therefore free to tackle secondary objectives or look for other classmates hidden in the various regions. The students you’ve welcomed on board will offer some services like establishing a shop or a training center, which will help your party quite a lot. You’ve also got a shiny side-car to travel through the roads opened between the towns.

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This gives another dimension to sidequests, but the mini-games also evolve in a positive way because they’re better integrated into the story. You’ll for example enter a fishing contest following some curious encounter. The card game, cooking and fishing get more interesting in this sequel, especially the fishing because you can now actually go back to every river, pond, etc. to complete your collection and become the best fisherman. You also have new ones like the lottery or the snowboarding challenge. Probably also a reminiscence of some Final Fantasy… Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel II doesn’t lack distractions and validate another good point of a great JRPG.

Elise

Another fantastic add of Trails of Cold Steel II, several secondary characters of the first one become playable. No less than 8 characters are added to the existing 10! For example, Elise, Claire and Sarah among others can be played on a large part of the game and in the last maze. Not only have you the immense pleasure to play characters you hadn’t before, but the new cast also add new strategic possibilities since they have a fighting style of their own.

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Battles don’t change from the turn-based of the first one. Your characters still move freely around the battlefield and their position will be as crucial as usual : numerous spells and skills can target a wide area, might it be for attacking, healing or boosting status. Those capacities consume CPs or MPs. But the CP skills remains the most important ones because they don’t need cast time. I do lament that Trails of Cold Steel II wouldn’t fix the gameplay issues I had seen in the first game. On the contrary, because it amplifies them. It’s still not possible to hide objectives on the map, which hinders the exploration aspect (even though it’s a lot more interesting than before).

Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 2 Laura s1

The most serious issues still lie in the combat system, because a KO character STILL LOSES ALL HIS FU** CPs! CPs being used for everything from attacking to healing and reinforcing, it’s pretty harsh if your several characters are down. Even if you revive them, they’re thrown back so far in the turns order that it’s difficult to maintain them alive. Also, the whole battle system stil relies a lot too much on S-Breaks, the ultimate attacks of each character which consume all your CPs. S-Breaks are so effective that it makes combat a bit repetitive, as you’ll want to use them as fast as possible.

Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 2 Sarah quartz

It’s a little too bad, because Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel II benefits from the complex customization system inherited from the prequel. Quartz (which work like materias) provide a large array of elemental spells, support spells and passive skills such as inflicting abnormal status, lowering stats or reducing cast time. In this sequel more than before, you can improve those quartw in the (rare) workshops designed for that. This is absolutely addictive and you can spend hours merging quartz to get more powerful ones, and thus comfortable stat boost. You can make your characters even stronger by looking for S-rare quartz that grant very special benefits. The climax remains the quest for the Lost Arts, magic so devastating that you’re allowed to use it only once per battle. Master Quartz still decide the specialization of your character (healing, attack, defense, etc.) so you must set them in accordance with your general strategy or play style. A thoughtfully good system that’s been greatly enhanced in this sequel.

Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 2 over rise

In battle, once again you can connect” two characters so as to they support each other, like for example in adding an additional blow following a critical hit. The weaknesses of the enemies still depend on the type of weapon you use, so like before the point will be to use the right character at the right time. Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel II adds an option called Over-Rise : under certain conditions, two characters will be able to unite their strengh for three turns while being healed, stronger and regaining some precious CPs. This new capability gives a nice advantage in tricky battles, and it’s consequently more than welcome.

Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 2 link

Link Abilities are much more spontaneous now : linked characters will automatically react to each other more often, for example in healing their partner or getting stronger to avenge them. Last but not least, the sequel give one additional S-Break to each character, some of them, like Laura’s (see above) being really impressive and immensely powerful.

Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 2 Valimar

The biggest novelty is the battle between mechs. Those are very special fights but there are quite a lot of them, which is pretty nice. You play as Valimar, itself assisted by another character you can freely choose. Valimar has far less moves than a traditional character, mainly a few skills, 2 magic spells depending on the support character (Alisa provides fire magic for example), and its own S-Break. Those fights are a matter of observation since you’ll have to aim for the right part of the enemy mech to actually deal significant damage. If you attack the wrong part, you can be heavily countered. You do have to monitor your HP, MP and CP, because being one turn late can bring defeat. That said, those battle quickly become some kind of routine because of Valimar’s own counterattack, which grants enormous tactical advantage.

Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 2 boss

Still, the big problem of Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel II is its punitive level of difficulty. I can count the number of boss I beat at first try on my right hand. I PERMANENTLY needed to retry by lowering the bosses’ stats (-10% each time), sometimes twice or thrice! Bosses in this game are abnormally strong, not to mention they heal themselves frequently and keep calling powerful reinforcements while increasing their own stats. Main bosses have their own S-Break, likely to destroy your entire team in a flash and very tricky to counter. Being taken by surprise leads to unavoidable defeat. You take so much damage that it’s impossible to survive in default settings, healing just cannot keep up. It’s a game made for the elite of the elite of JRPG players, because you need to master every strategic possibility the gameplay has to offer in order to secure swift victories. I do appreciate this retry system since I could finish the game thanks to it, but after being slaughtered countless times, the pleasure of fighting had waned dramatically. There is a difficult mode, there are also harder modes above, so I do expect to have a normal challenge when I set the game in normal.

Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 2 battle q2

Graphics and animation haven’t changed much compared to the first one, the same 3D engine being used. Towns, countryside and dungeon do look nice for the Vita, but the modeling of some characters feel a bit old. New characters like Altina feel a lot sharper for example. Overall, Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel II still is quite above your average PSVita visually speaking, especially for having such great richness, colors and animation in battle. We lament some serious framerate drops here and there, though.

Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 2 title

Aside pure technical aspects, it’s Falcom’s art that makes Falcom’s games so appealing. From the title screen to the crazy Lost Arts and S-Breaks, not forgetting the fine character design, Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel II is as classy as you can get. The OST takes it full part in this, because it’s loaded of beautiful melodies during the 100 hours this giant RPG lasted. Battle themes are seriously good, especially the rocky Severe Blow, or the epic Blue Destination. Yumir no Keiyokudô as well as Shizuka na Ketsui are super powerful emotionally speaking.

Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel 2 Altina Towa

Let’s have the final word about the final update of Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel II, which happended 3 months after release in Japan. It added five playable characters (via skins) : Aflin and Towa, as well 3 of the «bad guys». That was only in the last dungeon of the game, but that was nevertheless a fu** immense pleasure. For many a dream coming true. I really want to stress this because as an update, it’s totally free of charge. In today’s gaming world where DLC prices are hiking like mad, Falcom’s initiative deserves praise.

Considerably enhanced compared to the first one by its improved narrative, its compelling game system, its higher degree of freedom and its numerous lovable characters, Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel II is a great JRPG that just failed in reforming itself enough in gameplay. It’s a tough game that can become frustrating, but yet should be experienced for its artistic qualities and rich universe.

Enough of E3! Let’s talk about other games! #2014

Atelier Shallie (PS3)

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Atelier Shallie makes the revolution : first Atelier to miss June release, it will also abolish the principle of limited time frame. The removal of one of the main features of the series sent a shockwave but this identity crisis shouldn’t spoil the pleasure of having two charming heroines, new classy and hilarious characters as well as returning stars as Escha and Wilbell.

Shining Resonance (PS3)

Forget fearless and willing young men, Shining Resonance’s main character is a old and shy Dragon!One of the last survivors of his kin, he fears his own power and gnawed by destiny. He will have to team with humans equipped with musical weapons, starting with priestess Kilika and her harp-bow. Shifted from PSP to PS3 without going on Vita, this new Shining vows graphical prowess to faithfully render Tony Taka’s design in 3D models.

Action Neptune U (PSVita)

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Action Neptune U is what I had expected Hyperdimension Noire to be. Whatever, my wish was just postponed for two months. Adding to more direct action, Neptune U mimics Senran Kagura in merciless outfit destruction. Cherry on the cake, the personification of the Japanese game magazine Dengeki Playstation, famous for having been «covering» the Neptune series for quite a while, will make her first apparition as a playable character.

Hyperdimension Neptune VII (?)

We still don’t know the first thing about the new game in Hyperdimension Neptune main series, neither its platform nor if it is only one story. There seem to be a second Neptune, although she could also be the same. The article shows a girl called Uzume, who comes back from Dimension zero, an allegory of gaming’s end. Very mysterious concept arts are also being shown, rising curiosity even more.

Hotaru Nikki (PSVita)

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If Child of Light is enlightenment, Hotaru Nikki is darkness. Of a similar approach because relying on a firefly in its progression, NIS’s new IP has the player guide a strange girl called Mion out of reah of evil forces. You’ll have to wisely shift from shadow to light to advance, or else Mion will die in horrible fashion.

IA/VT Colorful (PSVita)

IAVT

IA is a vocaloid colleague of Hatsune Miku. Despite being far less famous because of Miku’s wide popularity, she will soon get her own rythm game too. The brilliant but treacherous producer of Senran Kagura has taken the initiative to propose a new way of enjoying rhythm games. Notice that IA/VT Colorful has already will have 60 songs, that is to say more than any Project Diva.

*ω* Quintet (PS4)

Otoha

After making an impossible trade-off between Uematsu, Amano and Tsunako in Fairy Fencer F, Compile Heart does it again with a new title made under the Galapagos label, which mixes without Idols and RPG. It logically will be about saving the world from dark creatures called «beep» with a girls band dressed in flashy costumes, yeah. The daring publisher will also make it the first JRPG exclusive to PS4.

Legend of Heroes – Sen No Kiseki 2 (PSVita/PS3)

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News of Sen no Kiseki keep coming and keep being awesome : Claire playable! Towa playable! Tons of mechs, new super magic and a new cat-loli called Altina :3 

Makai Trillion (PSVita)

Utterly defeated by evil Trillion (who has a trillion HP!), demon lord Zeabolos loses his throne and seek revenge. Too badly hurt to fight directly, he calls his sisters, step sisters and daughter-in-law to battle for him in this not-so-legal looking adventure! Visually stunning for a handheld game and featuring a character design in-between Disgaea and Mugen Souls, Makai Trillion is worth trillions! 

Review – Legend of Heroes Sen no Kiseki

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I’m completely new to Legend of Heroes, so I’ll be reviewing Sen No Kiseki (SnK) more as an outsider. This episode is the first on PSVita, and the first to be in 3D.

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From what I know, Legend of Heroes has always been about war and politics, a bit like Final Fantasy Type-0. It’s clearly the case here : Young student of Thors Military Academy, Rean is chosen to be part of the elite class. Composed of students of different background, «Class 7» will be sent against all odds in missions of National Security, and face ancient dark magic.

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Well, that’s in theory. The actual flow of events is not really dynamic. The story alternates between life at the Academy and field training. I found the school part was pretty cool, as the quests are varied and quite fun. But the best thing about it is the general atmosphere of the academy : there are dozens of NPCs, every one of them with their own background and personality. To make a comparison, it feels exactly like Harry Potter.

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Let’s go into into the field trips now… Those are very very veeeeeery long sequences, because the story takes an eternity to accelerate a bit. Until the very end of the secnario, the stakes are kinda low and there’s a great deal of small talk which I can’t see as an added value (and in ultra-hard Japanese on the top of that, just imagine the suffering). The game hints at a lot a geopolitical issues (tax, arms race, aristocrats & commoners…) and the world inspired by the 30s is quite fascinating, but the big chunk of the story, the really exhilirating stuff is only in the last stages of the narrative. I’m sure you could cut something like 40% without hurting the understanding of the story, and the flow of the game would be improved. The scenario is not bad in a whole, it does have some good ideas, impressive scenes and plot twists, but those should really have better spread whithin the length of the game (70/80 hours). In those sequences, quests are virtually always the same : I have no problem in looking for lost cats and replacing bulbs. But PLEASE, NOT FOR 50 HOURS!

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Fortunately, the game includes a few mini-games to help you unwind a bit : cards, a long fishing sidequest, a theme park or actual school tests about what’s in the library files. It’s cool but the impact on the gameplay in general is nil.

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Let’s talk game system now. A lot of objectives will have you look for objects and persons. But all those are marked on your map and it can’t be deactivated. So you spend most of your time going from A to B. That annoys me… let me search, for sh** sake, I WANT TO SEARCH! Add fairly linear FFXIII-like paths and no possibility to visit towns again at the end of the game, and you have a rather old-school progression system.

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Battles are already a lot better and it’s definitely one of the major enjoyments of SnK. Combat is extremely strategic and you’ll need your brains to prevail. Even though it’s turn-based, your characters can move freely around the battlefield, and like the Hyperdimension Neptune series, positioning the group wisely is crucial for attack/support. Actions are divided between attack, skill and magic that offer extremely varied effects and possibilities, with a great emphasis on identifying the weaknesses of the enemy. Elemental weaknesses of course, but also a sensitivity more or less acute to certain types of weapons.

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If you strike with the right weapon, you have a chance that your partner will deal an additional blow. Like in Fire Emblem Awakening, it grows more efficient and gives more options when the friend level between the characters increases. The battle system is thus excellent, all the more interesting that enemies and bosses have very different behaviors, making every confrontation different from the others. To add even more depth in the battle system, the magic is organised by equipping quartz that have various effects : some just add spells, while others add status effects to normal attacks (instant death, freezing, etc) or status points (HP, DEF, etc). Finally, the turn column on the left add some bonuses such as critical attack or zero MP consumption, or even penalties in hazardous dungeons. It’s kind of a Russian roulette, since friends like foes can evenly benefit/suffer from those.

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There are two things that bug me though : WHY, WHY IN THE HELL DOES MY SKILL JAUGE FALL TO ZERO WHEN K.O.? For starters, there is no logic in this, because the magic points are kept. But it’s ultra-annoying since skills are WAY more important than magic to win (special attacks, which are crucial in boss battles, consumes all your skill points). Second thing is that even in normal mode the level of difficulty is punitively high. Bosses inflicts abnormal status all the time, launch powerful zone attacks, are seconded by ever-respawing monsters and your characters hardly have enough turns to heal and counterattack. Fortunately, SnK gives the player a very clever option : when you lose, you can restart with the enemy’s stats reduced by 10%. So it’s generally achievable at the 2nd retry. But still, it hurts… 

Alisa

From a technical point of view, it’s good but not outstanding. While SnK is rather correct for Vita generally speaking, the character modeling is of unequal quality. Alisa is not really satisfying (which bothers me a lot, I would have expected extra care for her), but most of the other characters look quite fine (especially Sarah and Laura).

countryside

On the other hand, monsters are surprisingly incredibly detailed and their looks is quite stunning most of the time. Cities and countryside show some great care, there are few examples of recent handheld RPGs that have those kind of environments. I still do lament some stupid little graphical bugs and an agonizing framerate in some towns. Although I really love the art direction & character design, I was disappointed to realize it didn’t get any push in the game, the few artworks not even being in full color.

I’m frustrated by Sen no Kiseki of which I expected a lot. I nearly threw the Vita by the window quite a few times but I still liked it in the end. I enjoyed combat a lot, I like the characters, the atmosphere of the game is really cool when something actually happens and the very end blew me away. However, there are too many hiccups here and there to make SnK the reference I thought it could become. We’ll see next September if Falcom fixes the problems and makes Sen no Kiseki 2 a perfect title.