Review – Sword Art Online Lost Song

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After the worldwide success of Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment, growing expectations surround this Sword Art Online Lost Song, coming full of new features and advanced experience. So I thought but…

Sword Art Online Lost Song is a direct sequel to Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment, like Fairy Dance follows Aincrad. But much unlike the anime, the transition between the two stories is too brief and awkward, without even the smallest explanation on how Strea and Phillia could have landed here. That is not the only problem regarding the narrative, because the scenario, fully original this time, is plain and dull from A to Z. The new characters Seven and Sumeragi don’t have that much screentime, let alone relevant background, and aren’t playable before the very end of the game (Seven even needing an update for that). Rain, who use double-sword skills like Kirito, joins the group around half of the game and is better integrated in the story. Cool thing since her fighting style is the most dynamic. The story develops very late and you come to know what’s really behind those three after hours of meaningless chit-chat. And even there, you don’t even remotely have a sense of epic like in Hollow Fragment. Sword Art Online Lost Song in fact suffers from the same issue as Fairy Dance, a steep drop of narrative pace and intensity.

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This adds boredom to a less than exciting exploration. Sword Art Online Lost Song might be an open world, this is nothing to discover in it : all objectives are marked on the mini-map and there is no side content other than basic hunting quests. The whole game rehashes the same progression frame that is dungeon → mid-boss → dungeon → boss without any kind of variation. There is nothing for the player to have a change of air. Dungeons as well as music start being a little more interesting in the last environment, which a lot darker with disorientating mazes. Worse, character stories warp you directly in the right place, whitout any need of searching, although you did have to look for a way in Hollow Fragment. We’re far, so far from the complexity and the scale of the fantastic Hollow Area of the previous game.

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You’ll have to make do with the numerous playable characters of this entry. Whereas you were stuck with Kirito all along in Hollow Fragment, this time you can play as nearly 20 characters like Shinon, Sakuya, Yûki and an elf coming from nowhere called Lux. Various combat styles are available depending on which weapon you choose, and are different enough to each other to ensure a nice variety of gameplay. The bow for example makes up for its weak attack power by enabling precise strikes so as target the enemy’s weak point more often. Attack and support magic also appear with this new universe and add a wide range of combat possibilities. Each weapon also has its own unique skills, including the famous Mother’s Rosario, vastly powerful but impossible to use before you reach a high number of MP!

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The battle system still seriously lacks polish. The camera is flawed and makes the fighting nightmarish in cramped environments. Locking targets is a pain as the lock would change target without notice. The switch has been completely ruined : it’s common to fail it despite hammering te right buttons, and it is nothing spectacular compared to Hollow Fragment… As he series jumps into ALO, aerial battles are introduced in Sword Art Online Lost Song. The controls are not bad but need a great deal training to regulate altitude and speed. Even with those additions, boss battles feel really underwhelming compared to the previous one, not being as difficult or crucial in the narrative.

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Graphically speaking, characters have modeled with cared (except Silica, don’t know why…) with a strangely big emphasis on the girls’ boobs, which let me wonder if the Team Ninja hadn’t infiltrated BandaiNamco at some point. Environments (nature and town) look sharper but the level of detail has severely dropped : they look poor and empty. Animation is downright terrible : movements are jerky and characters stiff, not to mention the abnormal frame rate drops. Sword Art Online Lost Song was clearly lead-developed for home consoles and PSVita just a had a lame port, despite having the most preorders in Japan… Monsters and bosses aren’t varied and you end up fighting the same ones over and over. This is not the level of investment you’d expect for a game whose predecessor sold more than half a million! Sure there are cool illustrations and fine humor, but expectations are not met. It lacks great cutscenes, great fights or just efficient direction like the series has always had. Dialogs between 2D models feel kinda old here…

I’m the first to be sorry about it, but Sword Art Online Lost Song does not take the series in the right direction. It’s cool to have all those new characters but the game in a whole loses nearly everything that made Hollow Fragment great. This sequel feel like a licensed game without fresh ideas, let’s hope that BandaiNamco will rethink it entirely for the next entry.

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Review – Tales of Zestiria

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Not so easy to come after super great RPGs like Tales of Xillia 1&2. Even more difficult to come after having made the headlines of scandal sheets. It will be therefore necessary to be through-fully objective to appreciate Tales of Zestiria in its true self.

Zestiria’s storyline is not that complex. With this episode, the series is back to an old-fashioned narrative like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest back in the day. Fire/Water/Earth/Wind temples are also back to the party, a truly sensitive tribute to the RPGs of the 90’s/2000’s. The world of Zestiria is divided, as always, between to separate location and tribes. The human world is dying, plagued by illness, conspiration and war. The Tenzoku, eternal spirits, have long given up on humans and live hidden on the top of the world. Sorey, only human to live among the Tenzoku, will eventually go back to his native land following his random encounter with princess Alicia. He will become the “Sheperd”, legendary warrior who appear once a generation to drive off evil and bring peace.

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Despite relying on a worn-out opposition between Good and Evil, Tales of Zestiria achieves a great narrative thanks to a genius direction, contrary to competing RPGs that sacrifice that aspect to artificially expand their surface and length. Tales of Zestiria also renews its interest by a flurry of mini-stories often dark and pretty hard because purposely avoiding happy end. The game is in this way quite mature and shows the dark side of human society without unnecessary optimism. On the other hand, this latest installment entertains as much as ever by its comical cut-scenes, Edna probably being the mood maker of the year. This gothic lolita Tenzoku keeps teasing her comrades in an always hilarious fashion.

Nevertheless, Tales of Zestiria kinda lacks clarity in its story in general : too conceptual, it might lose the player in its late stages. But this is not the biggest issue because early in the game, the story ousts an important character to be replaced by another. This is a big blunder of porducer Hideo Baba, because the transition is extremely awkward. You feel like a second game is put onto the first one. A malaise hardly fixed by the (free) DLC chapter which is everything but fascinating story-wise.

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In terms of gameplay, it’s once again a success. Your team is composed of Sorey, Rose and 4 Tenzoku. You can play each of them alone in a system close to Tales of Graces F : combos of 3 or 4 successive skills at the end of which you can add a magic spell. The big thing is that the longer the combo, the quicker you can launch the magic. This drives the player into taking risks in shifting all the time between magic and physical attacks. It’s actually the same system as Tales of Graces F, but 20 times faster! More than ever, battles relies on dexterity and dodging. All the pleasure involves seeking the small opening in the massive enemy attacks. 2 tenths of second before, it’s too early, 2 tenths of second after, you’re dead. It’s even more intense than before, because the player is required to be 120% focused to cope with the high speed and the short decision time. Big drawback though, the camera goes totally wild indoors and very often makes you blind. It doesn’t ruin the game in a whole, but it’s definitely frustrating.

Sorey and Rose can merge with one of the Tenzoku and take an angel-like form gifted with the powers of the Tenzoku‘s element. Combining forces with Laila provides a giant fire blade while Mikurio gives its partner a water bow, etc. This form, called Kamui, is a lot more powerful than an individual character and can be used by consuming BG (blast gauge points, which gradually regenerate). On the other hand, it reduces the number of characters on the field and thus your possibilities of support. Furthermore, the defeat of a Kamui leaves both characters KO, so you have to be extra-careful. Better designed than others, Tales of Zestiria features a truly efficient healing system aimed at ensuring a rapid flow of battle. The Kamui has a personal healing spell (but it costs one BG) but more importantly, Sorey and Rose can be resurrected as long as there’s at least one Tenzoku with BG. Eternal spirits, the Tenzoku revive themselves naturally after sometimes in the back. You can therefore stay in battle in seamless fashion if you’re nimble enough to avoid the enemy’s formidable offensive, life bottles and other healing items having nearly become… obsolete!

A Kamui must use its BG wisely. Adding the above mentioned healing spell, it has two offensive capabilities after the base combo. The first one is an additional blow far more powerful than average (1BG), the second one being no other than the famous 秘奥義, supreme attack that can do tens of thousands HP damage! Each individual character has its own, but a a far lesser scale. The Kamui are extremely enjoyable : any of its attacks is impressive to play and to watch. Let’s also stress that Tales of Zestiria benefits from an amazing sound environment. In a Kamui for example, both characters speak at theme same time and it gives a tremendous to the action. Japanese budding is no less good and the soundtrack is beautiful. Town music is very entertaining and dungeon themes are even better. The battle theme Zavida the Exile is one of the best I’ve heard this year.

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I keep seeing the word “open-world” associated to Tales of Zestiria… No, the series does NOT jump in the open world trend with this episode. We have to stop thinking there’s an open world every time we see a hectare of grass! It’s no more open world than Xillia, Vesperia, Symphonia or any other for that matters. The progression is pretty classic with areas unlocked one after another. It is even fairly linear at the beginning, nearly upsetting because the mini-map showing every little objective can’t be deactivated. Fortunately, later the game stops pointing the way and gives only hints to complete the sidequests, which are not side content since you have to clear all of them. Dungeons are quite large and complex : two of them nearly toasted my brain. The inventory system is deep and hooking : every weapon, armor or accessory have passive skills attached to them, and combination of skills provide more skills. You can also merge equipments at the smith’s, it’s endless if you go through it with precision. Another good point for Zestiria’s gameplay which has both variety and quality.

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Only the PS3 version is available in Japan and I wonder why : this old-gen version lacks polish and textures aren’t good. You can even see pixelation on the characters if you’re close to the screen! Xillia’s 3D engine is clearly derelict at this point. Even though the design of some towns are plains are cool, it’s rare to impressed by Zestiria’s graphics. The game actually focuses on the main characters, whose animation is flawless and lively, which guarantees attractive battle action and nice cut-scenes. I’ve had a hard time playing without my PS4share, all the more difficult that the screencap option via the XMB of the PS3 has vanished without any reason.

Tales of Zestiria’s case show that people and observers need some hindsight before jumping to conclusions. Because beyond the dramatic headlines and the senseless contempt, you find rich JRPG, well-designed and bearer of amazing battle system.

Review – Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment

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/!\ Caution! This review contains spoilers for the Sword Art Online anime /!\

Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment (SAOHF) is the second game inspired by Reki Kawahara’s light novel, but the first one to reach western shores. Don’t worry though, because you won’t miss anything : the first game, Sword Art Online Infinity Moment, is included in SAOHF, the latter being in fact an extension of the former.

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For those who are familiar with the chronology of SAO, Hollow Fragment starts when Aincrad ends. It’s at the same time an extension and an alternative ending to the first part of the anime. After beating Kayaba Akihiko at floor 76, the game doesn’t end. So Asuna, Silica, Lisbeth and all the SAO players have to climb to the 100th floor. Meanwhile, Kirito finds himself transported in some unknown area, called Hollow Area. Seconds after he arrives, he is attacked by a Player Killer called Philia. SAOHF is therefore composed of two distinct parts, Aincrad as we know it from the anime/LN and the Hollow Area especially thought and designed for this new Vita game.

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Before we go into the differences between them, let’s check the battle system. You always play as Kirito, while having in your party a girl (or a man, for that matters) controlled by the AI. The game mechanism is close to Xenoblade’s in the way there’s an auto-attack and cooling down when you use some skills. During battles, you have five palettes that you can switch between with L and R. Two are for giving instructions to your partner (retreat, defense, offensive, congrats, etc.), one regroups your attack skills and the last two your healing/support magic. Your partner will regularly ask you to perform certain actions (attack skill, switch, paralyze the enemy) by which both characters will launch a powerful joint attack or relay. You also have to watch a «risk» gauge : the higher, the less effective your normal attacks will be. You therefore have to ask your partner to «switch», which sends her/him on the front without cover, but recovers the risk.

While it seems attractive on the paper, the execution is not always good. The IA of the girls tend to ignore the situation time to time, stopping for no reason or ignoring your switchs. But the biggest concern about them is that they are fairly weak at the beginning of the game. For example, Kirito starts at level 100, Silica only at lvl 70. They naturally reach Kirito’s level as you progress in the game, but it causes lots of irritating game over in the first hours. Furthermore, most of the fights can be done with only pushing the circle button and waiting for some sign from your partner. You’ll have to wait to have at your side partners at respectable level and in front of you some really though enemy if you want to experience the thrill of battle like it was thought by the devs. Technically speaking, the game is not even average : the 3D are neither that good nor that bad, animations are kinda stiff, and the game has quite a few annoying frame rate drops and graphics bugs.

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Let’s examine Aincrad now. Climbing your way to the 100th floor feels a bit humdrum : at every floor you’ll have to complete unappealing sub-tasks while in search for the boss’s room, and then beat the boss itself. The level design is nothing special, the floors look like each other too much. True, it’s pretty large in total, but most of time you’ll be going from point A to point B. There is no proper «exploration» and puzzles are scarce.

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You can still spend a bit of time with your harem for a change, sitting at the café with whoever you want to have a little chat. That said, the dates are nothing exciting because there are precious few topics and the answers are completely random. There is no logic to infer like you would you do in a real dating sim.

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Fortunately, the game includes a lot of events really close to the anime in terms of humor and atmosphere. And when I say a lot, it’s nearly a dozen per floor, with sometimes sub-quests that will make you go back looking for special things in previous floors. Those are actually mini-stories detailing the situation between Kirito and the girls (in Asuna’s case, it’s about their marriage). Events are a LOT more focused on fan-service than the anime’s average, which you can easily figure out from the numerous beautiful and juicy illustrations. Let’s stress that SAOHF includes Leafa and Shinon (who don’t appear in Aincrad, Shinon having for example premiered recently in the second season airing right now), and two original characters, Philia and Strea. It’s quite a noticeable bonus for the fans of the series and adds some variety too.

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But SAOHF doesn’t stop here in variety. After a certain time, you will actually be able to pick any NPC as your partner! They will regularly ask you to come and fight alongside them to help raise their level. By doing this, you will gradually earn the trust of all the characters around you. Not only that, but this has also an influence on boss battle, because some NPCs will always join you in your attempts to clear a floor.

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Even though I highly recommend to clear Aincrad first, nothing stops you from jumping in the Hollow Area right away, or even to do both parts in parallel for a change. SAOHF in not linear at all for that and you can manage your progression as you like. The Hollow Area is organized very differently from Aincrad : it’s a very large surface divided into smaller areas you to clear one after another. The comparison with Xenoblade is clear, «exploration» becomes the keyword. Navigating is pretty tricky as the rough map you have at your disposal is about as precise as a pirate’s treasure map, and just going trough a couple of zones takes hours. The game helps out a bit but not too much, which leaves you really searching your way forward and think like you should always do in a correct JRPG. Note that the environments are a lot more refined, and level design improves quite significantly too.

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Battles had become increasingly intense in the last stages of Aincrad, but here in the Hollow Area, they’re pure enjoyment. This is thanks to several things, the first being the thunderous boss battle theme that makes confrontations tremendously dynamic. The second thing is the perfectly balanced difficulty, which makes battles really rewarding. You have to be constantly swapping between palettes and item list, and at the same time having an eye your your partner’s situation. And believe me, the boss monsters’ design is something…

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Third thing is the scenario. While the story in Aincrad only begins in the upper floors (and actually merely copies what happens in Fairy Dance), the story that takes place in the Hollow Area is full of original and clever ideas, with some moments easily matching the best parts of the anime. The cutscenes are of really good quality (as good as in Fire Emblem Awakening for instance) and really help building a fascinating atmosphere. The sad thing is that it’s quite shorter than Aincrad : I rushed it within 20 hours, while spending more than 50h to clear Aincrad. But I still have trophies to get and a bunch of sidequests left untouched, so I could probably spend a extra couple of hours in it if I hadn’t that big pile of games to finish and review ^^’

No doubt that Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment will provide some great entertainment to SAO fans. However, because of its various drawbacks, it might not be good enough for JRPG players at large.

Review – Tales of Xillia 2

Following the tremendous success of Tales of Xillia in Japan, Namco just couldn’t miss the opportunity to make a direct sequel. Thus, the game re-uses a lot of the existing assets (3D engine, backgrounds, character animations). But with Tales of Xillia as basis, Tales of Xillia 2 (ToX2) is on good track and tackles the difficult mission to outshine its predecessor.

ToX2 follows the story of Ludger, a cook thrown into a terrorist attack. During this unexpected event, he will meet Dr. Jude and a little girl asking him to lead her to the land of Canaan so as to find her father. More than a mere sequel, the scenario of ToX2 takes a totally different path, ToX events being only hinted at during sidequests. Therefore, ToX2 looks as new as would be a brand new entry in the series, with rather bizarre additions on the top of it.

Unlucky as always, our poor Ludger quickly ends up indebted. One of your objectives at the beginning of the game will be to lower your debt level. Let’s be honest here, that’s wasn’t interesting in any way : there is no time limit or anything that would put pressure on you and give some intensity to the whole thing. It would have been a plus if the player was perfectly free to reimburse when he wants, also with a little more impact on the story than unlocking new zones. Not only that, but it ends up being nearly as annoying as paying back credit in real life. The girl from the bank asks you money every 5 minutes, sometimes after every fight or every screen or when you find 2 gald on the ground. No big consequence on the general quality of the game, but that’s definitely something we could have done without.

That won’t ruin the pleasure to dive in Xillia’s universe one more time, and especially what has proven to be the most dynamic, the most spectacular, the most intuitive battle system of the series. I could tell you more about it, but it’s all written here. So let’s speak of what changed. First of all, Ludger is played very differently from the other characters : he can equip 3 types of weapons (pistols, hammer and blades) and switch between them in the fight simply by pressing button. The logic is that beyond traditional elemental strengths/ weaknesses, the kind of weapon you’re attacking with has an influence on the efficiency of your assault. That said, I’m not very comfortable with this system because it makes joint attacks harder to trigger. Besides, Ludger has the immense advantage of being able to transform and become more several times more powerful and invincible for a few seconds. This capacity of his is controlled by a gauge that fills fairly quickly, so don’t hold back using it.

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I must stress that Gaius and Myuse come to be playable characters in this sequel. Not only were they likable «villains», but they are also incredibly fun to play. Gaius, who reminds me lot of Sephiroth with its long katana, uses a lot of counters and Myuse has to ability to teleport herself behind enemies. Special attacks have been reinforced a lot, so all this brings a breath of fresh air to combat. You can switch between your characters in a fight, but the game decides on your party in main chapters, which is lame. The difficulty can still be switched anytime too, for maximum comfort.

The side parts have been re-tought and enriched. There’s now a clear separation between guild quests (hunting, items to fetch, Giganto monsters, NPC errands) and all your party members’ stories, which are divided in several episodes. Those long parallel scenarios that progress throughout the whole game, give more depth to Xillia’s characters and are different enough from the main story to provide some change of pace. Add to this mini games like searching for all the cats in the game (that you can later use to fetch items, see gameplay video above) and poker like in Tales of Vesperia. There’s even more to do than in Tales of Xillia, which lasted me 70h. A shame every quest is centralized and guided though, it’s more fun when you discover them on the go like in Xillia 1. Also, I was annoyed by the fact that trophy challenges have been made 3 times longer. ToX trophies already weren’t short to obtain, but now it’s become a real pain.

It’s in story-telling that ToX2 completely trenscends its predecessor. While ToX coud feel flat (at least in the first half), ToX2 takes great care in spreading mysteries and keeping suspense at every possible level. The story brings constantly new surprises and number of scenes are as stunning as in Xenoblade for example. The music takes the best of ToX while adding very good melodies, is used in the best possible way. Ludger has no personality of his own (he doesn’t tell anything), which is a deliberate choice to have the player decide on story branches. Even if most of choices you make a little more importance than improving your friend level with your companions, at the end of the game they will decide on which epilogue you will get. The final scene is so emotionally packed that I threw a controller across the room for the first time in my life : I had chosen the «bad» end.

Excluding the indebtment delirium that you’ll forget about very quickly, Tales of Xillia 2 as every quality of a great JRPG. By adding what Xillia lacked when Xillia itself was already exceptional, it easily ranks among the best JRPGs of the PS3 generation, if not at the top of it.

Review – Super Heroine Chronicle

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The general idea behind Super Heroine Chronicle (SHC) is simple : to make a gigantic crossover between female characters from some of the most famous animes of the last years. Parity not being on the agenda, this very long tactical-RPG will be girls only (almost…).

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SHC made a design choice I dislike, that is to say chibi characters (or super-deformed like we used to say back in the day). When this game was first announced, I was super excited to see my favorite waifus in 3D… in correct proportions. But life is unfair and I can’t always have what I want. This trauma behind me, I rather enjoyed SHC visually speaking. Animations are cleverly made and totally live up to the specificities of the various animes. Even tough there aren’t a lot of different attacks available (3 to 6 per character), they’re all pretty funny and gradually become more and more over-the-top. The devs clearly put a lot of effort in this, and had the excellent initiative of inserting 2D animated illustrations of the characters in the middle of the 3D actions. Add to this a rather large selection of sexy poses and a few nice cutscenes, and you have a very attractive game for anime fans.

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The gameplay was created with great care, the game design is nearly flawless. Units are of 3 different types : sniper/archer, attacker and defender. The defender has te upper hand over the attacker, the attacker over the sniper and the sniper over the defender. You probably just thought «Fire Emblem» and «triangle of weapons», and you are right : the principle is similar and your frontline must be organized accordingly. SHC is stricter than Fire Emblem : dodging is not a common thing and damage is severe, not to mention that enemies can target multiple characters at once. There’s no permadeath but victory conditions can be tough at times : the game can ask you to protect a given character (placed right behind enemy lines to make things even harder) or worse, not to lose a single unit! Some challenges are insanely hard (I had some VERY narrow victories) and have you think hard and out of the box. Needless to say, the pleasure of hearing the victory theme is immense. Note that your healing options are limited, especially at the beginning since your only healer is… the one and only dude of the game! Archetype of the anti-hero lacking confidence, he is also an absolute zero in attacking and keep being bullied by the girls. In short, it is mots amusing to see him reverse 25 years of male/female role distribution in JRPGs. 

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But this is just the tip of the tactical iceberg. Every unit (friend or foe) has 3 color gauges that correspond to HIT, ATK and SPEED. At the same time you deal (or receive) damage, they deplenish and it affects the stats. One of those reaching zero will significantly weaken the character, and all 3 gauges empty means immediate KO! In other terms, you can KO an opponent without even having to remove all of its HP, which comes handy by the end of the game. The girls also have a flurry of active/passive skills that you’d better know by heart since their proper use is the key to victory. Difference of height is also taken into account so that taking the high ground often gives a decisive advantage. Let’s stress that the game let you save any time during battles, which is very convenient and avoids losing hours of efforts. The only snag is that characters don’t gain levels at the same time, which necessitates quite a bit of grinding in free mission. It’s not such a hassle since misses count and gained experience is proportional to the difference in levels.

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In terms of content, SHC is quite lavish with two separate stories and regular scenario branches which modify the characters you get. 2 or 3 walkthroughs are necessary to unlock everything, but you need the patience to do 63 sometimes very long stages, which will keep you busy for around 80-100 hours. The story is kinda messy, I dropped it rapidly as it wasn’t voiced or very little. Free talk mode on the other hand is voiced, and slightly more entertaining, as you have private conversations with the heroines that stick to the humor of the animes. The music is dull generally speaking : battle music or menu music are underwhelming and annoying to hear. Fortunately, the little bit of voice acting recording is absolutely perfect.

SHC may suffer from an austere presentation and a boring story, it’s still an excellent tactical-RPG, and a great tribute to some of the most memorable animes of those last years.

Are Japanese developers broke?

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I disprove the whole “Japanese gaming is dead” narrative. This kind of shortcut shows at best self-sufficency and intellectual mediocrity. That said, such persistent talk doesn’t come from nowhere. So let’s not duck the issue and establish an impartial diagnosis. An increasing number of signs point to one thing : has Japan thrown the towel in the crazy race of today’s gaming industry?

One connotation of this is financial : do the Japanese have the means of their ambition? In fact, the fiscal year ended in March 2014 was fairly good in the land of the Rising Sun. As you can see on GameCharts.fr, Japanese shareholders are rubbing their hands. NamcoBandai’s media departement has experienced solid growth for 3 years, Sega reaps healthy profits despite tax assets depreciations, SquareEnix is back in green, Gung Ho’s business skyrockets, TecmoKoei has ordered the champagne, just like Falcom and NIS whose profits were multiplied by 2 and 4 respectively, while Capcom cashes on Monster Hunter. Only Konami has the blues, but not as much as EA, Activsion or Ubisoft whose result has melted away. Packed with all this money, the Japanese can therefore set up large-scale projects and steal the spotlight. They did not…  

Late 2013, a persistent rumor was predicting that the new Tales of game would be on PS4. The words being from producer Hideo Baba himself, I was sure the time had come. Imagine my disappointment when Tales of Zestiria was officially announced for… PS3! All that in a context in which western developers already invest heavily on next-gen consoles with huge titles like Battlefield 4 or Watchdogs, with certain success given that next-gen versions sell a lot more than former ones. And the second wave will hit even harder with Destiny, The Division and The Witcher 3 to cite a few. On the other side, made in Japan projects are still scarce : FFXV, Kingdom Hearts 3, Metal Gear Solid V and Bloodborne. The Evil Within is also a good contender. Alien Isolation might end up surprising us. But except for SquareEnix and Konami, you can hardly say that Japan is full of next-gen activity.

NamcoBandai, elected by the economic press most powerful Japanese publisher, has recently revealed that The Idolm@ster PS4 was still on the drawing board. We don’t hear much from Deep Down, Capcom’s game seem to disappoint every time it is shown. TecmoKoei doesn’t give a fuck and keeps making PS4 ports of its Musô series, while waiting lazily for generous subsidies from Nintendo in the Hyrule Warriors and Fatal Frame V projects. Acquire is adapting Akiba’s Trip 2 for PS4 but the graphical improvement is barely visible. Natural Doctrine from Kadokawa flopped hard and, worst of the worst, Lily Bergamo became Let It Die! Ironically, it’s Compile Heart that will release the very first PS4-exclusive JPRG. Even if it looks more like a PS3 game, *ω* Quintet symbolizes the risk-taking the rest of Japan seem to fear. Not only that, but Hyperdimension VII should follow suit, again exclusively on PS4.

For Japanese financial controllers, PS3, PSVita and 3DS are safe business environments. Sega officialised Shining Resonance a few weeks ago. TecmoKoei will release Atelier Shallie this month and PSVita project flourish. When developers respect certain criterias, core fans always open their wallets. It’s somewhat the problem : Japanese publishers are reluctant to go beyond their established markets, all the more true that it’s internationalizing rapidly. Bear in mind that this has nothing to do with quality : even technically not as advanced as their western counterparts, I firmly believe that Japanese games will easily stand the comparison in terms of design, gameplay or emotions. Still, thinking only short-them can only lead to difficult times : PS4 is dropping at worrying pace and the whole market collapsed by 30%. PS4 needs support, PS3 and PSVita won’t compensate the failed expansion of a new generation.

I have no doubt Japanese developers will live up to their history in terms of quality and innovation, but the lack of ambition is obvious. Except for the grand titles, you don’t feel the hype, the real one, the one that makes the headlines and transcends the marketing target. It’s not “the end of Japanese gaming” but a lack of vision. E3 didn’t provided little clue on Japan’s ambitions for the future, so we’ll have to wait for TGS to see if they really waved the white flag.